The thing looked like the hand of a skeleton with many fingers curled into the palm. Something like a short tube protruded from the palm and something like a tail was coiled beneath the base of the hand. There, on the back, was a dim, convex shape like a glazed over eye. Disgusting! But if that was an eye and not some slimy excrescence… he moved closer to take a look. And the eye moved; it stared right back at him.
Then, the ovoid sprang at him, exploded at him with the energy contained in that coiled tail. He raised an arm to protect himself. Too late! The thing’s fingers gripped his faceplate. The weaving tube in the palm’s center was stroking the glass. It started to sizzle. The faceplate was dissolving! The creature was through the plate. Must get it off! It was pushing at his mouth, tight around skull, tube down throat, can’t breathe…
“Kane, answer me,” Dallas’ voice came from above, but from down below, there was no reply.
Alan Dean Foster‘s novelization of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien was the first full-length adult science fiction novel that I remember reading. At this point, I had already seen Scott’s film on VHS – after begging my mother to rent it from the local video store. It wasn’t until I read Foster’s novelization, however, that I full understood everything my young eyes had seen. While reading, I began to notice several major differences between the book (which was based on an earlier draft of Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay) and the finished film. For one thing, the Space Jockey was nowhere to be found – and the Facehugger (as mentioned above) had an eye on its back.
If you’ve never read Alien: The Official Movie Novelization, Titan Books recently reissued Foster’s book and plans to reissue his adaptations of Aliens and Alien 3 as well. In addition to Foster’s novelizations, Titan Books is also publishing brand new Alien adventures from authors Tim Lebbon (Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi – Into the Void), Christopher Golden (Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire), and James A. Moore (Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds).
After re-reading Alien: The Official Movie Novelization, I thought it would be fun to explore some of the differences between the book and the film and how unused elements from O’Bannon’s screenplay were recycled for subsequent Alien films and Ridley Scott’s 2012 film, Prometheus.
15 Things You Didn’t Know About ‘Alien: The Official Movie Novelization’
1) The novel implies mankind has established contact with extraterrestrial species before their encounter with the Xenomorph, but this is never directly addressed in the film. Of course in James Cameron’s Aliens, there are numerous references that allude to contact with other alien lifeforms. “Hey, I sure wouldn’t mind getting some more of that Arcturian poon-tang! Remember that time?”
2) In the novel, hypersleep chambers are filled with a gelatinous liquid when in operation. After thawing out, the crew has to wipe themselves down to remove the remains of this fluid. In the Alien film series, these chambers are more like glass coffins – no liquid required. In Prometheus, however, we see this idea revisited as crew members are submerged in a viscous liquid during cryosleep.
3) The interior of the Derelict is quite different; most notably the Space Jockey is completely absent. The egg chamber is not actually a part of the Derelict, but rather a huge cavern beneath it, accessed by a tall, tube-like vertical shaft that runs down into the ground, as opposed to the hole melted in the floor seen in Alien. Dallas and the others also find the equipment that is broadcasting the distress signal that brought them to LV-426.
4) “Dallas’s light fell unexpectedly on a shape that was not part of wall or floor. Moving closer, he used the light to trace its outlines. It appeared to be a smallish urn or vase, tan in color, glossy in aspect. Moving closer, he tilted his head over the jagged, broken top, shone the light inside. Empty.” In the novel, the eggs are more like small urns or vases – like the ones we see in Prometheus! The eggs do not open or “bloom” neatly like in the film. Instead, the Facehugger explodes violently through the top of the capsule.
5) The design of the Facehugger (referred to in the novel as the “Alien Hand”) is different to H.R. Giger’s design in the finished film. In the novel, it is gray in color with a single bulging eye on its back, with squid-like suction cups on its underside that help it stick to Kane’s face. In the film, the Facehugger is an eyeless, pale yellow creature that uses its digits to wrap around the head with tremendous force.
6) In the novel, the Chestburster has limbs. The creature in the film was originally supposed to have limbs, but Ridley Scott elected to remove them before filming. In James Cameron’s Aliens, however, a Chestburster that erupts from a colonist’s chest has limbs – but of course those Aliens look different from the first film’s Xenomorph, with a rigid skull instead of a smooth, opaque carapace.
7) In Ridley Scott’s film, Ripley is mistrustful of Ash. In the novel, both Ripley and Dallas begin to suspect the science officer of treachery. Dallas correctly guesses that Ash is trying to keep the creature alive for the company. This suspicion happens much earlier in the novel than in the film – but Ripley doesn’t learn about Ash’s secret mission until she questions Mother later in the movie. In the book, it’s Dallas who corners Ash in the medical facility following Kane’s funeral – in the film, this scene is given to Ripley.
8) In Foster’s novelization, the adult Xenomorph has eyes. Of course we know one of the definitive traits of the film’s titular creature is that it doesn’t have eyes. H.R. Giger’s original design, however, did include empty, human-looking eye sockets hidden beneath the Xenomorph’s carapace. it isn’t visible in the finished film, but was human-like skull is clearly noticeable in the 18-inch Kenner Alien toy and could be seen in numerous behind-the-scenes photographs. Another major difference? The Alien in the novel does not possess an inner jaw, instead killing its victims with its bare hands.
