Friday, December 18, 2009

Dan O'Bannon RIP

Please excuse the myriad of spelling and grammar errors that might end up being in this piece but I felt it was pretty important to get this out fast as I don't want this death to go unnoticed.

Dan O'Bannon is a name that probably isn't too familiar with a lot of newer sci-fi and horror fans but it should be. Take one look at his career and you'll notice a lot of places that birthed something amazing.

During his time at the University of Southern California, O'Bannon met and began working with a young USC student, John Carpenter on what eventually became Dark Star.

Quaint by our standards, at the time, Dark Star was very impressive for a low budget sci fi film. Dan wore a lot of hats during the production but specifically was an actor, co-screenwriter and special effects artist on the film. His work even garnered a Golden Scroll award in the special effects category (The Golden Scrolls are now The Saturn Awards). It was on Dark Star that O'Bannon met designer Ron Cobb.

From here Carpenter went on to Assault on Precinct 13 and Dan went on to Dune.

The Dune that never was.

As you can tell by my previous article on the aborted Alejandro Jodorowsky version of Dune, while the film could have been fantastic on many accounts, the one legacy it did leave was introducing Dan O'Bannon to H.R. Giger and french comic book artist Moebius.

When Dune came to a screeching halt, O'Bannon found himself back in California, broke and living on his friend Ron Shusett's couch. Dan began getting back into screenwriting and began working on a sci fi script he had been tinkering with. He also began helping Ron with a short story that Shusett had got the rights to by Philp K. Dick but before that would really get going, Dan took a detour back into special effects in order to pay some bills.

George Lucas had seen Dark Star and impressed by the effects, grabbed Dan to help with the computer/animation effects on Star Wars. It wasn't much work, basically brought on to help them through the crunch, the money from the job set Dan up with an apartment and a little time to work on this pet project he'd been writing at Shusett's place. It was kind of a re-write of Dark Star but instead of comedy in space it was more of a horror film. And instead of a beach ball monster, it would be something a little scarier.

The script was titled Alien.

Now it's been disputed for many years who wrote what on Alien with law suits and accusations flying every which way but the fact remains that Dan O'Bannon wrote the intial scripts, fostered the story along with Shusett and brought in the idea of having HR Giger, Ron Cobb and Moebius working on various production designs on the film. Even taking out the conjecture of who wrote what, Dan O'Bannon was essential to what we saw on screen.


And Alien much like Star Wars before it, was a game changer. It ended up influencing a whole generation of writers and film directors not only in sci fi but horror as well.

He then wrote segments for the classic Heavy Metal animated film (specifically the segments Soft Landing and B-17) as well as cult helicopter film Blue Thunder and vampire space film, Lifeforce.

In 1985 O'Bannon finally got a chance to direct as well write with Return of the Living Dead.

Return of the Living Dead was on off shoot Night of the Living Dead. Producer John Russo had split retained the rights for using Living Dead in the title of his films and brought Dan on board as a writer and director.

O'Bannon did two things. The first thing he did was incorporate more humor into the zombie film. The second was make the zombies faster.

Two little things that have now helped spawned a sub genre (known as Splatstick) and a style of zombie that is used in everything from film (28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake) to video games (Left 4 Dead being a prime example).

After Return of the Living Dead, things began to heat up on the other script he had been working on with Ron Shusett. Based on Dick's short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale", Total Recall had gone through long stages of development and developmental hell. Richard Dryfuss was attached to appear in it at one point. Another version had David Cronenberg directing. But eventually Arnie came walking in and got film company Carlco to buy it then brought on Paul Verhoven to direct.

It went on to be a box office hit.

While some of his later works are not so memorable or deviated from his original treatments but there is no denying the impact Dan O'Bannon made to film and pop culture.

Rest in peace Dan O'Bannon.

No comments: