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Eric Moore channels his love for cinematic special effects into his podcast show, Effectively Speaking, where he and his guests provide an entertaining, in-depth look at genre favorites. Eric’s extensive knowledge of old-school SFX has gained him notoriety in sci-fi fandom. He lives in the UK.
“What do I think of the Nostromo?”
To answer that properly, you need to get a Time Machine and zip back to the mid-sixties. There you’ll find the l’il me, totally and utterly fascinated by the TV shows of Gerry Anderson, especially Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90.
It wasn’t so much the characters or the plots that Mini-Me was interested in, it was the hardware. The rescue craft of International Rescue, the vehicles that were in Spectrum’s fleet and Joe’s flying car. But, above them were the guest craft: often rather bizarre SF vehicles that were in peril or appeared only fleetingly, I was enthralled by them.
But I didn’t know why. That bombshell would drop later on.
Trundle forward a few years, and Mini-Me is now hooked on the Irwin Allen TV shows (especially Lost In Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), not for the hardware, as there wasn’t much of it in them, but the monsters.
At the same time, Star Trek was on and, though I liked the characters in this show, I was still really watching it for the space scenes.
Doctor Who, too, I had now started watching, and it was slowly dawning on the eight year-old me why the American shows and Who I wasn’t liking as much as the Gerry Anderson shows, and the lightbulb finally pinged on when his next TV show, UFO, aired – the craft of the Anderson shows weren’t bright and shiny and white and silver and gleaming, they were coloured differently, they were dusty, they had grime, and scratches, and oil and soot stains, they were filmed low down, they moved properly – they looked real.
I didn’t know at the time the name Derek Meddings, nor Century 21 Productions, other than a brief end credit mention at the end of the episodes, but I sure recognised the style.
TV and film SF was a barren time in the early seventies, but it was here I fell in love with 50’s B-Movie fare, which I still adore to this day, but I was still yearning for some “realistic SF”.
Then, three linked things happened that not only gave me my fix big-time, they were to permanently set me down a path I’ve never gotten off since:
- The airing of Space: 1999, Gerry Anderson’s latest show. All the fantastic designs that I’d loved before, now in space, so mainly spaceships. Yeah, there was tons of guff from characters I’m not bothered about but it didn’t matter as every five minutes or so you’d get another fix of special effects fabness.
- The show was massive, was everywhere, including children’s TV shows. And on one Saturday morning one, Martin Landau was on for an interview and the competition was to win one of Alpha’s huge bazookas. I sat there opened mouthed – I’d never seen a prop outside its original location before, never considered that they lived on after an episode, and I wanted it! Gawd knows how many postcards I sent in for the comp, I didn’t win, but it kick-started an interest in me to own full size props.
- The last, and most important thing is now shrouded by time, so I don’t know if it was a TV interview or a magazine article, but the name of the person making all the Space: 1999 craft that I loved came up: Martin Bower. Finally I had a name to a person who was producing things I adored.
Nip forward another year or so and another ground breaking moment – Star Wars is released. I was in heaven. The brilliant craft designs, sat alongside characters I actually DID like, in a fantastically fast-paced film. I was actually watching this up on the big screen – up until this point, the only SF films I’d seen in theatres were Planet Of The Apes and Logan’s Run. Hardly model heavy.
With the film’s release, a slew of SF magazine titles came out, and I began to see the name Martin Bower crop up again and again, sometimes alongside a bloke called Brian Johnson, who I knew was Martin’s guvnor on Space: 1999.
And in every article with Martin, he’d mention the most important thing that set me on making my own things – the stunning craft he was producing were very often made from discarded household items, packaging or repurposed shapes, and that in every case they were detailed with model kit parts from the likes of Airfix and Tamiya. “Hey” thinks I, “my local toy shop sells those kits” and, “Martin said he got that object from Woolworth’s. I’m off to Woolworth’s”. That was it, I started looking at things with new eyes, looking for interesting shapes that I could turn into something else.
And then mention came of this new film “Alien” that would be coming out. I was interested right away as Dan O’Bannon’s name was linked to it, who I knew from “Dark Star” – a film I greatly enjoyed. And that Brian Johnson would be supervising the effects. And that Martin Bower would be one of the model makers. And that it would be a monster film. Set in space.
Come the film’s release, I didn’t see it right away, dunno why. But I bought The Book Of Alien by Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross, and that became almost a holy grail for me – alongside brilliantly clear shots of the derelict and the Alien in all its guises, there were hardware shots of this ship called the Nostromo.
I fell in love. A beautifully original craft, a craft that wasn’t fancy but functional, as was the refinery it pulled, it was all here in this book – the exterior, the interior, the sets, the props, the costumes, not only in photo form, but jaw-droppingly fantastic pre-production art. And, best of all, page 9, where there were three photos of the docking arm, a radar dish and, the one I looked at the most, a pile of Tamiya kits opened up and being raided for kit bits!
I can’t convey what an impact the book had on me, as I studied it endlessly – it was like the culmination of all the craft I’d ever admired came together into this truly believable ship.
So, when I did see it up there on the big screen, an obsession began over this tug craft and its environment that last till this day.
I adore it. Its design, the incredible amount of detail that’s gone into the modelwork for it, the separate models like the Narcissus, the Engine Room exterior, the docking arm, the refinery, the escape shuttle, the full-size landing legs, the sets, the props, the costumes, the stories of the strife of their creation, I could go and on, but I’ve gone on enough.
“What do I think of the Nostromo?”
On the film’s release, the best human spaceship I’d seen. And it hasn’t been bettered since.
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[Ed. note: Originally published on: Oct 24, 2017 @ 08:00]