In space no-one can hear you scream, but a photographic insight into James Cameron’s ‘Aliens‘ production proves a rare glimpse at how Hollywood took us on that journey into deep space…
I’ll admit it – like any serious movie junkie, I find it fascinating to get a visual glimpse into the ‘making of…‘ associated with key films. Seeing the moments and images that are usually only experienced by cast and crew often give a better insight into the DNA of a production than any press-notes or even interviews. A limited number of photos and promotional material can do the job of pushing key info out to the masses, but prove a bit limiting once you want to know more.
So books such as Aliens: On Set Photography can be a great opportunity to lift the veil a little further. Though there are plenty of official photos in the book with which fans will be familiar, it’s the less formal shots and behind-the-scenes production images that provide the context for one of the most celebrated genre films of the last thirty years. Amid admittedly sparse text – largely limited to introductory paragraphs and captions – those images track the production from beginning to end, picking out key scenes and characters. We see director James Cameron setting up scenes and actors preparing to shoot (or ‘enjoying’ brief moments of downtime and some memories supplied later by the participants.
It’s not as intimate a tome as some of, say, Jeff Bridges’ photography or a retrospective warts-and-all journal – there’s nothing controversial here or that hasn’t been approved by all involved, but it does feel like watching a troupe of actors rehearsing and preparing for a play – and in many ways, that’s exactly what it is… but with more cameras and a bigger stage. Seeing a man dressed in half an alien costume or the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Bill Paxton huddled away from the water-drenched scene they’ve just completed, doesn’t do anything to dispel the mythology and magic of the film. Stunt-doubles, such as Newt/Carrie Helm’s stand-in Louise Head, get some rare recognition and the FX department display some of the process that led to what we finally get to see at the cinema.
If not quite the definitive look at the film to date: to be so it would ideally need a lot more corresponding text that expands on the quotes and captions to give a fuller view of the production. However the memories Carrie Helm brings to the introduction do humanise the science-fiction classic and there are also snippets of other info: Biehn disliking the armour he was wearing, already personalised by James Remar who had been previously cast in the role and Cameron using the technique of speeding up the film to make the alien costume’s movement seem more… inhuman). But, ultimately, the book more than does what its title proclaims and this is still an interesting addition to any fan’s bookshelf. At £24.99, another worthy tome to Titan’s growing list of cinematic tie-ins that are well worth the cost of entry.
Alien: The Set Photography by Simon Ward is published by Titan Books and is out now…