Veronica Scott Reviews Three ‘Making Of’ books – Aliens, Flash Gordon and Battlestar Galactica

The making of three seminal films, three books, three high marks!

Note: This post first appeared in the Roswell Daily Record…

I love to know behind the scenes details about the making of my favorite science fiction movies or television shows and this month I’m going to talk about three books I’ve recently acquired. I think like many fans I’m always on the prowl for that new tidbit of ‘secret’ information or the extra insight an actor might provide about his or her character or maybe even a bit of a scene that never made it into the movie. One does have to be careful though as you run the risk of finding out too much and then having your pleasure in the film or show spoiled. This happened to me with a long ago classic SF TV program, when I found out the actors really didn’t like each other at all.

We’ll start with my favorite SF movie of all time, “Aliens”. I never can get enough about this movie and even though I know most of the juicy bits by heart by now, like the fact Michael Biehn wasn’t the first choice for the lead role of Cpl. Hicks, I never seem to tire of hearing them again.  The Making of Aliens by J. W. Rinzler (Titan Books)  is 300 pages of glorious photos, sketches and information about every step of the process of making the movie. Starting with the career of James Cameron, the narrative then explores his earliest work on the concept of this film, including writing the original script, and takes a reader all the way through the movie making to the first screenings. There’s information on what each of the major players went on to do next and a lovely tribute to actor Bill Paxton, who played Hudson and passed away in 2017.

The book included quite a few interesting anecdotes and insights I hadn’t run across before and I enjoyed the lavish photo spreads.  The how and the why of various technical decisions regarding the alien queen, the colony on LV-426 and many other details are fascinating. All in all, I really enjoyed the book.

Unrelated to this book, there are also a number of excellent documentaries and clips about the making of “Aliens” on YouTube. I’ve also seen the documentary “Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s World,” which gave insights into the artist who created the original look for “Alien”.

I give the book an A++

Next up is Flash Gordon: The Official Story of the Film (Titan Books)  by John Walsh. I love certain things about this 1980 film although I’m a staunch advocate of the original Buster Crabbe serials and in fact keep a black and white cast photo of Flash and Dale and the others in a tense moment near my writing desk. I wasn’t actually much of a fan of Sam Jones, who was Flash in the 1980 movie, or at least not at the time. Then I saw “Life After Flash,” which is a documentary about Mr. Jones and by the end of that I was very much on his side. I was particularly pleased by how much he still appreciated having been Flash Gordon and the gracious way he treated his fans.

Since I saw the documentary first, I was a bit disappointed that much of the material in the book from the actors at least was the same. I think it’s natural to have a set collection of anecdotes that a person will share about a past project but of course I’m always hoping for a bit more. The book had gorgeous photos and details about the costumes, the sets, the props and everything else, which more than made up for any disappointment I might have had. Details about deleted scenes, alternate endings and other related topics were terrific and I very much enjoyed the discussion of why certain decisions were made during filming. I think the book actually made me more of a fan of the movie.

I just have to pause for an instant to state I love Melody Anderson, the actress who played Dale Arden. I thought she very much nailed the part and her costumes were to die for.  And I always enjoy Brian Blessed, who felt he was “born to be King Vultan” of the Birdmen but had to really fight for the role.

I give the book an A-

Third is So Say We All: The Complete, Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Battlestar Galactica (Tor Books) by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman. I learned an incredible amount of behind the scenes information here, partly because I’d just never seen much regarding this 1970’s SF TV series. (I did meet Richard Hatch once for about ten seconds around the time of the original show and was very star struck.) This book contains all kinds of insights from the actors and why the show did some of the things it did which seemed inexplicable to me as a viewer at the time but were dictated by the realities of television production in the 1970’s as it turns out.

I’ve been holding a grudge all these years because (Spoiler Alert) actress Jane Seymour was only on the show for a limited number of episodes and then her character died, which I never quite forgave the writers for. Turns out this was the only way the showrunner could get her to be on the show, as she didn’t want to be tied down to a long term series! (She must have changed her mind by the time “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman” came along in 1993.) So I’ve given up my grudge at long last.

The original show was only for one season. As Herbert Jefferson, Jr., ‘Lt. Boomer,’ says, “There are less than thirty hours total, including the three hour pilot…” but it really resonated with fans. According to the book, the network had expected the show to be a runaway number one hit and it just wasn’t. It scored very high ratings pretty consistently but there were other things going on between the network and the showrunner/creator and so there never was a second season. We won’t discuss the awful sequel that was made in 1980, although the book does cover it.

The book also covers the remade “Battlestar Galactica” which aired from 2004-2009 and had spin-offs. I learned all kinds of new details from the material and interviews included in this portion of the book. And as always, I enjoy hearing from the actors and others about the characters and various decisions made. I thought many of the ways in which the basic concept was refreshed and reworked for BSG was quite successful.

There’s a certain amount of repetition in the book’s accounts of various incidents on all three programs but I skimmed when I had to.  Unlike the other two books, there aren’t any lavish photo spreads or closeups of props, costumes, etcetera, but as the title states, it’s an oral history told by over 100 people.

I give the book an A.

 

 

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