Sunday, 26 October 2014

Exclusive Review: ALIEN – The Archive

The Ultimate Guide to the Classic Movies

Published by Titan Books

‘Alien is a science fiction milestone and one of the most thrilling, terrifying, and beautiful film franchises of all time. Alien: The Archive is the first complete book of the stunning artwork and photography from all four films.’

When I was a boy in the early 1980s, barely into my teens, I borrowed my mom’s black and white portable television set – the kind of old box where you had to turn a dial to tune into the channels – to watch a nice and safe family programme in bed, before my prescribed bedtime. What I actually did was sneakily turn it on at 9:30 at night so that I could watch the UK television premiere of Alien.

Now, science fiction for me was simple - it was Star Wars and Star Trek. Big heroes, big adventures, space battles, princesses, cute bleepy robots and all that kind of stuff. So, I sat down expecting a movie about a space monster the heroes had to battle and ultimately defeat. Probably with lasers. As you can tell, I never saw a full trailer for the film and knew what it was about only from reading about it in the TV listings.

Safe to say I was terrified. Not only was I watching this film in the dark I was watching it in black and white! Alien in black and white! Have you seen how many shadows and dark places there are in this film? Black and white only helped to enhance those shadows, turn them even darker. In fact, next time you sit down to watch Alien, turn the colour right down to black and white. You'll see what I mean.

This movie changed my whole perspective on science fiction movies.

I was of the age to appreciate the full impact of the sequel Aliens, being a testosterone-fuelled teen that loved his action movies. Then when Alien 3 came out I had hit the angst-strewn stage of my life, so even though the film didn’t really amaze me – I actually came to appreciate the movie a lot later in life – it connected to my dark and dreary side. Then Alien: Resurrection came out, but I try not to talk about that.

So Alien, especially the first (and best) movie, has had quite an impact on my life and my particular tastes in science fiction. I’m not a horror fan by any stretch of the imagination, but the reality and sense of sheer dread and fear of the unknown this film evoked really hit me for six and I mostly became a devotee of the franchise. Mostly. I’ve got quite a few books about the Alien movies and the extras and documentaries on the Alien Quadrilogy DVD give you pretty much everything you need to know about the making of the films, so could Alien – The Archive really offer anything new?

Being a fan I was sceptical that I’d get anything new out of this book, but I’m more than happy to be proven wrong. After the rather excellent, and eye-opening, introduction with Sigourney Weaver the book plunges into the history of the films with new quotes, soundbites and interviews with the cast and crew. The book covers everything about the films, from the cast to the early designs and ideas the creative team had regarding the ships, settings and creatures, to weapons, set photographs (some of which I had never seen before), cast-off designs and in-progress models and sets. Sure, there was plenty of information in here that I already knew and some of the images, especially the production designs, I’ve seen many times before, but there was enough new material in here to keep me hooked. As great as seeing the new images was it was also nice to read some new insights and thoughts from the people involved, talking about their experiences decades on. The book made sure that I kept turning the page because with every old bit of information I read there was a nice little bit of new.

It also enlightened me a little on some production aspects I had never really bothered about, especially when it came to Alien: Resurrection. I’m not a fan of that film at all, and I think it only served to help end whatever potential the ongoing franchise had (although the Alien Vs Predator films finally put the nails into that particular coffin). It was pleasant, then, to read up on some of the attitudes and see some of the design work that went into the film. It was also great to see more images of the ‘wooden planet’ filled with monks that had been pitched to the studio as the original idea for Alien 3, and after reading the potential that the story had as well as seeing some of the designs it’s almost a travesty that that particular version was never made. After reading these sections of the final two movies, Alien – The Archive makes you appreciate the films a little more but also makes you yearn for what could have been.

Something that I also loved seeing was some of the storyboards - or as they were called for Alien ‘Ridleygrams’ – and this made me want to see them all in all their glory for each film, especially the original movie. If Titan Books is looking to do more Alien publications then can I suggest they have a go at getting hold of the original storyboards, with every scene, and releasing them? I can guarantee you’ll get at least one sale. These storyboards open up the movies and almost give you a glimpse at how they would have been in their original, purest form. It’s fascinating and gives even more insight into the universe of Alien and the design processes involved.

On top of all this Alien – The Archive is a beautiful book, with a black and white Giger dust jacket cover (the book is dedicated to H R Giger, and deservedly so) and a solid bind. There’s a great little Ridleygram that closes the book, his illustrations of the end of Alien, and an afterword that hints at more to come…

As an Alien fan, can I recommend this book? Yes, absolutely. There are snippets of information in here that even I didn’t know, images I had never seen before, and just for the sheer self-indulgence of it, it looks wonderful on my bookshelf with my other Alien books.

Is it the ‘Ultimate Guide’ as it declares on the cover? It would be unfair of me to answer that, as I’ve been neck-deep in Alien lore since the early 1980s so I like to think that I’ve been around the block with the movies a few times. I’ve seen, read and watched everything I could get my hands on. That being said, I’m still more than happy to add this book to my collection as it dots the I’s and crosses the T’s in many respects. Hardened fans of the franchise will find it a good read and enjoy the atmosphere it invokes. Newcomers to the franchise will find it an amazing, invaluable guide to a series of movies more than worth exploring.

Alien – The Archive is out on the 31st October and is highly recommended.