"Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film" Book Review

Written by Steve Pattee

Published by Voyageur Press

Written by Ian Nathan
2011, 176 pages, Non-Fiction
Released on September 17th, 2011

Click images to enlarge.


In 1977 a science fiction movie took the world by storm, blowing away the minds of children everywhere and firmly placing itself in pop culture forever. That movie of course was Star Wars. Two years later, another science fiction movie did its own damage to people's minds, albeit in a much darker way. That film was Alien, and it smacked the idea that scifi was Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Luke Skywalker and the like right in the mouth. There was more to space than lasers and light sabers. There was death, evil and a perfect killing machine. Author Ian Nathan explores the making of Alien in Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film.

The first thing you notice about Alien Vault is its beautiful packaging. Protecting the book is a slick slipcover with Alien's infamous egg on the front. When you slide out the book, Ripley is there in her space helmet greeting you and a picture of H.R. Giger's seminal alien is on the back. And this impressive display is before you even crack the pages, so you just know you are in for a treat.

When I first saw Alien, I was about 9 or 10 and I hated it. Hated it. I was expecting Star Wars and I obviously did not get that. I remember my mother telling me, as you would a child, that I was too young to like it. I thought she was full of it, but years later when I saw the movie again I found that she was absolutely right. I had been too young. Because the movie I saw when I was 17 scared the ever loving shit out of me. It was a far cry from the sleep inducing movie I watched when I was a punk know-it-all-know-nothing. Like Ian Nathan, Alien holds a special place in my heart because it's one of the few movies that I went back to after disliking the first time (child or not) and being completely turned around on it upon second viewing. In his introduction to Alien Vault, Nathan describes the first time he saw Alien, and the impact it had on his life. Reading this instantly took me back to my second viewing, and I related. While this is the obvious place one would start when writing a book like this, it's more so here as Nathan's excitement for the movie is contagious and it maintains this high level of energy throughout.

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The book covers a lot of ground, from the roots of Dan O'Bannon's original story, John Carpenter's almost-involvement, the jumping on board of Walter Hill, alternate actors and directors, and more—all the way up to the film's opening, subsequent sequels, comics, and books. Alien Vault delves a little bit into a lot and tells a fantastic story of a movie that might not have happened—or not have ended up as we know it—without the success of Star Wars.

While it has its fair share of interview quotes and behind-the-scenes tidbits, Alien Vault is much more than just a story of what went down before and after the filming of Alien, the book is an experience. Alien Vault is chock full of on-set pictures, unused design ideas for the alien, Nostromo (the ship), various sketches from H.R. Giger, and more, including vellum envelopes throughout the book that contain such goodies as a Nostromo blueprint foldout, miniature posters, storyboards, Giger art, and a Nostromo sticker. It's as if every time you turn the page, another delightful surprise awaits.

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I know that I'm gushing over this book, and I do feel it deserves a great accolade, but I did find myself wanting more interviews and stories from the cast. I don't know the accessibility Nathan had with the stars of the film (if any), but the book feels lacking of any real dirt. It makes mention that the shoot was stressful due to director Ridley Scott's perfectionism and there a few humorous anecdotes regarding Yaphat Kotto suggesting script changes where his character doesn't die, but I find it hard to believe there were no substantial arguments on set. To be fair, Alien Vault does make mention of alien creator H.R. Giger's blowups, as well as some of Dan O'Bannon's frustrations with where he thought his story was going. But overall, it seems rather light in any drama. I feel like I'm nitpicking, but if part of the title is The Definitive Story, I find it hard to believe that it was all koombayah all the time.

Yet even with that minor complaint, Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film is a beautifully packaged piece of work that you will find yourself going back to time and time again. There is plenty in here for people to love, be it a casual or a hardcore fan of Alien. With a very reasonable MSRP of $34.99, you also get a lot of bang for your buck. Currently, Amazon US has this book at an absolute steal for under $20.00, and if you are any kind of Alien fan you'll want this on your shelf.

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Steve Pattee
US Editor, Admin
He's the puppet master. You don't see him, but he pulls the strings that gets things done. He's the silent partner. He's black ops. If you notice his presence, it's the last thing you'll notice — because now you're dead. He's the shadow you thought you saw in that dark alleyway. You can have a conversation with him, and when you turn around to offer him a cup of coffee, he's already gone.
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