Alien. It’s still one of the most effective horror movies of all time. It’s a film so influential that people are still trying to emulate it, four decades later, and still completely failing to understand just what makes it so special.
It’s certainly deserves to be studied, and Ian Nathan has attempted to do so with his latest book, the oddly titled Alien Vault. The 176-page tome comes in a slipcase and is absolutely packed with gorgeous pictures, concept art, designs and of course info on the production.
While the book certainly looks great and has tons of great pictures to look at, it’s hard to take the subtitle’s claim of “The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film” seriously when it becomes apparent that the author didn’t conduct a single new interview. Much of the information has come from readily available sources- the most obvious being the plethora of extra features available on the DVD and Blu-ray collections. Don’t go into this expecting something along the lines of J.W. Rinzler’s sublime Making of STAR WARS books, which resurrected never-before-seen details and notes from the Lucasfilm Archives. No, everything in this book is mostly common knowledge. Interesting material, of course, but it’s nothing that fans don’t know already. Still, people will likely love hearing stories about how Ridley Scott kept the details of the chestburster scene away from the actors to better capture their true terror, or how H.R. Giger’s first egg design had a “Catholic Cross” opening until Fox execs balked. Dan O’Bannon’s involvement gets the time it deserves and the book certainly spends a lot of time commenting on how perfect the art design was.
But no definitive account should have moments where the author uses “could have”s and “possibly”s to describe events when what happened wasn’t certain- things that could easily have been cleared up with a few questions to those involved, and certainly not something you’d want in your definitive book. Plus there’s the fact that it only covers the most basic parts of production, all the big players. Even most of the cast is glossed over with the obvious exception of Sigourney Weaver, who gets her own (deserved) chapter for her iconic character and influence on the series. But poor Veronica Cartwright’s name is even continuously misspelled as “Cartright” and Bolaji Badejo (the Alien himself) barely gets a mention.
The book comes with a lot of nice little inserts interspersed throughout the book that you can remove- storyboards and concept art and screenplay pieces, but it’s a bit confusing what they’re there for. They’re too small and too folded to be of any use to anyone wishing to hang them up on their wall, and while it’s nice to see them in a larger format it could have easily just been placed in the book. If anything it will likely remind you how awesome a Giger painting would look hanging in your home, perhaps in the kid’s room (Please don’t call child services, that was a joke.)
The beautiful photographs and story behind the creation of this incredible film will certainly make you immediately want to rewatch it, but don’t expect the definitive account of the film. If you’re unfamiliar with the backstory of the franchise or want a great coffee table book to display when people come over then by all means, pick this up. But don’t expect anything revelatory.