Written by: Matt Molgaard
Being as completely mesmerized by the franchise, it’s not always easy reviewing an Alien novel. I’m absolutely obsessed with these wicked xenomorphs, so just about anything centered on their existence, even the potential destruction of man, has me completely transfixed and endlessly gushing. That’s just me, a diehard Alien fan since the mid-80s. I adore these nasties in any medium, on screen or on paper makes no difference. I can’t shake my love for the creatures. I can’t shake my lust for Sigourney Weaver.
Well, we don’t actually see Sigourney in Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the film, but what the hell, I like to pretend. She is after all, one of the most gorgeous, powerful and riveting heroines in history. Well, she was in the films, and a few of the books. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel quite like the dominant force we’ve come to know her as in this specific novel. Somehow, Foster has allowed Ellen Ripley to blend into the crew, few defining or separating traits apparent. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a bit of a hard ass in the novelization, but she has very, very few moments in which all focus lies on her. It’s not until the final 30-50 pages that Ripley becomes the Ripley we met almost immediately in Ridley Scott’s films… which is just too damn bad, because it’s too damn late.
Tim Lebbon recently worked up a wonderful Alien tie-in titled, Alien: Out of the Shadow, and he did an excellent job of bringing Ripley to life, in all her bad ass glory. Foster doesn’t quite make it happen. She’s simply one more personality in this piece, which is rather odd, given her prominent role in the original picture. Ripley is practically synonymous with the brand, for goodness sake.
Now, don’t take any of that to mean this is an outright terrible novelization. It’s not. It’s an engaging enough read, and it plays pretty faithful to the movie. The major problem – aside from the Ripley issues – for me, was the pacing of the book versus the pacing of the film. When I’m reading a transfer of this nature, I expect the two mediums to run a parallel course. That doesn’t quite happen in this instance.
Need some examples?
In Scott’s film, Kane has his internal buddy burst through his chest about 40-45% of the way through the film. Just enough time and exploration has passed to trigger the major swing in cinematic direction. It’s all bad from here. However, in the novel, Kane isn’t convulsing on a mess table until about 70-75% of the way through the book; damn near 200 pages in. Another example of a major timing misfire comes in the betrayal of Ash, the resident robot. In the movie you’ll recall Ash goes haywire about an hour and 20 minutes in, while in the book, Ash’s true motives and subsequent attack aren’t even revealed until the final 25-30 pages.
All of Foster’s major energies are invested in the first two thirds of the book, which is fair, except for the fact that the action that takes place in the first two thirds of the film are essentially pushed aside and crammed into a very small portion of the novel. If Foster planned to write the novel in the manner he did, he should have given us an extra 100 pages. And Foster never once gives us any glorious moments to cherish, instead he skates right past the terror of the alien, and Ash. Their aggression is just skimmed over, leaving very little impact on the reader. Here’s the alien, now he’s gone and someone’s dead. Did you notice? It’s a bit confusing.
I dug the novel to an extent. But I’d be a liar if I said I wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite a bit more had Foster been faithful to the film and actually allowed us to experience the terror in its entirety, rather than a quick encounter here and there with the alien and an ultra-brief matchup with Ash (which ends as quickly as it starts, Parker knocking the bot’s head from his body inside of a single paragraph).
I’ll be an Alien fan for life, but this is one novelization that needed a lot of work (seriously, the film is loaded with creepy action sequences, the book boasts about 40 total pages (of about 300) of insanity. Something just didn’t quite work out in this translation.