Recent Reviews
Book Review: ALIEN VAULT

Jonathan Stryker (Facebook); Jonathan Stryker (Twitter)

Oct 3, 2012 - 4:00:00 AM

Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979) is one of those movies that I just never get tired of.  It is a film that I love unconditionally because it not only is one of the few films that makes me feel as though I am in outer space, but also because it is a perfectly made film.  The advertising campaign is one of the most genius marketing schemes ever devised for a motion picture. 

I was too young to see ALIEN at the Menlo Park Twin Cinema where it opened, in addition to 90 other movie theater screens, on Friday, May 25, 1979, before opening to a wider 635 theaters four weeks later.  My parents were not the type of people to take me to see an R-rated science-fiction film as I was only ten and-a-half years-old.  I look back at this now as a good thing, because as a sensitive child the movie would've given me a heart attack.  I was expecting ALIEN to be a film along the lines of STAR WARS and apparently, so did toy manufacturers who released board games, viewmaster clips from the film, posters, puzzles, and an eighteen-inch plastic doll replica of the titular monster that is widely considered to be the scariest toy ever marketed to children, and today commands hundreds of dollars on Ebay.  Someone at Kenner failed to get the memo from Fox that ALIEN was an adult science fiction film.  Oops!

There are few films that I have ever seen that have affected me as deeply as ALIEN.  Anybody who has seen it cannot deny the film's sheer, raw power.  Is there another film, with the possible exception of William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST (1973) or Steven Spielberg's JAWS (1975), both of which, like ALIEN, deal with a seemingly uncontrollable force, that has elicited such strong and quite literally gut-wrenching responses from audiences? 

I didn't see ALIEN until the summer of 1983.  It was on a home video system called Capacitance Electronic Disc which was manufactured by RCA.  The movie was essentially pressed into grooves on a 12-inch disc like a standard long-playing record.  The disc was housed in a plastic caddie to protect it from human hands, much like the alien incubating inside Kane (sorry, couldn't resist), and I spent the entire summer watching this and other movies that quickly became favorites.  For some reason, the image of the egg was reversed on the cover. 

In retrospect, ALIEN is no different than its classic predecessors in that the great fright films of our time were all badly or poorly received upon their initial theatrical releases.  To think that ALIEN was brushed off by some critics almost makes you want to call them out for being film snobs.  Bosley Crowther believed that Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO belonged in a toilet; John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN was, in his own words, universally across-the-board panned by every reviewer who saw it; even THE SHINING (1980) was met with lukewarm responses.  In the end it didn't matter what the critics thought, because the best advertisement for ALIEN, even more so than its brilliant tagline and equally chilling trailers and movie poster art, would be the throngs of people waiting outside the theater trying to get tickets to see the film. 

Given that Ridley Scott directed PROMETHEUS, which is due for release on home video this month, it is only fitting that we revisit his classic 1979 chiller.  Super-ALIEN fan Ian Nathan, executive editor at Empire Magazine, recently penned ALIEN VAULT, a book which boasts itself as the definitive story of the making of the film.  While it is considerably smaller than the glorious "making of" books on STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by J.W. Rinzler, it is no less audacious in its quest to act as a biography of the film itself.  Ian knows this film inside-out. 

ALIEN VAULT is a definite must-have for fans of Ridley Scott's science-fiction masterpiece.  While it covers material that is already familiar to die-hard fans, it is still well worth the purchase.  Starting with the late Dan O'Bannon, ALIEN VAULT is an extraordinarily well-written account of the process of bringing this brilliant film to fruition.  This is a very neatly put together affair that describes the main people involved in the making of the film, crew members from the far corners of the world who came together with their own perceptions, ideas, and pre-conceived notions about what this film should be like, and how they were all put into a pot and mixed together by director Scott to produce one of the most iconic and ultimately most frightening motion pictures of our time, unequalled in this scribe's humble opinion. 

With access to Fox's archive of unpublished photos, in addition to his accumulation of interviews over the past ten years, author Nathan has compiled a book that cannot be experienced in digital format: there are pull-outs and pop-ups the give the reader a deeper understanding of just how complex an undertaking making this film was.  Author Nathan wanted this book to be the celebration of the experience of holding a physical book in your hands.

The book has gone out of print fairly quickly, but copies can be had from, Barnes and Noble, and Ebay. 

There is also a terrific website, Last Exit to Nowhere, that features t-shirts based on fake corporations in genre films, and it features logo designs based on the Nostromo and The Company, Weyland-Yutani:


© Copyright by