There’s a tricky balance in play when it comes to coffee table books. They must contain striking imagery for the reader who just wants to flip, but also contain the right amount of insight to make the usually small blurbs fascinating and conversation worthy. After all, what’s a coffee table book if it’s not a conversation starter? Let’s take a look at Aliens: The Set Photography which was released on August 9th.
Aliens: The Set Photography (Titan Books)
So what’s it about? This Titan’s summary reads:
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s groundbreaking science fiction classic comes the first, official record of the shoot. Through candid, high-quality stills we see the cast and crew at work, in costume, rehearsing, in make-up, and during filming. Some choice pieces of original concept art add greater context to the shoot and showcase the remarkable level of design. Also features insightful quotes from original interviews.
Why does this book matter?
It’s the 30th anniversary of of the Aliens film having been released in 1986. It contains big and beautiful images from the set. Aliens fans need to at least peruse this once as then-child actor Carrie Henn writes the foreword for this book as well as supplies insight in shooting the film throughout.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
On Henn and Weaver’s relationship.
In a lot of ways this is Henn’s book as she details her thoughts about Sigourney Weaver and the other actors as well as her experience acting with a giant Alien. She not only offers intriguing insights of what it’s like to be a child actor, but also a good amount of color. She may not always have the most riveting quote splashed on a page, but it gives the entire work a bit of heart. It’s insightful too since you’d expect Henn’s memories to be pretty messed up shooting such a great horror film with so many scenes, but for the most part she reflects on how much fun it was.
Henn isn’t the only person quoted throughout the book. One example is Jenette Goldstein who offers up her opinion on the psychological impact of the Aliens: “I think Giger’s monster, in our dreams, present us [with] this mythic creature and [an] odd psychosexual terror.” Quotes from director James Cameron are also littered throughout the book like his goal to make the Alien queen “hideous and beautiful at the same time, like a Black Widow spider.”
So what about the art in the book? Organized first by cast and crew, then on set photography, and then finally behind the scenes photography, readers will get a great sense of the film and the production. Nearly every major sequence is detailed and catalogued in this book and the behind the scenes pictures help articulate the varied technologies used to make this film happen, from spaceship and alien planet models to the Alien suit actors would wear to the dummy’s created of the actors. Weapon nuts also get a nice two page spread of the guns and helmets used in the film.
Working on the Alien head.
It can’t be perfect can it?
While it’s nice to see Henn’s reflections on the film–especially since her character was tortured so much in the movie–it would have been nice to get more quotes from the actors specifically for this book. You can tell most quotes were taken over the years and then added here and because of this the book doesn’t feel quite as special or introspective as it could have been.
My only other gripe is the quality of the photography in the book. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoiled by art books of newer movies, but there’s a grainyness to the images that makes it feel a bit subpar. Obviously the photography at the time wasn’t what it is today, and one might argue the older looking photographs help remind us this is a film of the 80’s, but it’s hard to argue it doesn’t make the quality of the book look a bit lower than it should be.
The reflective director.
Is It Good?
It’s easy to forget this was a science fiction war film made in reaction to the Vietnam War, but with this book, it’ll be a lot harder to forget. The book covers nearly every sequence with plenty of anecdotal information from the actors and should satisfy most. It probably could have used a bit more reflection from the actors today, and some of the photography is grainy, but it’s still a worthwhile purchase.