Alien Vault book review

The making of a sci-fi classic is documented in glorious detail in Ian Nathan’s Alien Vault. Here’s Ryan’s review of a superb book…

Along with Star Wars, Ridley Scott’s Alien is possibly the most influential science fiction movie of the past 50 years. Scott’s other classic genre entry, Blade Runner, may have informed the look of legion videogames and films, but Alien sparked a lucrative film franchise, numerous low-budget clones, as well as spin-off comics, videogames and merchandise.

The success of Alien is entirely due to Scott, the artists who collaborated with him, and their refusal to give in to the film’s B-movie underpinnings. The framework of Alien is straight out of 50s genre fare such as It! The Terror From Beyond Space – Dan O’Bannon’s original script was called Starbeast, which is a fair indication of the sort of creature-of-the-week picture it could have been.

Instead, Scott’s attention to detail, and the extraordinary art and production design came together to create a far more resonant, disturbing and downright unforgettable movie than anyone could have reasonably anticipated.

In spite of Alien’s lasting importance in the canon of big-screen sci-fi, relatively little has been written about it, at least in printed form. A quick browse of Amazon will reveal an entire library of books about Star Wars lore, and the making of the 1977 original and its sequels.

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A definitive document about the making of Alien, however, is less easy to find – there’s Giger’s Alien, which details the Swiss artist’s vital part making in the movie, and The Book Of Alien, a much earlier account that is now out of print.

It’s taken more than 30 years to arrive, but a book dedicated to the making of Alien has finally been published. By Empire writer Ian Nathan, Alien Vault: The Definitive Story Behind The Film is the most complete document an Alien fan could hope for.

First, there’s the luxurious construction of the thing: housed in a sturdy slipcase, Alien Vault is an inch-thick casket of nightmarish treasures. Its pages are lavishly illustrated with stills and behind-the-scenes photos, all beautifully reproduced. But the biggest surprise comes housed in five semi-translucent wallets, bound in among the book’s 175 leaves. Within each wallet you’ll find reproductions of Scott’s extraordinarily detailed storyboard illustrations (fondly dubbed Ridleygrams), blue prints of the Nostromo, Giger artwork, poster art, and most charming of all, a Weylan-Yutani sticker.

And when the initial joy of stumbling across all these artefacts begins to fade, there’s still the story of Alien’s production to read through. Ian Nathan’s thorough account of the film’s evolution, from when it was little more than a nightmare in writer Dan O’Bannon’s mind, via the script’s progress from its early possible fate as a swiftly-made Roger Corman flick, to its final resting place in the hands of Fox and Ridley Scott, is fascinating stuff.

True Alien fans will have no doubt collated much of the film’s history from various director’s commentaries and magazine articles over the years, but Nathan’s gathered it all together exceptionally well, and written a potentially dry chronology of its production process with infectious enthusiasm.

Nathan’s also managed to score some great reviews with seemingly everyone majorly involved in Alien’s birth; Ridley Scott provides a wry commentary of its progress, explaining how, with his artistic flair and powers of persuasion, he managed to pry vital added funds from Fox executives. Giger describes how his unforgettably hideous creature was built out of rubber and condoms. Sigourney Weaver and co-stars describe the film’s labyrinthine set, difficult working conditions, and Scott’s relentless perfectionism.

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Alien Vault makes one thing abundantly clear: the film’s path to the big screen wasn’t a straight one, and at any turn, could have wound up as a vastly different beast from the one that wound up in cinemas. But somehow, the right combination of actors, writers and filmmakers all came together at just the right time, during the right movie making climate, to create one of sci-fi cinema’s unholy masterpieces.

That Alien is still talked and written about in awe and reverence, and movies are still being made within the universe it established, is proof of its brilliance. Alien was a film that functioned as an exceptionally scary sci-fi movie, but also as a carefully-wrought piece of art and design.

And now, at long last, there’s a fitting document of its conception, and it’s one that any Alien fan should be proud to place on their shelf.

Alien Vault: The Definitive Story Behind The Film is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


5 out of 5