Oscar-Winning Production Designers Call High School ‘Alien’ Play ‘Deeply Visionary’

Leading production designers who helped create the look of "Star Wars," "Avatar," and "Dumbo" praise New Jersey high school kids.
High School ‘Alien’ Play Praised by Oscar-Winning Production Designers

The 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s iconic “Alien” received a stunning homage Friday night: A student production from a New Jersey high school drama club went viral. Twitter was abuzz with video footage and industry praise, including a shout out from Adam Savage of “MythBusters” (“OMFSM i need to see this. Wow”).

On March 19 and 22, North Bergen High staged a faithful adaption titled, “Alien: The Play,” replete with hand-made Xenomorph costume and re-enactment of the Facehugger scene. While crude, they still bear the unmistakable look of H.R. Giger’s legendary designs.

Overseen by drama and art instructors Perfecto Cuervo (who even made a trailer) and Steven Defendini, the production boasted a rare combination of outside-the-box ingenuity and improvised craftsmanship from a half dozen students. A standard Xenomorph costume was purchased on clearance and enhanced with a plastic skeleton from Target and foam donated by a local scenery company (which also provided material for the sets, including egg cartons for the computer lab).

“We really took nothing then made something that didn’t exist because we wanted to see what it looked like,” said Defendini. It’s a grander, more “surreal” step-up from last year’s production of “Night of the Living Dead.”

Oscar-winning production designers Rick Carter and Rick Heinrichs were suitably impressed: “The can-do imagination on display just in the viral online video of this production of Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ shows how deeply visionary both the original film and these young students are,” said Carter, who earned Academy Awards for both “Lincoln” and “Avatar.”

“There’s an authenticity that comes from the collaging of existing materials, which has often been at the heart of the best sci-fi design in movies,” added Carter via email, who’s currently wrapping up the Skywalker saga with “Star Wars: Episode IX” for director J.J. Abrams. “And the expressionistic use of lighting and sound amplifies the suspenseful mood so provocatively. As they follow in deep footsteps, they are taking enormous leaps of imagination that will serve them for a lifetime of theatrical and cinematic visualizations. It’s so impressive and inspiring to behold!”

“It makes me happy to see the level of passion and creative talent on display in the images and video,” said Heinrichs (who won the Oscar for Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow” and most recently designed the director’s live-action reworking of “Dumbo”). “Just for the students to take on the project, starting with nothing but an audacious belief in what they wanted to achieve, and then to actually pull it off is extraordinarily golden.”

“There’s a continuity in their approach to the art — the costumes, sets, and lighting design — and a sophistication to their sense of scale and detail that emotionally elevate the whole production,” added Heinrichs. “They will take this lesson of dedication and success with them into their lives and careers and their teacher deserves an Oscar for it!”

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