Kenny's Reviews > Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film

Alien Vault by Ian Nathan
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's review
Oct 10, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in October, 2011

Alien Vault is an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the making of what is, by any earthly standard, the ultimate sci-fi horror film, Alien. I know, because my neck still hurts from my girlfriend choking me in terror, screaming as the chest-burster bathed the genuinely surprised cast in movie blood as it emerged from John Hurt. And that was just the beginning of the terror.

So I've been aware of the Alien phenomenon since the beginning and have read a number of books detailing the film, as well as seeing all the documentaries about it. Ian Nathan's addition to this ever-growing mountain of evidence has the advantage of being erudite (he's a capable, if adjective-heavy writer) and insightful. Nathan fleshes out the background of the gothic/dirty production design, the raging controversies over the script, the budget battles with the studio, and really bores into what has always been for me the most fascinating aspect of the film: how did Ridley Scott, a newcomer to features, manage to remove the haunted house to outer space, and do it with so few B-movie things-jumping-out-at-you-in-the-dark horror movie staples?

As a filmmaker myself, I know that the setting of the story is also a character in itself, as well as an additional layer on the character of the actors. The grimy, bee-smoke choked, claustrophobic set interiors, the lack of budget for model exteriors which allow the audience to metaphorically step back--if just for an instant--, the lack of "motivation" discussions with the actors, the incredibly terse script (I have a copy and the writers sure weren't getting paid by the word), and Scott's incredible eye for detail (he probably shot too many food commercials) all serve to place the viewer in a place from which there is no escape from an implacable enemy.

From there on, it's just: How do you kill 'em? And though the ways the characters are killed are not very inventive (Nathan's research yields a fact I'd not heard: Lambert (Veronica Cartright) was supposed to be bodily and bloodily sucked out through a hull breach but budget constraints yielded the even more terrifying (to women at least) rape-like sequence in which the monster's tail slowly rises from between her petrified legs. Necessity truly is the mother of mayhem.

Nathan's fine writing style is ably abetted by beautiful book design: hardback with a glossy four color interior, with a half-dozen interior pockets containing loose script pages, decals, production drawings, etc., none of which I've seen before. A nice and clearly expensive touch, considering the reasonable price for a book with a MSRP of $35 (Amazon: $23).

All in all, Alien Vault is a welcome addition to any Alien enthusiast's memorabilia library. But more than that, it is a procedural for those who wonder How They Do It. The answer, ably supplied by Nathan, et al., is unyielding perfectionism and searing vision. Ridley Scott is one of the half-dozen film directors currently working who knows what he wants. Happy is the studio exec who gives him the raw materials to realize his ideas. And happy is the audience that views the results.

And I was happy to read this remarkable book and glean new insights into the process.

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