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Jan. 30, 2005

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In Search of...Sigourney Weaver's Bloody Nose

The other day I was reading my old "Treasury Sized" comic book version of Steven Spielberg's UFO movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  This was the tie-in put out by Marvel Comics which, although it was completed before the movie actually hit theaters, nonetheless followed the finished film fairly closely.  One difference, though, was the scene in which we are first introduced to our Everyman protagonist, Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss),   As Archie Goodwin, the writer, explained in the afterword: He had felt the filmed version of that scene was too brief to properly introduce us to the protagonist.  Instead, he had gone back to an earlier draft of the screenplay which had a slightly longer scene.

In that earlier draft, the scene was essentially structured around a visual gag.  It begins with Roy and his family at home, Roy engrossed working on a miniature landscape for his model train.  One of his children angrily accuses him of stealing his glow-in-the-dark paint, a charge which Roy denies, demanding why he is always blamed whenever anything goes missing.  The scene then continues with other things until Roy gets a call from his supervisor at the power plant where he works.  The whole city is losing power for some unknown reason; Roy is ordered to report to work.  At that moment, the lights go out, plunging the room into total darkness except for one source of light -- huge sections of Roy's miniature landscape glow the distinctive luminous green of glow-in-the-dark paint.  From the darkness, Roy's kid says bitterly, "I told you he stole my paint."

Now, the fact that the joke part of this scene was left out of the final film isn't especially interesting.  All films have bits that end up on the editing room floor.  In fact, nowadays, with the advent of "director's cuts", it is almost de rigeur that something be left out of the theatrical release just so it can be put back in for the DVD!  No.  What makes this scene special is that it must have been dropped so late in the post production process that its "mark"  remains on the finished print.

If you watch the scene as it appears in widescreen (it isn't visible in the cropped version), when the lights go out, the room is indeed plunged into total darkness -- except for the large luminous patches on the miniature landscape in the background.  Now, keep in mind, in this version, there is no reference to the missing glow-in-the-dark paint.  No one accuses Roy of stealing it; Roy doesn't ask why he is always blamed when anything goes missing.  It simply isn't mentioned.  So there's no explanation for what those weird, really obvious glowing patches are in the otherwise pitch black room.

Obviously Spielberg would have preferred not to have had those glowing patches messing up his shot.  But either he had already shot the scene with the joke intact, only then deciding to drop it in the editing room, or else no one thought to tell the prop guys to eighty-six the glow-in-the-dark paint.  One way or t'other, there the paint remains, a mystery to anyone who didn't read Marvel's comic book adaptation.

Pity them.

Thinking about the excised paint joke in Close Encounters got me thinking about other examples of such dropped scenes -- scenes which were dropped sufficiently late in the process that their "mark" remains, an unexplained mystery in the final cut.

For example, consider the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back.  That's the one that begins on the ice planet Hoth where Luke Skywalker, whilst out patrolling on a "Tauntaun", is attacked and mauled by a big hairy, I mean, "Ice Creature".  As the film exists at present (although the way Lucas keeps messing with them, who knows how long that will last?), there is a bizarre shot of Han Solo learning that Luke hasn't come back from his patrol and deciding to go out after him.  Look closely and you will see that Han is standing over the prone body of a dead Tauntaun.  On the wall behind, there is a HUGE smear of blood!  Yet there is no explanation given for either the dead Tauntaun or the blood.

Once again, Marvel Comics' Treasury Sized adaptation comes to our rescue.  While the Close Encounters comic book tie-in relied on the screenplay, the Empire Strikes Back adaptation, drawn by the legendary Al Williamson, was clearly done using stills taken from the finished film.  Not only do the drawn characters look like the actors, but many of the panels have the same composition as the same shots in the movie.  But in the comic book adaptation, there is an entire subplot which doesn't appear in the film.

In setting up a base on the ice planet Hoth, the rebels have first checked to make sure the planet is uninhabited.  That's why Luke is taken by surprise when he runs into the "Ice Creature which is NOT a Bumble".  But then other Ice Creatures somehow find their way into the rebel base itself, where they kill a Tauntaun.  (The rebels realize the Creature's metabolism is so low it doesn't register on their sensors.)  Soon the rebels find themselves knee-deep in attacking Ice Creatures, even as they are preparing to abandon the planet because they have been discovered by the evil Darth Vader and his stormtroopers.

It is easy to see why George Lucas dropped the Ice Creature subplot.  Firstly, it paints our rebel heroes in a desperately bad light, maliciously trying to exterminate the Ice Creatures (which, after all, were there first) even though they are already planning to abandon the planet.  Secondly, it competes with the main plot in which the rebels have to evacuate before the stormtroopers arrive.  It was just one complication too many.  And so Lucas gave it the ax and all that remains is that strange shot of the dead Tauntaun and the smear of blood.

