June 16, 2012

ALIEN merchandise and publicity from 1979

Spoiler-free publicity for the original release of Alien

When Alien was first released in 1979, the way to get movie-fans excited was through print. You'd also maybe get a five-minute review on a TV show, ads on TV and radio, and maybe you'd catch a trailer in the cinema, but most publicity work was down in magazines and newspapers.

Like Star Wars, which inspired Ridley Scott to abandon his vision of Tristan and Isolde and direct science-fiction instead, Alien was an early movie where you could study the production design before seeing the film, and learn about the special visual effects soon after. But only in books and magazines. Luckily I've hung on to my magazines and many of the books available at the time of the original cinema release. They reminded me of how little was shown of the Alien creatures before the film hit cinemas.

Before the movie was released, standard practice was to get everyone reading the book first. Alien wasn't based on a book, so the script was novelised by Alan Dean Foster who always does his best to add the science back into science-fiction. The 8 pages of colour photographs don't include any of the creatures, consistent with the pre-release publicity photos and lobby cards. The novel adaption contains the 'cocooning' sequence which was cut from the film.

The radio ads told me very little except that I wanted Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack. Listen to two original radio ads for the London release with Patrick Allen's scary voiceover... 

Again, the album art for the vinyl has that egg on it and no photos on the back. The names of the tracks contained no spoilers (unlike The Black Hole soundtrack album from the same year). I didn't read the book beforehand, but I did listen to the music.

The teaser trailer that I'd seen in cinemas was simply that egg splitting open and letting out a burst of white light. The later trailer, made up of glimpses from the film, was big on panic but again short on spoilers (and I never caught that in a cinema). The clips shown on BBC TV review show Film '79 had Kane in the egg chamber right up till the egg opening, and one brief glimpse of a man-sized something (at the end of the scene where Dallas goes into the ventilation shafts). 

Back of the first Alien poster mag
The movie could first be seen in just one cinema in Central London, the Odeon Leicester Square, blown up to a 70mm print with Dolby stereo audio (when many local cinemas were still stuck with mono). It opened to the public on Thursday, September 6th, but I had to wait till the weekend to see it. Having avoided any reviews of the film, some idiot queueing for tickets in front of me described the chestburster sequence to his girlfriend. Spoilt!

A brochure was always for sale at London cinemas for big, first-run presentations. Alien had a large, but thin, 20-page brochure, the same one that had been sold in the US  (pictured at top). Filled with photos mostly of the huge sets, and only one tightly-cropped picture of a xenomorph. There's a nice photo of Ridley Scott behind the camera, which he sometimes liked to operate himself (something he couldn't do when shooting in America).

After a few weeks (?), Alien moved into local cinemas across the country, vying with Scum, Quadrophenia, John Carpenter's Elvis - The Movie, Woody Allen's Manhattan, The China Syndrome, and Airport 80 - The Concorde. More Alien magazines then hit local newsagents. 

These two covers of Alien Poster Magazines show an increase in 'hard sell' - the first was a foldout of the space jockey, the second a great full-length shot of the xenomorph (see below) which graced my study bedroom at University).

'The Book of Alien' was a behind-the-scenes large-format paperback, full of exciting pre-production art from artists like Chris Foss, Ron Cobb, Jean Giraud, and of course H.R. Giger. This was the first chance to see the many unused designs of spaceships and creatures. 

The artwork of the pyramid (the original home of the egg chamber) weren't used in the film, but coincidentally turned up in Roger Corman's Alien homage Galaxy of Terror.  ('The Book of Alien' has been reprinted several times and is currently still available.)

Also published in 1979 (presumably after the initial release) was this impressive, shot-by-shot photo-novel. Foto-novel paperbacks were all the rage at the time, filled with frame blow-ups that told the story like a comic book, with balloons for dialogue (Battlestar Galactica - The Movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers...). Earlier, Richard Anobile had published a series of large format books both for study purposes and because screenings were then rare. But this was his first venture in colour, and for a brand new film. The 'Alien Movie Novel' had over 1,000 frame blow-ups, with dialogue shown as text (just as he'd done for his Frankenstein and Psycho adaptions). This was a unique presentation of the film, all the more popular because home video hadn't landed yet.

A trip to London's sci-fi and movie emporium Forbidden Planet revealed rarer and imported items, like this large-format paperback graphic novel, 'Alien The Illustrated Story'. This and the poster magazines seemed aimed at younger audiences despite the film not being certificated for anyone under eighteen. 
(You can see selected pages from this adaption over on Space 1970.)

'Giger's Alien' is a large, square, glossy artbook of H. R. Giger's pre-production paintings and photos of his sculptures in progress, including him actually working on the full-scale space jockey set. At the time it was hugely expensive and I've still never bought one, despite it being re-released in paperback (it's still in print). Nice to see a photo of stuntman Eddie Powell in an Alien suit (with the head off) - he was called in for the more strenuous action scenes, especially the wirework.

