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...

June 06, 2012

I survived the ALIEN WAR

London Trocadero (1993-1996)

Fancy being chased through space corridors by a xenomorph?

Ridley Scott's phenomenal Prometheus has stirred up a host of Alien memories. Among these, a scary morning I had at the Alien War experience. This was a permanent attraction that sat in a huge chunk of the basement of London's Trocadero, Piccadilly Circus, in the mid 1990s.

I don't remember waiting long to get in and we might have booked tickets in advance. If we'd spent a little longer in the queue, we would have spoilt one of the surprises in store for us. Checking in our bags, we entered a holding area where we were shouted at by a Colonial Marine who made it quite clear that we should jump when he said jump. In a short time, we were scared grunts who'd do whatever the space army told us to!

The idea was that we were being evacuated from a collapsing complex. I don't remember too much of the next twenty minutes, but some of it was running through dark corridors, lit by flashing red lights with soldiers ahead of us and corralling us at the rear. We started seeing signs of the alien life cycle, like unhatched eggs and scuttling facehuggers. Finally fully grown xenomorphs started appearing where we weren't expecting them.

At one point we escaped into a lift but the door was closing too slowly. A xenomorph pounced into the lift and grabbed one of the civilians! Of course, we didn't know that is was a 'plant'. We though we were next! Of course the lift then malfunctioned and above we could see full sized alien climbing down the lift shaft towards us. Time to get the hell out of there. While all of this is familiar to the American experience of Halloween haunted house 'mazes', this type of  attraction was practically unknown in Britain.

With soldiers shouting at us keep moving, we run through an escape hatch that led straight outside and in front of the waiting queue! We had to rapidly regain our composure and reset our realities. Very sneaky. The idea was also to propel us into the gift shop opposite. But all I remember getting was a survivor badge.

Expensive fun, but fun all the same and a potential way to inspire fanboys and girls to take a little aerobic exercise. Chase them with aliens!

The Alien War attraction existed before and afterwards in Glasgow, and other British cities. The London version was only in place between 1993 and 1996, until a flood at the Trocadero wrecked the sets, prematurely ending its run. I only went once, but I'll never forget it.

Here's an interview with Sigourney Weaver about her officially opening the London attraction in 1993. Boosted by the recent release of Alien 3, other cast members also turned up at the launch.

There are also photos of the attraction here, with some more background...

Beware the videos on YouTube. Overly lit by TV crews, they fail to capture the atmosphere of running for your life in the dark!

June 02, 2012


Missing, presumed lost - over a hundred episodes of Doctor Who...

Some of my earliest TV memories are of being frightened by the many monsters of Doctor Who. Daleks, Cybermen and Yeti lived on in my nightmares, memories mingling with images I thought I'd seen on TV. I saw many Patrick Troughton stories and must have seen some William Hartnell episodes before that (I was only five when his reign as The Doctor ended in 1966). 

1973 magazine that listed every story to date -
before some of them were lost forever

Through the years, Doctor Who novelisations, photos and comic strips kept these early stories alive in my imagination and occasionally a clip or a repeat would appear on TV. Eventually, many years later with the coming of home video, there was the chance to see them again, measured against my childhood memories. The BBC also started transmitting archive shows on the cable channel UK Gold, and thankfully showed every complete Doctor Who story that they had at the time. 

This 1972 behind-the-scenes paperback also teased us
 with its catalogue of early adventures

But this revival was tempered for me by the awful news in the September 1986 issue of 'Time Screen', that the BBC simply didn't have many of the recordings any more. They'd been wiped, dumped or lost. After many years of piecemeal news and rumours, comes the complete story of how so many episodes survived.

"In the 1960s, the BBC screened 253 episodes of its cult science-fiction show Doctor Who, starring William Hartnell and then Patrick Troughton as the time travelling Doctor. Yet by 1975, the corporation had wiped every single one of these episodes. Of the 124 episodes starring Jon Pertwee shown between 1970 and 1974, the BBC destroyed over half of the original transmission tapes within two years of their original broadcast", Richard Molesworth's thoroughly researched book 'Wiped! Doctor Who's Missing Episodes' declares on its back cover.

