Every once in a while a story hits the big screen that somehow takes on a life of its own. Alien was one of those films with a legacy that is still being explored today through new films such as Prometheus. Something about the alien life form created by H.R. Giger carved a permanent spot in our shared horror landscape that cannot be shaken.
Though I’ve seen the original Alien movie many times since its 1979 release, I managed to miss the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, which was released that same year. Usually the screenplay becomes the basis for the novel, but in this case Foster created a novel based on the original work that was better than the source material. They then turned his novel back into a screenplay and that was what we saw on the big screen.
If you have somehow avoided to hear the story of Alien over the last four decades, I will boil it down for you. A space tug manned by a small crew is hauling ore back to Earth from the far side of the galaxy. They get sidetracked by a strange signal from a rocky planet otherwise devoid of life. The crew stops to check it out, picks up an alien hitchhiker, and spend the rest of the plot running for their lives. It’s a beautifully simple story that’s been done and redone many times, but rarely as well.
The story worked beautifully on the big screen with Giger’s visual influences and the book works equally as well leaving things to the imagination. Foster’s well-crafted prose tells you what you need to know and lets you, like Ripley and Jonesy the cat, try to guess at what the monster really wants. And as our already tiny crew is whittled down one at a time, you can almost see the sands trickling through the hourglass as oxygen and bodies start disappearing into the dark bowels of the ship.
Where I think Foster exceeds the film is when the crew first discover the alien craft on that rocky orb swirling with dust and wind. The very atmosphere becomes another character of the story, which I never really felt in the movie itself. And as he describes the vastness of the interior of the alien craft, I saw that scene in a completely new light. “It was lonelier than falling through space. Spinning slowly as the wire unwound, he dropped through total darkness, not a star or nebula in sight.”
If you are hoping to explore the world of Alien in a new way, the novelization doesn’t disappoint. I couldn’t help but wonder what the film would have looked like today with more modern special effects like we saw in Prometheus, but am still in awe of the original Alien film. Foster’s treatment of the source material has only enhanced my appreciation for this classic story.
Alien: The Official Movie Novelization is available now, as is Tim Lebbon’s recent Alien novel – Alien: Out of the Shadows, which takes place immediately following the events of this book. You can read my review of that book here.Powered by Sidelines