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REVIEW: Alien Vault by Ian Nathan

REVIEW SUMMARY: This is a coffee table book you’ll want to actually keep on your coffee table.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A detailed and informative look at the making of the 1979 film Alien…with lots and lots of extras.

PROS: A wealth of information; lots of interesting tidbits and extras; high quality production.
CONS: Though infrequent, sometimes comes off a little too glowing.
BOTTOM LINE: A must-have for any serious Alien fan, but even casual fans of the film will find it endlessly enjoyable.

It may seem odd to celebrate a film like Alien that’s 32 years old — it doesn’t coincide with any milestone anniversary of media release – but that’s exactly what Ian Nathan’s impressive book Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film does. It’s billed as “a portal into the making of a legendary film” and succeeds wildly on that front, offering the timeline of the film’s creation/reception/influence generously peppered with a treasure trove of trivia, behind-the-scenes glimpses and many other extras, too.

The danger in a book of celebration, of course, is that there is a fine line between giving credit where it’s due and fawning. The book mostly succeeds here. Obviously the book is meant to be a commemoration of this pivotal SciFi film, but even so it sometimes comes off as a little too glowing. For example, the book’s author Ian Nathan notes in the introduction that, as a young boy in 1979, he was lost in the thrall of Star Wars…yet several paragraphs later calls Alien “the ’70s science fiction film” ignoring Star Wars altogether. A quote later in the book from the film’s producer is perhaps a more apt and realistic observation: “Star Wars was The Beatles, we were the Rolling Stones.” To be fair, these moments of over-indulgence are few and far between, which is why they stood out. The book includes more than its fair share of memories of the sometimes temperamental cast and crew; certainly more than a straight promo piece would allow.

The story of the film’s creation also provides a more complete a picture than you might expect. (For example, there was much discussion over the world building aspect of the script, like the origins of the then-unnamed Weyland-Yutani company.) That said, the book makes no mention that I could find of the subsequent legal debacle regarding the film script and it’s similarities with A.E. van Vogt’s short stories “Black Destroyer” and “Discord in Scarlet”. Perhaps that is more damaging to the celebration of the film than it is a value to the book’s function as a complete archive of the film.

There’s no denying the amount of details stuffed inside the vault. It’s loaded with trivia, including many candid quotes from cast and crew about their experiences making the film, and even some lesser known facts as well (like how most of the cast did not know the level of gore associated with the now-famous chestburster scene, or that the stretchy tendons in the alien’s menacing jaw are actually condoms). The Alien sequels do get discussed, but I would have loved to have seen the same level of detail that was given to the first film given to the entire Alien film franchise. (A fanboy dream that completely ignores the lack of commercial viability of what would undoubtedly be considered a book that’s way too expensive, but it has been 14 years since the release of Alien Resurrection, y’know…?)

Obviously this book is a must-have for any serious Alien fan, but even casual fans of the film will easily spend lots of entertaining hours pouring over the wealth of information contained inside it. Alien Vault is lovingly produced, with high-quality additions like vellum envelopes holding removable inserts (goodies like mini-poster artwork and ship blueprints), a ton of photographs (mostly from behind the scenes), thick high-quality paper and a sturdy slipcase. This is a coffee table book you’ll want to actually keep on your coffee table.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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