**Scroll down to the bottom of this page to hear James Cameron’s exclusive interview with David Weiner on The Famous Monsters Podcast**
Happy Alien Day! Why is it Alien Day? Because it’s April 26 — 4/26 — a perfect excuse for 20th Century Fox to create a holiday around their ALIEN franchise and to promote their new ALIEN films (including the new ALIEN: COVENANT) and products simply because, in those movies, the planet where they first discover the Alien xenomorph is designated LV-426.
I’ve been a huge fan of the franchise ever since Ridley Scott first captured my imagination with his incredible production design and storytelling prowess in 1979’s ALIEN. I had (and still have) every book that came out at the time, including the official novelization by Alan Dean Foster, the Heavy Metal comic adaptation ALIEN: THE ILLUSTRATED STORY, the making-of tome THE BOOK OF ALIEN packed with on-set stills and concept sketches, and the oversized MOVIE NOVEL version. I was obsessed with H.R. Giger’s bold and imaginative take on threatening extra-terrestrials with a deadly life cycle. I was half-convinced that Giger must be an alien himself if he could fabricate such an inconceivable creature. In the close-to-40-years since the original film was released, I don’t believe that anyone has been able to concoct a more original, nightmarish and frightening cinematic creation in comparison. Plenty of folks have tried and failed, however.
Last summer marked the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s ALIENS, which was released in 1986. As editor of Famous Monsters magazine, I maneuvered to get some time with Cameron to talk about his sequel that changed the sequel game and put him firmly in the pantheon of A-list directors to watch. I also knew that he was knee-deep in production on his AVATAR follow-up films, and was pretty confident I wouldn’t even get a response from him or his office at Lightstorm Entertainment. But given the Sci-fi nature of his body of work, from ALIENS and TERMINATOR to THE ABYSS and AVATAR, he seemed like a genuine Monster Kid who might have a soft spot in his heart for Famous Monsters. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
To my stunned surprise, my bet paid off, as it turned out that not only did Cameron know of Famous Monsters, but he was a fan who had read practically every issue as a kid and teenager. He told me that he used to hide Forrest J Ackerman’s pulpy monster-movie magazine behind his textbooks at school. “The effect Famous Monsters magazine had on me when I was ten years old through my teen years was psychological,” he explained. “It was a reality check that I wasn’t crazy, because other people loved this stuff, too. I certainly never got any support within my family or from my parents or even that much from my friends that monsters were cool. So it was my contact with a larger community of fans for horror and science fiction.”
For our interview, Cameron not only gave me 45 minutes of his valuable time but also revealed a few critical details of the AVATAR sequels he’s been working on, affording me an opportunity to break that news (that he’s filming all sequels concurrently, and how he plans to compete with the release dates of the STAR WARS sequels) and have my story picked up worldwide. I have to admit, it’s a pretty exhilarating activity to Google yourself and find your interview quotes being reported on and making headlines in countries ranging from France and Germany to Mexico, Japan, and Australia.
For Famous Monsters of Filmland #286, the Oscar-winning filmmaker delivered a candid and in-depth recounting of the making of ALIENS and the various obstacles he encountered, from the screenwriting process and pre-production detours to production snafus in England and unexpected post-production problems and solutions.
Here are a couple interesting nuggets from our interview:
ON CREATING A NEW ALIEN TALE FROM THE 1979 CLASSIC: “My goals were twofold, and one was not prioritized over the other. The first goal was to honor and continue what Ridley had started. And the second goal was to make it my own film. … I felt that it was important to be stylistically continuous with the first film. But in terms of the way the story is told, the elements of the story, introducing the idea of a future military, that was just a way into it that made it different, that was a distinguishing factor.”
THE VISUAL EFFECTS OF ALIENS AND TODAY’S CGI TRADE-OFF: “We developed a pretty good little palette of techniques that were relatively straightforward and inexpensive and required a lot of craftsmanship. I think there’s less hands-on craftsmanship in visual effects these days because so much can just be fixed downstream, digitally. Almost anything can be corrected or hidden or added to or enhanced with CG now. So there’s much less emphasis on what’s going in front of an actual camera lens.”
ALIENS AND THE TEST OF TIME: “I cringe a little bit when I watch TERMINATOR at some of the stuff that was really threadbare. I think [with] ALIENS we fought it to a draw based on the technology available at the time and I’m pretty proud of the film. I don’t cringe at anything in ALIENS. … Every film is a cross-section or a snapshot of the technology available at the moment that it was made and so it’s pointless to say, ‘Well, today I would have done it with this. I would have done this with CG. I would have done that differently.’ … You have to edit all that out and say, ‘OK, this film was made 30 years ago. I think that it still holds up pretty damn well.'”
WOULD CAMERON EVER RETURN TO THE FRANCHISE? “Unless somebody could come up with some spectacularly new concept. … I’ve got my own kind of alien world that I’m enslaved to now with the AVATAR films, so I can pretty much rule that out.”
I’m very proud of the resulting issue of Famous Monsters, which features a stunning original painting by talented artist Brian Taylor of Ripley and Newt face-to-face with the Alien Queen.
A healthy portion of my ALIENS 30th-anniversary interview with James Cameron can be heard on this special edition of the Famous Monsters Podcast. It’s a good one:
Happy Alien Day, and stay away from LV-426!