9) While searching the Nostromo after Brett’s death, the crew discovers the Xenomorph eating their food supplies in a storage room. We’ve never really seen an Alien “eat” before – at least, not anything other than the remains of what it kills – but most of the time the Alien paralyzes a host so it can be cocooned and impregnated. Dallas attempts to corner the beast and kill it with his flamethrower, but it escapes into an air shaft. This scene is immediately followed by Dallas entering the air ducts in pursuit of the creature. In the film, a plan is formulated to follow the Xenomorph into the air ducts after it is detected on Ash’s motion tracker.
10) Alan Dean Foster’s novelization suggests a romantic/sexual relationship between Ripley and Dallas. There’s also a scene where Ripley asks Lambert if she’s ever slept with Ash, hinting at a fair degree of promiscuity among the crew members. The sexual elements come from an earlier version of O’Bannon’s screenplay, which includes a sex scene between Dallas and Ripley. That sequence was never filmed; however, there is a deleted scene where Ripley asks Lambert about Ash. After watching Ash roll up that magazine and try to ram it down Ripley’s throat, I don’t exactly want to imagine what sex would be like with Ian Holm’s space-crazy android.
11) In the novel, Parker finds the Alien near the main airlock when he goes to refuel Dallas’ flamethrower. He quietly contacts Ripley and Lambert on the bridge and gets them to open the airlock’s inner door, hoping to expel the creature into space. The Alien goes into the lock, mesmerized by a flashing green light, but just as Ripley shuts the inner door and opens the outer one, an alarm sounds and scares the creature off.
As it flees, the Xenomorph’s arm is caught in the door as it closes, tearing it off and spraying acid everywhere. The Alien knocks Parker unconscious as it flees, while the acid eats through the airlock door and begins decompressing the compartment. Ripley, blood flowing from her nose and ears because of the decompression, manages to shut the safety bulkhead before Lambert and Ash arrive to help.
Ripley accuses Ash of setting off the alarm to save the organism, and goes to Mother to confirm it. This sequence was originally planned for the movie, but was cut after only a small portion of the scene had been shot. It would have explained why Ripley suddenly has a nosebleed when she is confronted by Ash inside Mother. It’s also worth noting that later, when Parker dies, the Alien breaks his neck (because it doesn’t have a set of inner jaws).
12) As for Lambert, her death is different and yet still undefined. “Something made a different sound behind her. She turned, screamed as the hand clutched at her. The Alien was still unfold its bulk from the airshaft.” In the film, the Alien approaches Lambert, slowly sliding its tail up between her legs. We don’t see what the creature does to her – we only hear her heavy breathing before she releases one final bloodcurdling scream. When we see Lambert again, she’s hanging naked from the air ducts, leaving the viewer to imagine what horrors she must have experienced. Here, things are still vague, but different: “Parker looked back into the locker, went a little crazy when he saw what the Alien was doing…The Alien dropped Lambert. She fell motionless to the deck as Parker landed a solid blow with the flamethrower.”
13) Ripley discovers the bodies of Dallas and Brett cocooned in a silk-like material as she prepares to activate the Nostromo’s self-destruct sequence. It is implied that they are being transformed by the Alien into material for new eggs. Dallas begs to be killed and Ripley incinerates the room with her flamethrower. Their goodbye is less like two friends and more like two lovers – going back to the suggested romantic angle. This sequence was actually filmed for Alien, but was cut late in production. The footage filmed was later partially reinstated for the 2003 Director’s Cut.
14) Ash theorizes that the Drone may not be the final stage in the Alien’s life cycle. “We know so little about it. We should be prepared for anything. It has already metamorphosed three times; egg to hand-shape, hand to the thing that came out of Kane, and that into this much larger bipedal form. We have no reason to assume that this form is the final stage in the chain of development. The next form it assumes could conceivably be even larger and more powerful.” Alan Dean Foster was unintentionally foreshadowing the Queen Alien from the sequel, Aliens.
15) The end of the novel is slightly different from the film. Like the film, Ripley sets the Nostromo for self-destruct and escapes in the Narcissus shuttle. If you recall, in Scott’s film the Alien stows away on the Narcissus, hiding itself within a wall panel. The Alien seems groggy – as if it was going into some kind of hibernation cycle. This allows Ripley to get into her spacesuit. But here, the Alien is fully awake and aware that Ripley is hiding in the locker. At one point, the creature even leers at her through the window in the locker door before becoming distracted by Jones in his carrier.
As the Xenomorph attempts to break the carrier open to get at Jones, Ripley slips into the spacesuit and arms herself with a metal spear (instead of a harpoon gun), which she uses to impale the Alien before opening the airlock. She’s almost shot out into space in the process – clinging to the airlock frame with the Alien hanging from her ankle. This scene would be recycled for the climax of Aliens. She climbs back aboard, slams the airlock shut, crushing the Alien’s hand, and fires up the shuttle’s engines, hurling the Alien’s incinerated corpse into space where it explodes.