In the early summer of 1979, science fiction fans were about to have their minds totally blown, and they didn’t even know why. Two years after 20th Century Fox had a hit with Star Wars, the studio was marketing another big space movie to the sci-fi faithful, innocuously titled Alien. Just before the film was released, Starlog Magazine ran a cover-story on the upcoming movie in which co-screenwriter Dan O’Bannon explained exactly why Fox was refusing to spoil what the now-famous monster looked like. “Boy are we gonna show them!” he said.
Written by journalist Bob Martin, the “Special Preview” of Alien in this issue of Starlog is an absolutely joyful time-travel journey into geek nostalgia. The article primarily interviews Dan O’Bannon, the first screenwriter of Alien. O’Bannon makes it clear that Ridley Scott basically saved the entire movie from oblivion.
“I have to credit Ridley with saving the film at that early stage,” O’Bannon said in the interview, “Things had gone on for so long with direction, that everything had started to stagnate. He really came and pulled everything together.”
Though the cover date of this issue of Starlog says June, 1979, magazines were — and are — frequently on newsstands at least a full month before the dates printed on the cover. Alien was released on May 25, 1979, meaning this “June” issue of Starlog would have been in the hands of subscribers as early as late April.
The feature begins with a huge spread of the wonderful “Space Jockey,” but there isn’t one, single image of the now world-famous xenomorph alien. And that was on purpose: 20th Century very specifically didn’t want to spoil the creature in any way. This means there were no images — at all — of the alien available to press before the movie came out. “Once seen, it will never be forgotten,” H.R. Giger said ominously in the article.
O’Bannon also takes great pains to tell science fiction fans that the movie is nothing like Star Wars. “They both cost millions of dollars and they both have spaceships. That’s where the similarity ends,” he said.
The article is a fascinating piece of pop-ephemera, because it presents a cinematic science-fiction culture on the eve of a game-changing storm. Elsewhere in the issue, there’s coverage of an in-development sci-fi movie called Monument. The film Northstar IV is also profiled in great depth. The movie Monument was never made, and most fans today have never heard of Northstar IV. But we do remember Alien.
The article is also awesome because it manages to accurately write about the mood and quality of Alien without spoiling anything. A reader who had never seen the movie wouldn’t know how the alien attacked people, or even that Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley was the secret main character. And yet, it thoroughly and accurately documents exactly what still makes the movie great. Martin is also presciently hopeful about the quality of the movie, writing: “SF fans hope that Alien will prove that serious speculation on the unexplored beauty and horror of the cosmos can be an equally spellbinding experience.”
Ridley Scott had only directed one movie at this point — The Duellists — and the photo of him on set reminds sci-fi fans of what a badass he’s always been.
Alien: Covenant is out in wide release on May 19. All the back-issues of Starlog are available online in a free digital archive.