“To say the reader will get extreme enjoyment from this undeniable work of genius is an understatement!”
There are making-of-books. And then there are making-of-books by J.W. Rinzler
Take a look at the books he has written about the making of several of our favourite films from over the years. His making of books regarding the original Star Wars trilogy is the stuff of legend and of dreams. Rinzler, when he takes on a project doesn’t repeddle old stuff, the kind of news we already know about. He sits down, plans the book and then goes hell for leather to deliver. His research is second to none. Every aspect of the production of the film is charted from the nucleus of an idea right the way through to release, reception and legacy. His ‘The Making Of The Planet Of The Apes‘ to me is extraordinary, revealing facts and stories the like you wouldn’t believe. Nothing is missed out and you finish the book with a sense of wonderment and triumph.
And then, of course, he delivered ‘The Making Of Indiana Jones: The Definitive Story Behind All Four Films‘. If you haven’t got a copy of it in your home library, what are you thinking? No film fan should be without it. It’s one of the quintessential must-have books ever written. Placed alongside the Star Wars trilogy books and the Planet Of The Apes one and you’ve got yourself arguably the best and only books you’ll ever need or desire regarding the films and their chequered productions. With this in mind, when I found out he was writing a Making Of Alien book, my head and heart went into overdrive. To me, it was a must-have book, a first edition hardback that would grace my bookshelves alongside its cousins and be held in high esteem. And then I opened the cover.
The Making of Alien | J.W. Rinzler
J.W. Rinzler has outdone himself. And I mean that wholeheartedly. ‘The Making Of Alien‘ is almost certainly the best book he has ever managed to compile and publish. There is nothing and I do mean NOTHING that he has missed out from this book. Every aspect of the film is covered and not glossed over. This is the definitive warts and all book if you like. I pride myself on knowing as much as I can about a film and it’s entire production but here, yet again, Rinzler has surprised me with the number of facts he has put into the work that I didn’t know of. Throughout its 336 pages, there is nothing that can’t or won’t astound the reader. Every tiny detail is covered and secrets are uncovered that will shock and surprise you when you discover them. And to surprise me is no mean feat as I like to know all I can about my favourite films. After reading the book, I now know quite a lot more about the film and its entire conception.
The book starts at the very beginning and details the highs and lows of bringing such a troublesome film to the screen. Everyone knows that the film is a loose adaptation (Cough, remake, cough, rip-off) of the classic 50s film, IT! The Terror From Beyond Space. Many of the ideas for ‘Alien‘ were lifted or reimagined (i hate that term) from the film. Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon even admits to it. However, that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the story of bringing the classic Xenomorph tale to the big screen back in 1979. No studio would even touch it. Every studio believed that the Sci-Fi genre was dead and buried. Sure, there were a few small science fiction films and shows being made but the general consensus was that no audience would be interested in sitting in a movie theatre and watching a two-hour film set in outer space. 20th Century Fox had taken a small gamble with a relatively new writer/director for a small science film. They didn’t expect it to set the box office on fire and would probably turn a small profit if it took any money at all. The studio executives were not that impressed with the footage they saw at a rough cut even though the director said to them, the effects were not ready and had used old black and white footage of World War II dogfights in place of the space battle effects.
Up until that point, almost every studio in Hollywood had rejected ‘Alien‘. Even though the film had the backing of Alan Ladd Jr and the muscle of Walter Hill, Gordon Carroll and David Giler behind it, the studio was not convinced. For starters, the original screenplay was terrible, a complete mess, chock full of sleazy and uninspiring writing not akin to a Roger Corman movie. Coincidently, both Dan O’Bannon and co-story writer Ronald Shusett had originally imagined the film to be directed by Corman, so in part, this could be excused. After several rewrites from Hill, the script started to take a bit more of an acceptable shape but was still far from acceptable for Fox to hand the production company founded by Hill, Carroll and Giler, Brandywine, any money or consider giving the film a green light. And then ‘Star Wars‘ opened. And the tills in box offices around the world exploded with moviegoer’s cash. Suddenly, science fiction was hot property again. Coupled with the success of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind‘, Fox executives tentatively gave ‘Alien‘ the green light. Walter Hill would direct and the film would be made under careful scrutiny by the money men. And then the problems mounted up again.
