The Making of Aliens–J.W. Rinzler’s definitive Aliens chronicle arrives for 35th anniversary

Review by C.J. Bunce

You’re likely to find as many books on the Alien franchise as any other major sci-fi franchise (and we’ve tried to review all of them here at borg), but for the coming 35th anniversary of the release of the first sequel, Aliens, one of the best chroniclers of blockbuster films has provided the definitive look at the film in the giant hardcover book The Making of Aliens J.W. Rinzler, the writer of some of the best known books about George Lucas’s films and Planet of the Apes, adds to 2019’s The Making of Alien (reviewed here) to give fandom his most readable account yet.

Beginning with the state of director James Cameron’s career upon taking on the development of Aliens, Rinzler pulls together contemporary interviews and documents to flesh out each step of forming a cast and crew, and tackling the challenge of creating a sequel to a major hit, in this case Ridley Scott’s Alien.  Although we never quite get an admission that Cameron was the force behind keeping Scott, H.R. Giger, and other Alien crew out of his filmmaking process, Cameron’s success was making Aliens his own film, not just the sequel to Alien, a film that today is still viewed as a standalone success–not simply another sequel.

In The Making of Aliens the film is approached in two ways, the main chronological narrative, and the insertion of standalone articles that key in on details, like crew members that played an important role in specific parts of the production (these are highlighted with yellow hazard lines and black backgrounds).  Readers will see several key threads spliced into the main narrative: Cameron as a young American whose drive allows him to make a major film despite pushback from a mature British crew, Cameron’s work with actors and crew in the past (including those from The Terminator), the challenge faced by Gale Ann Hurd as a woman producer in an industry dominated by men, the theme of “Mothers” as a story idea envisioned much earlier by Cameron, reflecting Hurd’s role, Sigourney Weaver’s update to Ripley watching over the new young actress (Carrie Henn’s Newt), and the queen villain of the story, and intentional story parallels to the Vietnam War as Cameron was writing the script to Rambo.   

Readers will get complete accounts from creators including monster maker and second unit director Stan Winston, concept artist Syd Mead, production designer Peter Lamont, set decorator Crispian Sallis, second unit director Derek Cracknell, miniature supervisor Pat McClung, composer James Horner, chief dubbing sound mixer Graham Hartstone, and executive producer David Giler.  Making this account his most immersive look at a film, Rinzler’s collection of quotes from new interviews and from those no longer living bring the difficulties of the film alive.  You can’t get enough commentary from the late Bill Paxton, who played Hudson, Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez, Michael Biehn, who was a last-minute replacement as Hicks, Lance Henriksen as the resident cyborg, Paul Reiser, who played the weasel Burke, and of course Sigourney Weaver, who shares her motivations and understanding of Ripley at this point in the franchise.

Rinzler, who has also created similar deep dives behind the scenes of Star WarsThe Empire Strikes BackReturn of the Jedi, the Indiana Jones films, The Making of Planet of the Apes, and last year’s aforementioned The Making of Alien, can take a movie or franchise you may not be a fan of and make aspects of the filmmaking process accessible and intriguing.

It’s loaded with behind-the-scenes photographs, concept art, script treatments and in-process script drafts.  A must for fans of the franchise and the film, as well as sci-fi fans and anyone who loves to learn more about film production, The Making of Aliens is available now from Titan Books here at Amazon.

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