Aliens: The Set Photography BOOK REVIEW
If you have any love for James Cameron’s Aliens, you’ll find something to love in this book. Because despite a curiously generic cover, there’s a whole load of visual treasures inside that make it wonderfully browsable for casual fans and full of fascinating details for the hardcore Aliensphile.
Released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the film that’s often cited as he best sequel ever made, Aliens: The Set Photography is a lavish behind-the-scenes look at the making of James Cameron’s sci-fi war film. The biggest draw are the plentiful “never-seen-before” photos; that’s often a nicely vague phrase for marketing blurb – after all, somebody must have seen them before – but in this case a lot of the images do appear to be, at the very least, genuinely rare and exciting. And the beauty is in having them all collected together in one volume to tell form a narrative of the making of the film.
And there certainly are lots of great photos on offer, especially ones that give away special effects secrets or showing actors in bizarre situations. But candid shots of the director, cast and crew discussing shots have their own stories to tell as well. Some of the pics look like they’ve been blown up beyond their natural size (there’s a lot of noise on some photos) but the actual subject matter usually offsets quality issues; hell, these photos are pre-digital – give them some slack!
You’re less likely to cut some slack, though, with a few instances when a series of very similar pics take up a number of successive pages when it looks just a tad like “padding to fill page count” but this doesn’t happen often, thankfully.
Perhaps the most striking set of photos, though, are the ones showing the “fake” latex double little girl Newt being created. It’s like something out of Mary Shelley. It also helps that these pics come with a commentary from the actress who played Newt – Carrie Henn. She’s never acted since but her memories of filming help give the book a personal touch here and here. The book begins with a introduction from Henn which has the slight feel of a interview that been ghost re-written to sound like a personally penned piece, but it still offers a lovely insight into the on-set experience. There are also random comments from Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez, but no similar interview/intro which seems a little odd. The just pop up out of nowhere.
In fact, this is symptomatic of the main drawback with the book: it desperately need some contextualisation. It’s great to have all these photos, but where did they come from? Are some of them truly “never-before-seen” and from private collections? The books appears to be cinematic archaeology but the lack of information about the source of the photos is curious. Similarly, while having new quotes from Henn and Goldstein is a nice bonus, it leaves you wondering – why them? Were they the only Aliens cast or crew on the author’s speed dial? The special effects and props pics especially could have benefitted from some designer input.
Niggles aside, the book delivers big time on its main promise: as a revealing visual document of the making of one of sci-fi’s greatest blockbusters.