In 1979 I was 12, six years away from seeing Ridley Scott’s Alien, which had an X certificate and meant nobody under the age of 18 could get in. Now I could just about get away with getting into an AA film (sort of like the current 15 rating, but you could normally get in if you were accompanied by an adult), but there was not a chance of escaping the Stasi-like stare of a cinema usher, and getting into Alien was a pipe dream.
However, one of the joys of seeing AA films was getting to see trailers for X rated films, so when I went to see the Ralph Bakshi animated Lord of the Rings, I was confronted with this.
Instantly, I was hooked but there was no way of me being able to see the film. But what I could do was nag my parents and brothers to get me everything related to it. See in today’s digital age if I were 12 again, I’d be able to actually see the film if I had a computer and access to an internet connection. In 1979 there was no internet, no websites, no torrents, and the idea of affordable home computers was a dream to anybody who wasn’t Clive Sinclair.
So first thing I got was Alan Dead Foster’s novelisation, the easiest way to live a film without having to see it.
That wasn’t enough., so I eventually managed to get a copy of The Book of Alien, which is still an amazing book to this day. This, for me, is the template for every Making Of book you’ll see.
Then I had Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s stunning Alien:The Illustrated Story – the comic adaptation of the film.
I also managed to grab the photonovel (photonovels were fumetti, and hugely popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s) of Alien; a chunky, huge beast of a book.
I even managed to somehow get an Alien model kit which I lovingly built – until years later when it suffered a fatal breakage that would make even Olympic athletes cringe. Not to mention the tongue broke and left me feeling gutted.
One of my brothers managed to pick up a film programme from when it had a showing during the Edinburgh Film Festival. Programmes are something you never see these days, but this piece of marketing stuck with films until the 1980s at least.
There were also the Alien poster magazines.
I even grabbed in the Barras in Glasgow a copy of Warren’s Alien special.
In effect I knew every single bit of minutiae of Alien, but I was stil unable to see it. Then in 1981 at a science fiction convention in Glasgow, I saw a Super 8 edited and abridged version of the film.
There’s even a copy (in badly dubbed French) on YouTube.
These Super 8 abridged versions were the only way most of us could own any version of a film we loved before the days of cheap affordable video tapes. They were fairly cheap, though as you’d imagine, cutting say a two hour film down to around 20 minutes meant all you were essentially left with was a one or two reel set of highlights.
Pre-video, you could get a dazzling amount of tie-in merchandise, but owning a copy of the film was amazingly hard, if not impossible outwith of the Super 8 versions so you hoped would turn up on TV – or in my case, my balls would drop hard enough for puberty to kick in so I could blag my way into a cinema years before I was legally able to. Thankfully I finally saw the complete Alien, albeit on a small screen in 1982 when ITV broadcast it during the World Cup that year.
This still wasn’t seeing it in a cinema with an audience on a big screen and decent sound. I had to wait another couple of years for that when Alien finally turned up at the GFT. So finally, around six years and a set of bollocks dropping later, I finally saw Alien on a big screen as it was meant to be seen. The last time I saw it on a big screen was in 2003 when on a visit to Stockholm for their film festival. The directors cut was playing at a cinema in the old part of the city. It still works oh so well on the big screen, but this was a film I had to work hard to actually see; rather than flip open my laptop, go to some website of dubious legality, and then download whatever took my fancy.
Looking around at the amazing array of merchandise for films today based around characters (apart from DVD’s, Blu-ray or downloads), there are no photonovels or anything as ingenious as that. Even the comic adaptation is starting to fall by the wayside because you don’t have to wait months, or in my case with Alien, years to actually see it – not when seeing a film (even one you can’t see because of its certificate) is so easily accessible. You kids today, you’ve got it easy!