Another example and then I'll let you get back to work. (Or back to playing FreeCell.  That's right.  I can SEE you.  N'yah-ha-ha!)  I've seen the Ridley Scott/Dan O'Bannon sci-fi horror flick, Alien, a zillion times.  There is a scene where Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) -- with the death of the ship's commander, Dallas -- finally gets access to the spaceship's computer.  To her horror, she learns that she, and the rest of the crew, are all dupes, considered expendable in the mother corporation's desire to bring home an alien -- said nefarious plan to be secretly carried out by the ship's doctor, Ash (played by Ian Holm).  When Ripley learns this, she flies into a rage, shoves Ash violently against the wall and storms off.  What's so strange about that, you ask?  What I noticed only after many viewings because it was so subtle, was that Ripley's nose was... bleeding.

Intially, when I first noticed this, I assumed Ash must have fought back, hitting her and I had just missed it.  But rewinding and watching it again, I found no such thing.  Ash doesn't hit back.  She just slams him against the wall, then storms off.  Stranger, I realized her nose was bleeding before she attacks Ash, while she was still typing questions into the computer keyboard.  At that point, nothing violent had happened.  So why, I wondered, was her nose bleeding?

Only recently did I discover the answer when, reading screenplays posted on the Internet, I found the screenplay to Alien -- but one that was clearly an earlier draft.  In this earlier version, there is a long, exciting scene between the death of the commander Dallas and the scene where Ripley finally gets access to the computer -- a scene which doesn't appear in the final film.

Ripley has sent Parker to refill Dallas's flame-thrower.  On the way, Parker encounters the Alien standing near the main airlock.  He contacts Ripley, on the bridge, and, whispering, tells her to slowly open the interior airlock door.  She does so and, curious. the Alien enters the airlock, whereupon Parker shouts for Ripley to close it again fast.  But at that moment, someone (we can assume it was Ash, although he never admits it, the little shit) activates the klaxon, startling the Alien which leaps back out before the door can close.  The door briefly catches the Alien's tail and its acidic blood sprays all over the door, where it immediately begins melting a hole through the metal.

But Parker is struck by the fleeing Alien and knocked unconscious.  He is unable to tell Ripley about the melting hole.  Her console indicates the interior door is sealed and, thinking the Alien trapped in the airlock, she begins opening the outer airlock door to flush it out into space.  When she can't get Parker to respond, Ripley rushes to the airlock to see for herself, arriving just as the Alien's acidic blood melts a hole through the inner door.  With the outer door open to the vacuum of space, the air begins to be sucked out the hole, causing bulkhead doors to seal, trapping both Parker and Ripley.  The pressure plummets precipitously (Who says alliteration is dead?) and it looks like curtains for our heroes when another crew member, Lambert, opens the door and lets them out.  But not before we are told: "Blood froths at their noses and ears."

In this earlier screenplay, Ripley needed a special card to access the computer, a card which she was certain Ash was hiding from her.  So, directly following her scene with the airlock, she went to Ash's compartment, found the card and then went to the computer compartment where she learned the terrible truth of Ash's secret mission. 

Why did Scott drop the airlock scene from the final film?  There may be various possible reasons.  For one thing, although H.R. Giger's Alien costume has received a considerable amount of praise down through the years (and turned Giger into the most famous monster maker since Jack "Frankenstein" Pierce), the truth is it still looked like what it was: a guy in a rubber suit.  Scott was very conscious of this, which is why he opted to keep the Alien in shadow, revealing it only in darkly lit glimpses.  Then too,  he may have felt this scene was far too similar to the climactic scene where Ripley finally does flush the Alien out an airlock -- which kind of robs that climax of its climactic aspect.

Whatever Scott's reason, the airlock scene got the chop, but not before the scene in the computer room had already been lensed with Ripley's bloody nose -- a relic of her near fatal exposure to the vacuum of space.

I can't see any lesson that is learned from these dropped scenes.  I guess they're just interesting in a really trivial sort of way.  If you know of any other example, I'd love to hear from you.

I was hoping to work in a reference to Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy, partly because, as you well know, I somehow seem to refer to Star Trek in just about every essay, no matter what it's supposed to be about, so I figure, why not make it a personal idiosyncracy?  Partly that.  But also because Leonard Nimoy hosted a series called In Search Of... and I wanted to justify calling this editorial something quirky like "In Search of...Sigourney Weaver's Bloody Nose".  Something like that.  If I had referred to Leonard Nimoy, that title might make sense.  But, as it is, it would be pretty lame to call it that now.  But don't worry.  I'll think of something better.  Just give me a moment.  It'll come to me.   Any minute now.  It'll come to me.

Aa-ny minute now.

Jeffrey Blair Latta, co-editor and Supreme Plasmate

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