Forbidden Planet also stocked a wide selection of movie magazines. With so much talent behind the scenes, there were plenty of people to interview about the film. 

This 'Alien Collector's Edition' magazine was from Warren, the publishers of Famous Monsters of Filmland. It had a spectacular spoiler cover and the first details and photos of the missing scenes, like Dallas trapped in a cocoon. It proved to be a very long wait before this footage appeared in the deleted scenes extras on the Alien laserdisc boxset. The footage has since been included in an alternate version of the film on DVD and Blu-ray. All photos inside are in black-and-white, printed on the same pulpy paper as Famous Monsters used to be.

Cinefantastique had a spectacular centrefold of the Giger painting that first inspired the look of the xenomorph. It predicts the torso and head of the creature (but note that the hands are quite human) and was spectacularly sexual, with a giant transparent phallus enshrouding a skeleton. 

Inside are interviews that include Scott, Walter Hill, producer David Giler, the first Alien suit actor Bolaji Badejo, facehugger and chestburster builder Roger Dicken and of course HR Giger. There are reprints of Carlo Rambaldi's sketches for the functional Alien head and photos of the prop without the transparent shell.

The very first issue of Cinefex (which is still publishing) arrived in the nick of time to unveil far more visual effects secrets than 'The Book of Alien'. It complements and expands on the production stories of the Cinefantastique issue. The first half of Cinefex issue 1 and the cover belong to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but the entire second half (36 pages) is all about Alien. Spectacular and revealing set photos, and a rare shot of Roger Dicken manipulating the chestburster, which he built and helped design (as well as the facehugger). Super shots of the xenomorph on wires for Brett's demise and the finale.

The many other magazines that had sprung up for the Star Wars sci-fi movie boom obviously heralded the release of Alien. But the following also had some particularly in-depth articles...

Fantastic Films - spent several issues previewing and analysing Alien... Their July 1979 issue (above) kicked off with an extensive interview with Ron Cobb about his art and previous work on Dark Star.

Fantastic Films (UK issue 1, September 1979) interviews Dan O'Bannon about his version of the script, and there's a further two-page colour spread of paintings by Ron Cobb.
(You can read the interview over on The Weyland-Yutani Archives blog).

Issue 2 (October, 1979) interviews Scott about the early days of designing the project, the sets, and prints 60 of his storyboard frames, which include sketches of the dropped Dallas and Ripley love scene and the reappearance of Kane's corpse! More sensibly, the auto-doc opens Kane's helmet. There are pages of designs for Scott's aborted "Tristan and Iseult".

The second Alien poster mag unfolded into this image
In the UK it was an 'X'-rated horror movie. So no toys were made available in the UK. Wheras in the USA...

Here we see an American advert touting iron-on t-shirt transfers and some children's target games. The US also had a board game, a model kit and a great action-figure from Kenner. Plaid Stallions has some pictures... 

Whoops, nearly forgot the Alien bubblegum cards. Didn't catch them all...

Of course, the subsequent deluge of Alien memorabilia hasn't stopped since, the choicest of which I've tried to pick up. But I thought these earliest examples might be of interest. Recently Ian Nathan's awesome Alien Vault hardback has collected into one volume most of the best photos and artwork mentioned above.

Hoarding can be fun...


  1. Thanks for posting - this was a fascinating read. So interesting to see all the publicity material and for the background on how how the film was marketed.

    Thanks again.

  2. What a fascinating overview. I've read "Giger's Alien" and it's a must-read for all Alien fans.

  3. Wow, a lot of interesting stuff here. Alien came out before my time so its really cool to see promotion from its original release. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great little collection. Very interesting to put it alongside Prometheus and see how marketing has changed in 30+ years.

    I remember buying the Alan Dean Foster novelisation as a kid but don't think I ever finished it. A slow paced book is far less fun than a slow paced film.

  5. How can I subscribe to/follow your blog? I can't find an RSS feed or anything like it. Thanks.


  6. Kelly, I'm surprised you're having trouble.

    This is a Google Blogger blog, so next to the search window at the far top left should be a 'Follow' link to add me to your Google Reader.

  7. Matthew Priestly28 June, 2012 00:43

    I love this film, and I'm a fan of the genre. For fellow fans of this genre, I'd like to share that Giorgio Moroder's edition of Metropolis will be released on DVD in the UK. You can see the trailer here Metropolismovie.co.uk

  8. Thank you 'Matthew' for the heartfelt spam. I forward it in the name of Giorgio Moroder...

  9. what a treasure! just watched it yesterday on blu ray for the first time...wowsies!
    cheers marty

  10. what a treasure! just watched it yesterday on blu ray for the first time...wowsies!
    cheers marty

  11. iwant this collection please i want it,,alien is my great favorite movie,,,and the poster of sigourney weaver

  12. i love sigourney weaver in this film..aaaahhhhhhhh

  13. Nice summary!