Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Collecting Alien

 “In space no one can hear you scream.”

So goes the tagline for Alien, one of the greatest (not to mention scariest) science fiction movies ever made. Released in 1979 by 20th Century Fox, Alien was directed by preeminent auteur Ridley Scott (from a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon), who would achieve further fame in the ensuing years with such fantastic films as Blade Runner (1982), Thelma & Louise (1991), and Gladiator (2000). Among other accolades, Alien earned an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, a Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, and Saturn Awards for Best Director, Best Science Fiction Film, and Best Supporting Actress (Veronica Cartwright).
The story, which was influenced in part by the sci-fi B-movie classics It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) and Planet of the Vampires (1965), centers around the crew of the space freighter, Nostromo. After reacting to an apparent distress signal, the ship lands on a dark, dreary, windswept planet and encounters horrifying, acid-dripping, H.R. Geiger-designed aliens. These creatures go through several stages of increasingly scary metamorphoses, the most horrific of which is an incubation period inside the human body followed by bursting through the host’s chest. Needless to say, things don’t turn out too well for most of the Nostromo crew members.

Thanks to its shockeroo thrills, gothic imagery, and iconic monsters, Alien is as much a horror picture as it is a sci-fi feature. The film oozes with creepy atmospherics from the beginning—the awakening of the Nostromo crew—until the end: Ripley returning to sleep after her nightmarish alien encounter.

Watching Alien today, the viewer realizes that it hasn’t dated a minute, from the dark, greasy, industrial design of the ship to the gorgeous visual effects to the quality acting of the ensemble cast, which includes Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).
Willie Goldman, owner and administrator of, a reference guide and resource library for Alien collectors, calls the film a “benchmark” in the history of believable sci-fi cinema.

Alien wasn't the first movie to ‘dirty-down’ spaceships, but it was the first to do it with an incredible sense of realism,” he said. “With Star Wars taking place in a world that's as much fantasy as science fiction, Alien feels very much rooted in our world, and in doing so makes its most fantastical element—the Alien itself—all the more believable. Not to take anything away from [Star Wars creator George] Lucas, but the aliens in the Star Wars universe range from cute and cuddly to grand and gross, while the alien in Alien is simply terrifying.”

Alien spawned three direct sequels: James Cameron's brilliant Aliens (1986), David Fincher's dreadful Alien 3 (1992), and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's mediocre Alien Resurrection (1997). Plus, there were a number of offshoots, including films in the Alien vs. Predator franchise.

Goldman cites Aliens as his favorite film in the series. “James Cameron gave us the most logical extension to the events that transpired in the film before,” he said. “Most sequels are just another ride on the same rollercoaster with a different coat of paint, but what Cameron did in expanding the film's universe made it all the more real. If Aliens had been a complete failure, there never would have been a franchise—that would have been it.”

The Alien franchise is rife with collecting opportunities for the budget-minded film fan and for high-end collectors alike. While there are plenty of common action figures, comic books, games, model kits, T-shirts, and other such items available for sale from a variety of sources, there are rare and valuable items as well.
“The rarest stuff will always be the props and costumes used in the films,” Goldman said. “Toy prototypes are also highly sought after. Galoob created a space station playset modeled after LV-426 that never made it into production while Kenner produced a prototype for a large-size Dropship.”

One of the most desirable mass-produced Alien items is the original 18” Kenner action figure from 1979, which is worth $500-$1,000 new in the package and upwards of $300 loose and complete. According to, the toy didn’t sell very well because the film was rated R, meaning most children didn’t see it and therefore had no desire for Alien merchandise. In addition, the toy was cheaply made and is easily breakable, making complete, unbroken figures very hard to find.
Goldman has more Alien items in his collection than he can count, but “getting stuff” takes a back seat to interacting with fellow collectors. “The single greatest joy I get from doing this is the human element—meeting and interacting with other folks that share the same passion,” he said. “It's not the owning of something—after all, you really can't take it with you—but all the new people I meet and friends I've made through collecting.”

Alien turns 35 next year. To celebrate early, you can attend the Alien Reunion at Texas FrightmareWeekend in Dallas, taking place May 3, 4, and 5. Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright will be on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures with fans.

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