After three sequels, two crossovers with another horror legend, a prequel (with one more on the way) and a plethora of comics, novelizations and video games, the Alien franchise is firmly entrenched in our millennial psyches. It’s been 36 years (!!!) since the pioneering space-horror opus premiered, endowing a newfound credibility for a then-disregarded genre and setting a new standard in filmmaking.
To celebrate the legacy of such an acclaimed series, last October, Titan Books released Alien The Archive: The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Movies. A 300+ page hardcover epic, Alien – The Archive is loaded front to end with insights and images that every genre fan would soak in with great delight.
Amid the compelling accounts from screenwriters, directors, set designers and various production supervisors are innumerable behind-the-scenes and promotional photos, stills from deleted scenes, sketches and storyboards. Included in the impressive retrospective is a new interview featuring Sigourney Weaver. Ellen Ripley became more than originally intended, reveals Weaver, who also reflects on the personal, social and industry impact of portraying a revolutionary pop culture icon.
Significant as Weaver’s casting was to the success of the Alien series (plus Ripley’s far-reaching effectiveness in altering social and gender perceptions of the stereotypical hero), Alien – The Archive is also a testament to the typically misunderstood, unconventional and sometimes outright morbid creative geniuses behind the camera. The compendium is filled with works by legendary artists Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, Jean “Mœbius“ Giraud, Syd Mead and H.R. Giger. Very few of their character sketches, interior set designs and fabrications have been presented in such a manner that honors the thousands of hours committed to making their imaginations come to life.
Many of the anecdotes shared by the production heads are just as colorful and otherworldly as Alien itself. Inspired by H.R. Giger’s Necronom IV and V, director Ridley Scott requested Giger elaborate upon his own work to create a ghastly creature and environment that was wholly unique to cinema. A workspace was constructed adjacent to the soundstage, and the Swiss-born artist was given all the materials and leeway needed to unleash his full potential. Even after winning Giger over, Alien was hampered with growing uncertainty as shared by Scott, art director Les Dilley and producer Gordon Carroll.
Scott and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon‘s persistence paid off with massive dividends for 20th Century Fox over the last 40 years, however Alien – The Archive remarks how Giger’s creations were under close scrutiny due to their disturbingly erotic overtures. Many designs were constantly revised either to fashion an even more terrifying entity… or to ensure the film would be acceptable in discriminating countries with a strong Catholic populace. In one instance when Giger revealed his designs for the egg, Scott, Dilley and Carroll approved yet felt apprehensive about the initial draft. As Giger himself commented in his diary, he “lovingly endowed this egg with an inner and outer vulva”.
Racy entries and personal accounts of production crises aside, Alien – The Archive illuminates the unexplored backgrounds for some of the franchise’s memorable characters. For example, Vasquez and Drake – two of the more remarkable Colonial Marines from Aliens – have a history between them that goes much deeper than what’s seen in any cut of the film. Additionally, the reasons for Ash malfunctioning are further explored, as well as Newt’s family history – who are briefly featured in Aliens Special Edition.
The later additions to the Alien series, though derided by critics and fans alike, are cast in a sympathetic light thanks to fascinating revelations from their writers and production staff, specifically from Alien: Resurrection director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. He and David Fincher (who has disavowed his involvement in Alien³) aimed to reinvigorate the franchise by guiding it down a profoundly divergent course. Though Alien manifested itself into a sci-fi horror masterpiece through an unexampled collection of artists and visionaries, the series itself became too big of an asset for the studio to risk any significant alterations. Nonetheless, both directors – per Weaver’s approval – attempted to expand Ripley’s storyline, albeit to mixed results.
Ultimately, Alien The Archive: The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Movies provides an exceptional and thorough recollection of the celebrated genre-bending series, from concept to monstrous reality. This volume of movie history is without question a must-own for every cinephile’s library.
Alien The Archive: The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Movies
Fashioned as a love story to one of the most horrifying franchises in film history, Alien – The Archive is a sizable tribute to the persons who worked tirelessly to scare the living daylights out of their audiences. The Archive gives special consideration to the creator of the Xenomorph itself, H.R. Giger – to whom the book is memorialized. Truly, this is a tome that could be read and shared over and again.