Dan O'Bannon 1946-2009

Sci-fi screenwriter dies, aged 63

Dan O'Bannon, the sci-fi and horror screenwriter behind some of the genres' most recognisable titles, has died in Los Angeles following a short illness. He was 63.

A USC graduate in the same year as John Carpenter, O'Bannon was instrumental in Carpenter's cracking (and crackpot) first feature Dark Star, serving as co-writer, FX supervisor, production designer and editor, and playing Sgt Pinback (who turns out not to be Sgt Pinback at all). O'Bannon is the one who chases the beachball alien all over the spaceship: an idea that would sort of resurface later...

O'Bannon did some FX work on Star Wars in 1977, but is best known for kickstarting a different franchise. While authorship of Alien as we know it today is down to a number of people, there's no question that O'Bannon's Star Beast screenplay set the ball rolling, and he brought many of his colleagues from Alejandro Jodorowsky's aborted Dune to the project. The rest is movie history.

He wrote Blue Thunder and Life Force, and had two cracks at Philip K Dick, adapting We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and Second Variety into Total Recall and Screamers. Some say his Moebius-illustrated Heavy Metal comic The Long Tomorrow was a big visual influence on Blade Runner.

His Soft Landing and B-17 segments of the 1981 Heavy Metal movie were well-received, and he directed twice, fronting the fondly-remembered George Romero knock-off/parody Return of the Living Dead in 1985, and The Resurrected in 1992: an adaptation of HP Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

His screenplays were often reworked, much to his chagrin (particularly Blue Thunder, which lost most of its politics) but his legacy is without doubt. Just like Pinback, he had something of value to contribute to this mission.