Until Titan Books sent me a copy Alien, despite being a huge movie fan, I’d never read a movie novelization before. To me, it feels like redundant media. I never understood why I’d want to spend a week reading about Marty McFly going back in time to meet his parents when I could just watch Back to the Future in a fraction of the time. Unless a novel includes major plot points that were cut from the final film – and they better be major – I just don’t see the point of reading a novelization. It’s not even like reading an original fiction novel in that you get to imagine what the characters and settings look like, because you have this template in your mind based upon the movie. Of course the same thing happens if you read a novel a movie is based on, but at least the book will inevitably be different from the film, often in very important ways.
So with all of this in mind, I can’t explain why I couldn’t put down the novelization of Alien.
The story is essentially the same – ship follows distress beacon to deserted planet, they find an alien spacecraft, facehugger, chestburster, xenomorph, Ripley blows the creature “out of the goddamn airlock” while wearing sexy underwear. The characters are essentially the same, although Ripley is presented as a more of a generic 1979-era media’s image of a ballbusting feminist than she is the film. However, there are a few interesting aspects to the book that make it worth checking out.
For one, the time spent on LV-426, the barren planet where the alien spacecraft is discovered, is much longer and more in-depth than it is in the film. We’re given a better idea of this hostile environment, we witness the difficult journey the exploratory group must go on in order to even get to the spaceship, and we see more of what happens once they get inside. This isn’t necessarily riveting material for most people and I can understand why it wasn’t shown to this extent in the film, but it makes their discovery that much more poignant by showing the hell they went through in order to reach the ship that would ultimately spell their doom.
Another interesting little tidbit is how the xenomorph is handled. Apparently by this point in the film’s production, the H.R. Giger designs for the facehugger had been finalized, or were at least very close to it. The author, Alan Dean Foster, describes the beast in terms that sound exactly like the facehugger we all know and love. However, when we get to the xenomorph stage, the description is much more vague. For example, there is no mention of the alien’s secondary jaw, despite the fact that it is clearly used to kill Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) in the film. In fact, the creature is barely described at all, obviously in an effort to either keep the look a secret, or because the design hadn’t been finalized by the film production. So seeing how Foster works around these vagaries while still keeping the creature menacing is pretty fun and fascinating if you fancy yourself a writer.
Foster’s writing is also a major selling point. He’s pretty much made a career out of writing novelizations in between his original fiction, so he’s one of the best names in the business, and with good reason. Even with my own pre-conceived images of the characters thanks to the film, he provides a new perspective on their personalities and their social dynamics, that, while familiar, feels more lived in than is possible in a two-hour movie. There are times when a little closer editing might have helped, specifically a lot of the same word used repeatedly in a small span of time, but overall it’s a really excellent read.
Even after reading Alien, part of me still can’t quite figure out the purpose of movie novelizations. I understand the need before the dawn of VHS, when you might see a movie once or twice while it’s in theaters, then have to wait possibly years before a revival theater is showing it to catch it again. But in the modern era, when we can watch nearly any movie, anytime, anywhere, the idea of a movie being written out in prose form seems completely redundant. Yet at the same time, carrying the Alien novel around with me for a few days, finding snippets of time to read familiar scenes over my lunch break or before bed, was somehow oddly comforting. It was like revisiting an old friend that you haven’t talked to in a while; you have familiar conversations, but the phrasing is a little different this time.
So while I don’t know if I’m a movie novelization convert, I will say that reading Alien was a good experience. The book was well written, it filled in a few gaps in the film that I didn’t know needed to be filled until I read them, and it put the film in a different context, which may color my next viewing. If you consider yourself a fan of the film, it’s worth checking out.
Alien is currently available from Amazon and other fine retailers.