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Graham J. Langridge is an Alien fan and Propsummit.com friend whose fascination with the technology brought about his renowned Nostromo blueprint poster, published independently in 2009 but also included in Alien Vault. He is from the UK and lives in the US. Check out his artwork at Deviantart.com and come September 2018, his art book Alien: The Blueprints.
I grew up during the 1980’s, so I guess the big thing was, of course, Star Wars, with the X-Wings, Tie Fighters, and Death Stars. But I never owned any of the toys, and the movies – though I liked them – I didn’t love them. Just watched them and really enjoyed them. I cannot think of any ships back then that I was really interested in.
My interest in the Alien franchise started when I was around 8 or 9 years old and I played the Aliens videogame on our Amstrad CPC 464. I loved it, then found out it was a movie. I actually saw Aliens – I think – before Alien. Back in the early Nineties, I would be the Alien fan just getting into the Dark Horse comics and seeing the movies properly (well, heavily edited TV versions). Another kid liked Predator and Terminator….we’d have friendly fights over who would win.
So around that time, I loved science fiction, but I loved special effects even more and what went into the making of film, TV, and theater. Although I enjoyed many movies, Alien was my favorite. I loved the work that went into the making of the many sets, among other things, as we see them on screen. Nostromo, the Sulaco, the Hadley’s Hope Colony…all hit me around that same time, and it wasn’t like I had to wait a few years for the next installment.
The USCSS Nostromo depicted in Alien interested me, I think, because it was the first ship that looked real…the ‘form follows function’ thing is evident here. It’s beaten up, seen many miles – light years – a workhorse. This was a ship that wasn’t flying around in some dogfight with another, but a large industrial tanker.
Thanks to the set design, the story, the way it was shot, the sound design, model work and many many other things, the Nostromo is essentially a character in the movie. It hums, breaks down, gets fixed with beer and wrenches, and keeps on trucking. And I say ‘character’, because it is present almost throughout and directly affects the way the human and Alien characters act or make decisions in the movie.
It isn’t a case of a short scene where a character hops in, flies it around for a bit then parks it up, that’s it – on with the next scene. The Nostromo keeps on going…oblivious to the horror unfolding within as the story progresses. Even the ship’s A.I., the MU/TH/UR processor, is not really aware – a set of instructions from ‘The Company’ are embedded on it for Science Officer Eyes Only – but it is character ‘Ash’ that interprets those instructions and acts upon them in the way that he does, not the ship.
I don’t think I would have been as interested in the Nostromo ship had the horror element of the story, the set design, model work and cinematography been as good as they are. What’s interesting in this movie is that we have all these ‘human’ elements that were entirely new design. Dirty, used, scratched and dented and not the sparkly, clean set design of what had gone before. And you also had the complete opposite of human – the designs from H. R. Giger, totally ‘Alien’. Both set a new standard and a very high bar.
I like to look at what drives the design behind the hardware we see. What is it used for, who uses it, what’s its purpose? For the Nostromo, it’s already established that it is a tug, towing the large Refinery behind it back to Earth. But then we can think okay, so what are the habitable spaces and volumes within the ship, what is the equipment inside used for, what do the suits look like and do they look the way they do because of a certain task they carry out, how do they get from once space to another, etc., etc, …all this determines the design.
But the thing is, one can apply that same thinking to both the Nostromo and the Derelict we see in the 1979 movie, and that’s the thing I like the most. All these different artists going through these thoughts as they brainstorm the final product that we, the audience, buy the ticket for and go see and enjoy.
They must’ve done something right, because here we are 38 years later still talking about it. There are many, many other films out there with hundreds more people working on them that are released then forgotten. I think that goes some way as to how the design elements in this movie have held up over the years.
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