Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Review - Alien: The Official Movie Novelization

Getting started, first let me say that I'm definitely a bit conflicted with this book. As with any adaptation, the author must take certain liberties to conform the what works in a movie to what works in a book (as the reverse must be done when adopting a book to movie). You're always going to have things that someone liked better one way or another, so reviewing definitely comes with a grain of salt.

If you are unfamiliar with the original film, the story of Alien revolves around a crew of 'interstellar truckers' hauling a massive tug of petroleum through space back to Earth. The ship is unexpectedly redirected when it receives an emergency beacon from an unsurveyed world. Upon descending to the planet, they are unfortunate enough to discover a new form of life that stows away onboard in a rather unorthodox fashion, only to get loose later on and because wreaking terror on the crew. One by one they are each picked off, sometimes by the Alien and sometimes by each other. It ends in a claustrophobic, heart racing showdown that I won't spoil here but I'd encourage you to check out for yourself.

So let's start at the beginning.

Now, to give credit where credit is due, the greatest strength in this book has to be its descriptions and overall writing. The book, for all intents and purposes, would make an English teacher very happy. Grammatically it's perfect and it's loquacious to boot. Why should a button be green when it can be verdant? Or why simply push that button when you can depress it down with a satisfying click and a hum of machinery that comes to life after doing so.


While it will definitely win first prize at the spelling bee, it does bring us nicely to our first hit and miss: Pacing. As any horror author can tell you, pacing is important. It's hard to do but absolutely integral to the tone and atmosphere of the story. This is our first hit and miss.

The beginning of the story is slow. Very. Very. Slow. I actually started this book sometime back and eventually gave up 10% in because I just stopped caring. The author speak ad-nauseum regarding every little nuance and subtlety. Every clink of a machine, every light that blinks, everything that even vaguely occurs in the beginning of the book is so drawn out that it I very likely could have invented hypersleep before the characters woke up from their cryogenic stasis.

To the stories defense however, the author gains a better control of the story's pace once the alien is onboard and wreaking havoc. He begins to understand that not every whir of a machinery's hard-drive needs to be documented and, instead, uses the slower pace to build tension. What's better than slowly realizing something's out of place? That something is behind you? That something is waiting just around the corner? There are one or two scenes that are amusingly enough blown by that shouldn't have been, but overall the second half of the book is much better than the first.

In short, the author is very decently able to capture the tension and horror in these scenes that really made the original movie such a standout piece.

This brings us nicely to the next point: the adaptation.

While not necessarily good or bad, the actual adaptation and how a potential fan might react is subjective. Anyone that's seen the movies more than a few times can probably tell you in gruesome detail their favorite scene of the movie. They could probably tell you exactly what the creatures look like in their dark, sleek, and hideous black chitinous appearance.

What if I told you that had been changed?

While I've heard conflicting stories, a number of details, large and small, have been altered in the telling of the story. I've heard that it might be based on a very early version of the earlier script, but it definitely raised a few eyebrows. Did you know that the aliens all had enormous bulging eyeballs? I sure didn't. How about the fact that no one in this horrible, messed up situation ever feels the need to use a curse word? What about several completely skipped over scenes that add a great deal of context and understanding to the narrative as a whole.

Overall, the book is just ok. Of the four move adaptations, I definitely feel that it was the weakest however. Getting through the beginning of the book is just so gut-wrenchingly slow but it definitely makes up for it in the panic of the climax. I would give it a 6.5 out of 10.


  1. I cannot watch movies of books I love. And suspect the same would be true in reverse. They don't match the pictures in my head.

  2. We hadn't read that one but the slow and boring means we wouldn't have made it through anyways. Great review.

  3. Foster made a career writing movie-to-book adaptations. Most were serviceable. (His own titles were better.) I already think Alien was a very slow-paced movie (especially compared to the amazing roller coaster ride that was Aliens) so I imagine the book would crawl for me.

    1. I will say in Foster's defense, the worst is the first. The remaining three (as you will see later on) are a great deal better and I can only imagine it was a side effect of dealing with an already slow paced story.

  4. Shame this was such a weak adaptation for you to read. Glad the pacing picked up eventually, at the very least!

  5. Sounds like one really has to push through the start indeed. Alien was already a slow movie too.

  6. Pacing is a big element for me. If the book doesn't keep me engaged then I'm not likely to read the whole thing.