The Book of Alien by Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross Review

Do the nightmarish images of H.R. Giger keep you up at night? Are you afraid to peer into an egg because of the potential of a facehugger attaching itself to your head? Does the thought of peering down a long corridor conjure up images of Alien? Well, nothing in The Book of Alien, the re-release by Titan Books of the classic out-of-print companion book will cure that, but this in-depth look at the artwork behind the movie will have any die-hard fan of the series drooling alien ooze at all the goodies.

Released in 1979, Alien was a throwback to 1950’s creature features and a hallmark in the genre. The main intent of Alien was to create a film that didn’t rely entirely on the visual effects, a common problem in science fiction that often resulted shallow stories and silly movies. Instead, the effects created the skeleton, while the plot contained the meat and potatoes that drove home the terror. This combination of practical effects and serious storytelling made Alien a smash hit. The tension was so great in the initial screenings that many grown men could be seen “peering through their fingers” at the expertly crafted suspense.

Alien won an Oscar for “Best Visual Effects” featuring a team of over 300 artists working on a meager $8 million budget. As you flip through the pages of this book, it’s no surprise. The amount of hours put into this picture by the creative team is staggering. All the evidence you’ll ever need for the brilliance of the imagery is presented in The Book of Alien.

Included are hundreds of images, sketches, storyboards, paintings, and treatments of every possible facet of the Alien story. There are ships, creatures, landscapes, space suits, and a plethora of Giger artwork taking up entire pages that provide the best quality of the images currently available on the market. There’s even a great set of images from an “Alien Temple” sub-plot that was not used in the final film because of budget concerns, but looks like it would have been an incredible sequence. The Giger images of the temple and artifacts are breathtaking.

What I think fans will love is a peek into the method of Giger’s madness in a concept he calls “biomechanics.” Biomechanics is the process of creating machines using organic matter such as human bones or at least a basic skeletal structure. There’s a great section dedicated to this in the book, and Giger explains it far better than I can, but we really get a feeling that he was able to run wild with his ideas and that his art was fully realized in the movie. I don’t know many artists that can claim to exert this much power and respect over filmmakers.

There are a few brief essays to break up the content, giving a backstory of how the visuals were conceived, some behind the scenes with the crew, and a couple of notes from director Ridley Scott, screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, and creature creator H.R. Giger. However, those expecting a deep look into the process of how Alien happened may be disappointed. The information takes up about 20 of the 100+ pages, so it’s more accurate to call it “The Picture Book of Alien.” General fans may want to try before they buy, but at a mere $15, it’s easy on the pocketbook, and a must have for Alien enthusiasts.

The Book of Alien will be available in fine bookstores everywhere May 29th.

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