The Evil of the Daleks - six out of seven episodes are missing

The book describes as fully as possible the history of these recordings, how the BBC worked through the decades and how so many shows could disappear. Even to non-Doctor Who enthusiasts, this is a thorough description of television production and recording techniques from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The original videotapes of all the Hartnell (1963-1966) and Troughton (1966-1969) stories were indeed wiped, because early videotape was so expensive, and the recordings were only really necessary for a single transmission. During the two years respite before the tape was reused, filmed copies were made for overseas sales. In most cases, these black and white 16mm prints returning from overseas are the only surviving versions of many episodes. They even account for some of the Jon Pertwee season (which was entirely filmed in colour), during which the automatic wiping of master tapes thankfully ceased, but not before 108 Hartnell and particularly Troughton episodes had been lost, perhaps forever.

'Wiped!' goes into incredible technical detail about the formats they were recorded on and precisely how every restoration has been achieved. There's also enough information for what detectives around the world should keep their eyes out for in film and video archives (as well as collectors' circles), including a checklist of missing episodes as of 2010.

BBC Home Video (now called 2Entertain) teamed up with Doctor Who fans to restore the quality of their remaining archives, including adding back the colour to many Pertwee episodes. Only 'The Mind of Evil' remains in black and white now. Without any surviving colour elements, only an expensive colourisation process could restore it. The book helps explain the variable quality of the surviving episodes in the ongoing programme to release every complete story on DVD.

The episodes that remain lost that hurt me the most are the two stories 'The Abominable Snowmen' and 'The Web of Fear', which I enjoyed being frightened by in the 1960s. The collective interest in all the lost stories have thrown up some remarkable retrievals and reconstructions. Besides ardent fans, the British Film Institute also joined in the hunt for lost footage, and interest is still high enough for new finds to quickly make money! But what if they're never ever found?

The earliest way of reliving the episodes were the novelisations of each story, which started publishing in the 1970s. Normally these would just be adapted from scripts, but the authors also tried to see the recordings again to refresh their memories, but even then some had already been lost.

Even better were the successful recovery of audio recordings of all the missing episodes, usually from fans recording off their TVs at home. These have now been released on CD, sometimes with linking narration to turn them into 'audiobooks'.

The many publicity photographs taken on set for Radio Times help fill in the gaps and some are better quality than the original transmissions anyway. 'Doctor Who: The Sixties' and '...The Seventies' are two glossy large-format books full of the best photos and behind-the-scenes stories.

More precise memory-joggers are the "tele-snaps" - photos taken off the television of every scene as they were being transmitted. Before home video was affordable, directors and actors would buy these as visual examples of their work. These surviving early 'screengrabs' are now available on the BBC website, and are of course complementary to the audio recordings. Above is a tele-snap from 'The Web of Fear' - Yeti in an abandoned London Underground...

More recently, the cyberman adventure 'Invasion', an eight-episode Troughton story had two missing chapters rebuilt with animation, using the tele-snaps as a visual guide. This was very expensive, but meant that it can now be enjoyed on DVD. (I reviewed it here.)

Individual episodes and fragments have also been released, particularly in the Lost In Time boxset, covering the Hartnell and Troughton series. This was the first and only opportunity I've had to see the two surviving Yeti episodes. This DVD boxset, also available in the US, includes orphaned episodes, clips and even censor cuts that have been recovered.

Poor organisation and a lack of money or foresight are all easy to pinpoint in retrospect, but this huge example of how lost programmes later became valuable can be applied to many other television archives then and now. Not to mention a warning of whether you'll remember anything you seen or hear on the Internet in a few decades time...

Do you want to know more?

An interview with Richard Molesworth, the author of the book Wiped!