"Alien: The Official Movie Novelization" Book Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Published by Titan Books
Written by Alan Dean Foster
2014, 288 pages, Fiction
Released on April 15, 2014
At first, I'd honestly thought I picked up the wrong book to read. A few pages in and I had to check the cover to make sure I really was reading the novelization of one of the most intense sci-fi horror films ever made. The interminable discussion of the relative worth of the crew members as paid dreamers felt like nothing I ever experienced in watching the movie Alien and I was worried about reading the rest of it. But, Alien (the book) is a different beast altogether. Once you get past the introduction of the crew in their sleep pods, it kicks into action. The book has a lot more exposition and flair for detail than can be found in the movie, which is both its greatest strength and by far its greatest weakness.
The reason the movie works so well is the sense of isolation, helplessness, and claustrophobia that underlines the terror of an alien life-form slowly picking off crew members one by one. That duality of fear is the main ingredient of success that allows the viewer to truly feel the crew's horror in their hopeless situation. And that is the one piece that is missing from the book. Alien is ably written by Alan Dean Foster, perhaps one of the best movie-to-book interpreters of all time. He has made a great career around translating films to books, and is an accomplished science-fiction writer as well. In fact, he wrote my favorite book in the Star Wars extended universe, Splinter of the Mind's Eye. Seriously, if you're a Star Wars fan, and want more stories set after the original trilogy, that's the book to start with.
Alien is written well. There's no denying the skill with which it's made, but it lacks that cloying sense of desperation. That feeling of being trapped is just not as well conveyed in the written word as it is on celluloid. To Foster's credit, he comes close, and if I had never seen the film, I probably would have been more caught up in the action and suspense. As it is, I was less inclined to continue, and more desirous of watching the extended cut again. And again.
I would still recommend reading Alien though. It's an adept adaptation, and can fill in the spaces missing from the movie. Just don't expect to get the same feelings out of it. Despite its failings in comparison, it's still a damn good read. And sometimes a book is easier and more portable than a movie. Also, if you have someone in your life that is not a fan of horror movies but loves to read, I've found that books of this ilk are a great stepping stone to getting them into the movies. It's the bungee safety harness of horror. Books can be less visceral and easier to compartmentalize for some people, allowing them to experience the dread at their own pace and from a safe distance.