The long, protracted history of the film is far too much to go into detail here but suffice to say, the journey getting the film to the screen was a battle. Walter Hill left the directors chair to helm ‘The Driver‘ starring Bruce Dern and Fox took a chance on little known British director, Ridley Scott. Scott reveals, in archive interview material, that he took on the film after seeing Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘ at the Cinerama cinema that used to be in London. At this point in reading the book, I had to stop and smile. You see, years ago and I mean YEARS ago, I actually stopped outside the Cinerama Cinema and it was STILL showing ‘2001‘. My father and mother, holding my hands as I was a toddler, no more than 4 or 5 years of age, listened to me as I had asked if we could go in and see the film, to which my father told me sadly that no, we couldn’t as the film had already started and it was too expensive to go into see the film in London. I can still remember the disappointment I felt at being denied the chance to see the film but I could completely see Scott’s point of view. He tells how the film completely blew him away and how he brought some of what he saw visually and style-wise to the production of Alien.
Archive interviews, from magazine articles and television interviews, are used throughout the book to startling effect. Not only are we treated to views and memories from Scott, O’Bannon, Shusett, Hill, Giler, Carroll and Ladd Jr but we also are awarded the same from the actors, actresses and every part of the film’s production. Editor Terry Rawlings speaks about the editing process he used on the film, Cinematographer Derek Vanlint reveals all the tricks he employed, Ivor Powell discusses his involvement in the film, archive interviews with the late, great Jerry Goldsmith about his fantastic score for the film and the ‘daddy’ of the alien, H.R Giger, using his own written diary extracts gets into the act, describing his feelings at working on the creature and its design and of his dealings with all involved.
All this and much more await the reader inside the glorious pages. Scott’s own hand-drawn storyboards are featured heavily as well as the production design drawings, showcasing how many iterations the entire aspect of the film evolved and changed. Nothing is left out here. Pages from all the versions of the screenplay are reprinted so we can compare them with the finished article. Storyboards of sequences that were abandoned for being too expensive or changed throughout the course of the production astound us and give us a sense of what might have been.
Even the casting gets a serious look in. Sigourney Weaver gives a performance that we all remember as Ripley. But consider this. Originally, the part was a man. Originally, the character was to die at the films epic climax. Luckily and rightfully, the character was changed to a female. But, again, consider this. Sigourney Weaver was not even considered for the part of Ripley. The filmmakers had another actress in mind to play the role. If it wasn’t for a personal tragedy in her personal life, we possibly could have seen her play our beloved heroine instead. Consider seeing Oscar-winning actress Meryl Streep onscreen as Ripley. We can picture it in our mind’s eye and, to be fair, she would and could have made a fantastic Ripley. If it wasn’t for the sad death of her partner, actor John Cazale of ‘The Godfather I and II’ fame, she could quite easily have taken the role. The producers had her in mind from the start.
Martin Sheen was considered for the role of Dallas. Apart from Yaphet Kotto, every part was offered to a big-name actor or actress instead of who ended up playing the role. Kotto was on the radar for the role of Parker from day one. And when Ridley Scott came on board, thankfully he had the exact same idea. And it played out beautifully.
Contained within the pages are also sketches of Giger’s relating to the look of the alien planet, every aspect of the alien’s developing form right down to the finest detail. The filmmakers originally were horrified when presented with a book of Giger’s. They wanted him to play no part in the film. His images were far too horrifying and sexual in nature for their tastes. Thankfully, Ridley Scott was a huge Giger fan. Taking a look at one of Giger’s sketchbooks, Scott knew immediately that he wanted Giger’s influence on the film, a film that Scott himself said he wanted to play like ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space‘. Here, Giger’s work is presented to the reader in all its fascinating and sometimes frightening glory. Take a look at the images contained within the pages and you can see Giger’s hand in almost every look the film has. Rinzler has made sure that the artist and his work is celebrated here.
J.W. Rinzler has surpassed himself with this glorious and outstanding book. No stone is left unturned, no conflict is skipped over, no issue not discussed. It is truly a work of art in the movie literature world. His prowess in delving into every aspect of the project he is writing about is once again displayed here to the fullest. To read one exceptional making-of book is a joy. Two is a revelation. Jonathon W Rinzler keeps coming up with the goods with every book of this kind he writes and he keeps on surpassing the benchmark he has set for not only himself but for others of his ilk. If you are an ‘Alien‘ fan, you cannot pass up this wonderful chance to learn all you ever needed or wanted to know regarding the film.
To say the reader will get extreme enjoyment from this undeniable work of genius is an understatement. To say it is an honour to be able to sit down and read this incredible book is too. And I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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Carl Roberts is a Senior Staff Writer and Books and Literature Correspondent for Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Indiana Jones and Horror movies. Follow him on Twitter @CarlRoberts2 where he uses the force frequently!
- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Titan Books
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1789090555
- ISBN-13: 978-1789090550
- Product Dimensions: 30.9 x 3.2 x 28.1 cm
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Carl Roberts is the News Editor of The Future of the Force. Aside from being our horror genre aficionado, he is also passionate about Star Wars, Marvel, DC, and the Indiana Jones movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force frequently!