If you live in the UK and weren’t lucky enough to win a copy of Alien Vault in our recent competition, you might like to know that you can now pick up the book for an amazing £14.99; that’s less than half price, and with free delivery!
Sales of the book are going really well, and early discussions have already taken place about producing another volume covering Aliens, so hopefully we’ll eventually get a full series covering the whole franchise.
Take a look at our review and interview with author Ian Nathan, then click here to pick up your copy today in the UK. US customers can buy the book for $23.10 here.
Alien Vault author Ian Nathan took time from his busy day job as Executive Editor of Empire, the world’s best movie magazine, to answer a few of our questions about his work putting the book together.
First off, with so much already written and and committed to home video about the making of the film, did you worry about covering ground that was already well trodden?
“Very much so. To start with Alien is a film (and a franchise) served so well by DVD — in fact, the Anthology sets something of an industry standard for extras. But the more I thought about it, and watching the film again for inspiration, I thought there was still much to say. That is a mark of the film’s power, it offers new things on every viewing.
I also thought why do biographers go back, again and again, to legends from Hitler to Michaelangelo, or for that matter Scorsese, Brando or Ridley Scott? And that was the key – treat the book as a biography of Alien: not just a making-of, but an exploration of what it was like on set, and just as importantly what it is like to watch. Within that, I set about getting beneath the legends (something perhaps the DVD sidesteps), as much as I could figuring out the truth.
For instance, did or didn’t the cast know about the chestbursting scene beforehand? Given the practicalities of filmmaking, they must have done. There are several set-ups in the sequence, all shot in chronological order. By the time of the ‘bursting’, they had already shot the t-shirt tearing shot. It was more likely the severity of the blood and offal that came as a shock – and the smell of it cooking beneath the studio lights. A faceful of blood is not something anyone can be ready for!
How much direct input and help did you have from Sir Ridley Scott?
“Obviously, Sir Ridley was fairly preoccupied with preproduction on Prometheus at time of writing. He approved the book and opened up his own archive of pictures, and I was fairly content that over three recent interviews with him, I had a deep store of unused Alien information from him.
In fact, you could call it destiny, or a bit of foreknowledge on my part, but I was storing up a mass of interviews and knowledge ideal for a book. And delving into the past, going back 30 years, there are some fascinating interviews with Scott at time of release that gave a really different perspective. The point when no one knew quite what they had on their hands.”
When looking through the archives, did you find anything that surprised you?
“Photographically, certainly. I especially loved the shots of the cast and (just occasionally) Ridley Scott laughing! Given how tough a shoot it was, how driven and claustrophobic and experience, it was lovely to see that they did enjoy themselves!
Sounds like a cliché, I know, but the sheer depth of unseen material staggered me — and got me thinking: how much other material lies buried in Fox’s archive, not just on the Alien movies, on all movies? You know, photos are so revealing. I recommend people to spend their time gazing at the book’s pics, there is so much detail there.”
Conversely, was there anything you were looking for, or hoping to find out more about, but didn’t?
“The difficulty was that it was over 30 years ago they made this film – time does funny things, especially with great movies. It creates myths that people stick to. Going over material, and speaking to cast and crew, getting to the truth behind specific elements was tough. So many people take credit for, say, making Ripley a woman, or pushing for H.R. Giger, or the double ending (the he’s-not-really-dead shock, now a staple of all horror movies).
Interestingly, Alien works both for and against the auteur theory. It is most certainly Scott’s film: his visual signature, his mastery of pace, his retrofitted genius for atmosphere and a working fictional reality. But it is arguably also Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett’s film: they were the inventors, they came up with the chestburster and first brought on Giger. And producer/screenwriters Walter Hill and David Giler are certainly responsible for the terse, 70s tone, the ragged, realistic characterisation of the crew.
It was often a matter of interpretation of facts, and also enriching the mythology that now cloaks the film.”
Towards the end of the book you touch a little on the film’s legacy, including the sequels. Are there any plans to cover those for future books (I would personally love to see a book on Alien 3)?
“Well, like all franchises, we’ll have to see how the first book does. Put it this way, we’ve had talks about Aliens. But I’m with you, I think Alien 3 makes for an incredible making of story… personally, as much as I love the sheer excitement of Aliens, to me Alien 3 is the natural sequel. It carries that evocative weirdness, that otherness so vital to the original.
I think the Anthology’s ‘Working Cut’ of Alien 3 is a very good, very handsome (especially on blu) movie. Incomplete, certainly, but hugely rewarding. Fincher was really onto something. I would love to continue the journey – maybe in a few years we can add Prometheus to the list as well!”
You have obviously built up a good relationship over the years with Ridley Scott. Has he told you much about Prometheus?
“Nothing I can say! We’ve all been sworn to secrecy. Let me say this, for all his talk of distancing Prometheus from Alien, I think there will be no missing the connections!”
Many thanks again to Ian for taking the time to answer our questions, and, as with the book itself, his love of the film and franchise shines through. I am glad to see he agrees with me about Alien 3, and, whatever you think of the finished product, wouldn’t it be fantastic to get a proper, in-depth look at the story of its troubled production? Maybe even David Fincher could be convinced to break his silence about his experiences?
Of course, any future books rely on the success of the first one, so please show your support by picking up your own copy today. UK readers can buy it from here, and US readers can click here. If you are feeling lucky you can still enter our competition to win one of 6 copies here, and our review of the book is here.