STARBURST MEMORIES: The Book of Alien by Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross

Before the advent of internet and DVD extras there was the ‘film tie-in’ to get the average fan-boy excited about the latest science fiction offering. They are still available for high-profile blockbusters in remainder stores everywhere, but at one time, they were the only source of information about our favourite films. THE BOOK OF ALIEN was originally released in 1979 to promote the film and was reissued in the early 1990s by the comics imprint Titan and is still available through Amazon. Back in the day, a friend had a copy and we would examine the contents carefully and engage in protracted debates about the film.

It’s packed to the brim with insight about the production of the film and interesting prolonged interviews with the main creative players within the project. It’s the illustrations that really stand out. There are a number of behind the scenes stills of bearded men rendering fibre-glass and plastacine into the weird biomechanical shapes from the darkest parts of H.R. Giger’s imagination. The book makes it clear that the conceptual foundation was always from Giger as screen-writer Dan O’Bannon was collaborating with him on the canned classic – Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s DUNE – which was abandoned in the mid-seventies. O’Bannon looked back on the experience of working with the Swiss artist and decided to revive an idea for a film that he had with the working title STAR BEAST.

The book is also filled with concept art from Jean ‘Moebius’ Girand from France who was responsible for the original design for the interior of the Nostromo and the distinctive space suits. The overall visual design was co-ordinated by Ron Cobb who was also the visual designer for John Carpenter’s DARK STAR and he brought the ‘trucker’s in space’ sensibility to the look and feel to the film. It is interesting to read how the team were keen to create the sense of ‘weight’ to the props they designed so that the hardware and scenery had a presence within the frame – as aspect that is too often missing in the age of computer generated images.

It has been retrieved from Dirk’s archives as I went to see PROMETHEUS over the weekend. I was reminded that this book has a section devoted to Giger’s concept drawings of the so called ‘space-jockey’ discovered on LV426 supported by interviews with Scott speculating on the origins of the wrecked ship:

“Maybe the derelict ship was a battlewagon, or a freighter that was carrying its own kind or a weapon from A to B, and something went wrong…”

There is a Giger illustration of a bizarre carving that the team from the Nostromo were to discover which on closer inspection depicted the reproductive cycle of the alien species. The scene was cut due to escalating costs (and it would have been a bit of a spoiler), but Scott felt that it was an important image to give weight to the creature and to anticipate the potential terror.

Within the book there is an acknowledgement that it was seen as a key moment of the film. It was the only time that the camera was going to be outside of the Nostromo so the planet needed to be both hostile and mysterious. The visual effects crew became attached to the space jockey and they too added to the speculation on who the pilot of the strange craft could have been:

“Sitting in repose, in its doomed derelict ship, the jockey somehow appears to have been a benign creature. People working on the film agree but can’t explain why.”

Thirty years on from pondering on the origins of the ship, PROMETHEUS returns to the space jockey and offers a sort of explanation that manages to ponderous and abrupt at the same time. I have produced a handy venn-diagram to help explain the influences and references to save you well-earned cash and a 3-heaD-ache:

What PROMETHEUS proves without a doubt, is that Hollywood’s insatiable, economic demand for prequels is damaging to the special place that the original films have in our imaginations. No solution to the space jokey mystery is ever going to match the one that I created while reading this book.

PROMETHEUS has added nothing. If anything, it has taken it away.

5 responses to “STARBURST MEMORIES: The Book of Alien by Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross

  1. It is a very silly and pointless film. Having suffered six years of ‘Lost’ I have a real problem with Damon Lindelof: that sort of “for every question answered, raise five new ones” is used too often to try to cover up plain bad writing.

  2. Nice post. Sometimes I wish we could all go back to the days before the Internet when so much stuff wasn’t available at our fingertips. Back to a time when studios did stuff like this in order to generate buzz for a film.

  3. Pingback: STARBURST MEMORIES: Loving the ALIEN? « Dirk Malcolm's World of Film·

  4. “What PROMETHEUS proves without a doubt, is that Hollywood’s insatiable, economic demand for prequels is damaging to the special place that the original films have in our imaginations.”

    So true. I have to admit, it was one of the best looking films I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it was also one of the emptiest.

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