2019 marks 40 years since Alien first hit the big screen, thrilling and horrifying millions of people around the world. In space no one can hear you scream, but they certainly could at every movie theater showing Alien in 1979. Even after four decades, the film and its successors continue to evoke a deep rooted terror in their audiences, leaving little doubt that Alien is one of the most enduring franchises in movie history.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of cinema’s all-time greatest films Fox hired the legendary J.W. Rinzler — former Lucasfilm editor and bestselling author — to pen The Making of Alien, a comprehensive in-depth analysis of how Alien made its way from the pages of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s script, to Ridley Scott’s camera on the big screen. Rinzler is well known for his exceptional work on The Complete Making of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films, The Making of The Planet of the Apes, and multiple Making of Star Wars books.
Published by Titan Books, The Making of Alien chronicles the production of the film through interviews new and old with cast and crew, storyboards, blueprints, never before seen photographs of materials from the vaults of Fox, photographs of concept artwork from Ron Cobb and H.R. Giger, and dozens of other fascinating items that provide the most definitive and comprehension account the most iconic sci-fi horror film of all-time.
Titan made all the right decisions in its design of the book, packing 336 pages in a large 12″ x 11″ hardcover format that weighs in at just over 5lbs. On picking it up the first thing you’ll notice is Ripley in her space suit, front and center on the jacket cover against a while background, captured in the intense and powerful moment following her defeat of the alien. The back of the jacket provides a preview of some of the incredible photographs Rinzler obtained from the vaults of Fox, hinting at what lies within. Underneath the jacket the book is solid black, excluding two of Giger’s original concept drawings for the alien and facehugger, adorning the front and back covers. The interior of the front and back covers sports an iconic Giger bio-mechanical landscape that will remind fans of the alien’s famous nest. The book very much provides that distinct coffee table vibe, whispering in your ear that it would look damn good being shown off where are your guests can see it (that’s where my copy is going to live).
As I worked my way through the book, everything about its design screamed passion to me. It’s beyond apparent that Rinzler and the folks at Titan Books cared immensely for this project. Every little detail of the book’s layout feels significant. This is apparent from the moment you open the first page and see “The Making of” with five straight lines below it, which are of course from the opening credits and eventually transform to spell out “ALIEN.” Even the chapter numbers are special, each one is a different semiotic standard chart symbol that concept artist Ron Cobb created for use around the ship.
From Giger and Cobb alone there were hundreds of concept drawings; add that to the countless photographs of blueprints, scripts, props, cast and crew, models, sets, and storyboards from the Fox vaults and you begin to appreciate how daunting the task of compiling the materials for this book were. Which of course makes it all the more impressive that the photographs that ended up making the final cut for the book felt perfect when placed with the words they were chosen to complement.
The amount of detail Rinzler obtained around the origins of the film, its production woes and triumphs, and the honest opinions of the people behind it, is simply astounding. Through his incredible detective work and use of production notes, memos, letters and interviews, I learned of a story behind the story. First, I learned that Alien was first inspired by writer Dan O’Bannon’s love of sci-fi and in-part by his chronic stomach cramps, which he would later learn weren’t cramps at all, but Crohn’s disease.
Originally the title of the film was Memory, then Star Beast, until finally becoming Alien. Being a fan of the sci-fi magazine Heavy Metal, O’Bannon drew inspiration from artists H.R. Giger and Jean “Moebius” Giraud, both of whom would later be involved in the production of Alien. Rinzler heavily featured a number of pieces from both artists throughout large parts of the book, with many photographs of Giger’s work on sculpting, prop, and costume creation. Photographs of sketches of Moebius’s spacesuits show how strongly they influenced the suits used by Scott.
The original chestburster appearance is easily the most iconic scene in the Alien franchise and as it turns out, was one of the most difficult to film in the entire movie. It took two full days to film and required that a fake torso be strapped to a table below actor John Hurt’s head, so the puppeteers could manipulate the creature and blood as both burst out to the shock of the crew. After several takes of not receiving the reaction he wanted from the cast, Scott privately instructed special effects supervisor Nick Allder to spray them with an enormous amount of blood during the next take. Scott got the results he wanted, but it also caused several members of the cast to become physically ill and one had to be walked off the set.
“The actors did not like the effects crew after that, it’s fair to say,” Allder said. “I think if they could have killed us, they would have.”
Rinzler obtained firsthand accounts from the cast, special effects crew, producers, puppeteers and Scott on the unique challenges each of them faced while creating and filming the chestburster scene. The photographs included showcase set pieces, storyboards, puppets, and the different sequences the actors had to repeatedly run through. Fans will be beyond impressed when they read of the effort that went into making this one scene happen.
Today H.R. Giger is synonymous with Alien, but this wasn’t always the case. Rinzler details how Fox studio executives were extremely reluctant to hire H.R. Giger because of how terrified they were of his work. O’Bannon had to push very hard to get Giger hired. “The man is sick,” said Gordon Carroll on his first look at Giger’s concept art for the facehugger. The film’s director Ridley Scott, had the complete opposite reaction — he instantly fell in love with Giger’s work the moment O’Bannon showed it to him. One of Giger’s drawing from The Necronomicon entitled “Necronom IV,” caught Scott’s eye and he instantly knew that was their alien. A photograph included by Rinzler shows the drawing that caught Scott’s eye, showing only the upper torso and head of what would become the iconic creature.
Throughout the majority of the book fans will be able to enjoy Giger’s concept art for the egg, space jockey, egg chamber, derelict, facehugger, chestburster, and of course, the fully grown alien. Rinzler was fortunate enough to gain access to Giger’s diary which detailed how much passion the artist had for his work and how he came close to quitting on several occasions when he felt that his work was being rushed or disrespected.
Interviews from magazines, newspapers and firsthand accounts gathered by Rinzler detail a cast and crew that experienced immense pressure and frustration, perhaps more than anything else. While the film’s score was nominated for a number of different awards, tension arose when composer Jerry Goldsmith was asked to rewrite his title piece, and he was later extremely disparaging of the film when he discovered that Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 had replaced him for the end credits. According to two different accounts, either O’Bannon was forced off the latter half of the film and sent home, or he left of his own accord due to extreme stress. Mind you, these are just two drops in a large bucket of countless accounts Rinzler gathered of issues amongst the cast and crew.
Perhaps what I appreciated most about Rinzler’s work is that while he informed fans of the numerous conflicts, fights and moments of drama, he never once inserted his own opinion. He simply presents the statements and interviews of those involved and allows the reader to drawn their own conclusion. After reading his accounts, it’s almost surprising that Alien became one of the greatest films of all-time. Almost.
At the end of the day, if you’re an Alien fan, The Making of Alien is a must have. I pride myself on knowing quite a bit about this franchise. It’s very much my jam and I collect the comics, films, collectibles and whatever other merchandise I can get my hands on. That being said, this book put me in my place. You know nothing Jon Snow! Damn right I don’t. You think you know Alien and then J.W. Rinzler comes along and sets you straight (while mocking you with a Ygritte quote).
This is an absolutely superb effort on Rinzler’s part and is quite simply the most complete, thorough and insightful look at Alien that exists today. Period. In his previous “making of” books Rinzler set the bar for the genre. By the end of this book he’s becoming the diamond-platinum standard.
The Making of Alien is available July 22, 2019. You can order your copy here.