Author, Ian Nathan, starts the 174 page book by retelling how he was first introduced to the movie. Though he was too young to see it in theaters, when he and his friends first got it on VHS and secretly watched it while the parents were out of the house, he claims he was immediately hooked on the film and, later, the franchise. Alien Vault seems to be the culmination of all of those years of admiring research and information gathering about the story of the film, where it came from, how it was made, and even the path it blazed for future movies.
Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film is separated into five chapters: Birth, Nostromo, Perfect Organism, Ripley and Legacy, and each one is full of quotes, pictures, blueprints and narratives about it's topic.
The first chapter is all about what led to the film actually getting made. Dan O'Bannon was a film student who helped a friend out on a project. After making Dark Star, a science fiction/comedy, he decided to try his own hand at a script, one that wasn't meant to be funny, but one that followed the standard B-Movie formula. While a lot of the original concept of the creature and the basic premise of the universe are in tact, what O'Bannon and his co-writer friend, Ron Shusett, didn't expect was a series of re-writes once it got into a studio's grip.
According to this book, O'Bannon and Shusett remained closely tied to the project all the way through, but it appears that a lot of control was taken away from them. Thankfully, some of the more iconic concepts and imagery survived re-writes. O'Bannon fought hard to keep a lot of the details he felt were necessary, and because of that fighting, H.R. Giger was kept attached to the film, and the unique biomechanical style that he define helped to make the Alien and everything about the creature so distinct.
This chapter also delves into the search for a director, and how Ridley Scott joined the crew. It goes over the creation of the ship's set and how Scott insisted that the Nostromo be almost completely built on the sound stage. This insistence not only gave the director the ability to shoot at almost any angle, but it also created the claustrophobic feeling that permeates the film, not to mention putting the actors in their unnerved state. Along with that information, Nathan discusses the search for the ship's crew and the elusive Ripley, a character cast only at the last minute and given to a non-tested stage actress named Sigourney Weaver.
The second chapter, Nostromo, focuses on, as you might expect, the ship. This section covers how the vessel was designed, who laid out the rooms and the fact that Scott insisted an actual blueprint not be released for a long time because he wanted the exact layout of the vessel to be one of the mysteries, which of course, gave him more control on the ship's crew and the film's pacing. That being said, one of the packets scattered throughout the book includes a blueprint for the ship.
In the Perfect Organism section of Alien Vault, the book switches focus to the xenomorph itself. Here, the reader learns more about Giger's involvment in the creation of everything from the egg to the facehugger, chestburster and finally the adult, shadow-clad figure with acidic blood.
Alien Vault also takes this chapter to discuss the planetoid the crew ventures onto, the ship Kane (John Hurt) dives into the belly of, and even the giant carcass that was the ship's pilot, dubbed the Space Jockey. This is also where Nathan retells the classic story of the chestburster scene; a scene that took too long to set up, and a scene that most of the actors were frustrated over since they simply sat around while the crew was working behind closed doors. What they weren't expecting was such a massively powerful scene when all the script said was "The creature exits out of Kane's chest." What the actors didn't know about were the gallons of gore that were about to explode out of Hurt's prosthetic body, and the result was real and actual emotions from the actors.
Chapter 4, Ripley, is all about Weaver and her character, where the two of them came from, what motivated them, and the stress that Weaver was under during the film's production. Scott worked hard to put Weaver in the right mood. He did everything from telling Yaphet Kotto, who played Parker, to treat her badly, to simply never letting up and keeping her on edge. As a result, not only did Weaver develop a resolve, but that resolve comes out in Ripley.
This section also discusses the cut-out references to Ripley's relationship with Dallas (Tom Skeritt) and Nathan believes that the idea of Ripley in any kind of real relationship just doesn't quite fit right with her character.
The Legacy section is all about what happened when the film was released and how it affected the move industry. Not only were there lines of people going to see the film, but many of them felt ill after, or during, the showing. Despite those affects, they still returned to watch Alien again and again. Where the recently released Star Wars was a fantastical science fiction fairytale, Alien took the genre into a dark horror. Nathan proposes that many science fiction films from that point forward would be categorized as falling under one of those two headings.
While Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film feels more like a coffee table book than anything else, it has a lot actual content to read as well. Ian Nathan is obviously very passionate about the subject matter, and you can really feel the heated pace in the writing as if he was excitedly discussing the topic with friends. Even so, a vast majority of the book is photos, sketches and storyboards. It seems to find a good balance between conveying a lot of good information and being able to just pick it up and flip through the pages for some eye candy. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the film, as there is a lot of information to be had and it is presented in a great way.