September 30, the same date we lost James Dean, is also the birthday of a man who changed science fiction forever: Dan O’Bannon, the screenwriter of Alien and Total Recall.O’Bannon was an alumni of USC Film School, where he co-wrote the John Carpenter sci-fi cult classic Dark Star. Then O’Bannon wrote a script called Star Beast, which later became Alien. The project had incredible timing. Star Wars was the huge surprise success of 1977, and Fox needed another sci-fi movie in the pipeline, ASAP. Alien was the closest thing they had to Star Wars in development, and Fox gave it a go.
It was also O’Bannon’s idea to bring aboard H.R. Giger to design the look of the film, and he created a monster the likes of which had never seen in horror films before or since. While Alien had so many great elements, a terrific ensemble cast, and a visionary director who raised a B story to A-level, O’Bannon’s script was the foundation, and on that foundation Ridley Scott and company built a masterpiece.
O’Bannon passed away on December 19, 2009, the same day Avatar opened, and Matt Lohr, a screenwriter who Dan mentored, always found this ironic. As he tells TGD, “Avatar went on to become a best picture nominee at the Academy Awards, and if there was no Dan O’Bannon, then Avatar wouldn’t have gotten nominated. Dan elevated a genre through his repsect for it, and he elevated it in the eyes of others so they could say, ‘Yes, this movie has spaceships, monsters and aliens, and it’s one of the best pictures of the year.’ It wasn’t ‘just’ a science fiction movie anymore.”
O’Bannon was only sixty-three when he passed away, but his vision will live forever.