For many cinephiles, the eighties were a watershed for genre films. Never in the history of film had a single decade manifest so many influential science fiction and fantasy movies. Already responsible for the breakout 1984 hit The Terminator, a relatively unknown James Cameron sought to make his mark by adding a dynamic layer to the haunting mosaic of Ridley Scott’s Alien. No one knew what to expect of Aliens in 1986, but after 30 years, millions of fans continue to hold the modern classic in reverence. In celebration of James Cameron’s war opus, Titan Books released Aliens – The Set Photography, a visual treat that highlights the seldom seen processes of the actors, artists and designers, as well as the lighter side of the production.
Though the space horror franchise was given a thorough retrospective in Titan Book’s Alien The Archive – The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Movies last year, Aliens – The Set Photography features personal insight from Carrie Henn (Newt) and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez). Henn and Goldstein open up about their experiences on set and collaborating with James Cameron on the creation of their memorable characters. As a matter of fact, this hardcover is a visual testament to the ingenuity and creativity of all involved in Aliens, from actors, designers and director alike.
It is through Henn we discover the strenuous undertaking cast and crew went through during Aliens’ ten month production. Having no acting experience whatsoever, Henn ultimately won the role of Rebecca “Newt” Jorden because she didn’t crack a smile like most of her fellow competitors who were already primed for and working in the industry. Now that Henn was cast, becoming Newt would be an alien (sorry!) process for the young actress; thankfully she found considerable support and guidance from both Cameron and lead Sigourney Weaver. Although Henn was the only child on set, she like everyone else was tasked to work above and beyond, which resulted in one of the most popular science fiction films in cinema history.
Overseeing a feature so tight on budget and bound by deadline would put any director on edge, and James Cameron is no exception. From Jenette’s Goldstein’s recollections, she mentions how Cameron wanted every actor – be them Colonial Marine, a former warrant officer or corporate shill – to shape their role as they saw fit rather than adhere to the confines of the script. The more obvious cue in expressing their individuality among the unit was the customization of their armor. With exception to Cpl. Dwayne Hicks – whose armor was designed by James Remar only to be replaced by Michael Biehn – everyone applied their personal touches to their character’s weapon and costume designs.
While set and vehicle fabrication is extensively featured and impressive enough, the new design of the xenomorph itself was a confluence of genius involving some of the unlikeliest materials. While perusing through the promotion and behind the scenes images, the smattering of captions provide information few have known about what then-Creature Effects Coordinator Tom Woodruff Jr used to make Cameron’s vision come to life. To complement Cameron’s low-light technique, Woodruff and the rest of the Stan Winston Studios crew fabricated only eight suits and used corrugated tubing, string to create texture along the xenomorph’s head and torso. As for the tendons that line their powerful jaws? Shredded condoms. You think you know an alien after a while, yet after 30 years one can still be surprised.
Not as prolific a compendium like last year’s release Alien The Archive, Aliens – The Set Photography nevertheless includes enlightening annotations with its multitude of photos, many of which haven’t been seen elsewhere. This hardcover would be a worthy addition to any Alien fan’s collection.
Aliens – The Set Photography is available now from Titan Books.
Aliens - The Set Photography = 9.7/10