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Space Is a Frightening Place: Collecting ‘Alien’ Toys and Memorabilia

by James Burrell (07/13/12).

“Alien” original soundtrack album released by 20th Century-Fox Records Corporation in 1979. Music composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

Released in May of 1979, the classic sci-fi chiller “Alien” not only introduced moviegoers to an incredibly fearsome new movie monster, but it served to transform outer space into a truly frightening place.

A perfect marriage between the science-fiction and horror genres, the film tells of a commercial starship, the Nostromo, which is transporting a cargo of mineral ore back to Earth when its seven-member crew receives what appears to be a distress signal from a nearby planet. Descending to the surface, three of the crew members—the ship’s captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), second-in-command, Kane (John Hurt) and navigator Lambert (Veronica Cartwright)—go to investigate the source of the signal when they locate a derelict spacecraft, the remains of a large alien being and an immense cavern filled with strange, pulsating eggs. Back at the ship, Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) discovers the message is not a SOS, but actually a warning. However, it is too late, for Kane is attacked by a creature which hatches from one of the eggs, and burns its way through his helmet in order to attach itself to his face.

Once onboard the Nostromo again, Dallas and the ship’s science officer, Ash (Ian Holm), attempt to remove the “facehugger” from Kane by cutting off its appendages (which resemble long, bony, human fingers), but are prevented from doing so because the creature’s blood is comprised of a highly corrosive acid. A while later, however, the life form detaches itself from Kane’s face and dies. All seems to be well as the crew sits down for dinner, but the jovial mood soon turns to one of shock and horror as Kane—who suddenly begins to suffer violent convulsions—has a small, vicious, metal-toothed creature burst from his chest. After the thing escapes into the bowels of the ship, the remaining members of the Nostromo—which also include engineers Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) —must try to track down and destroy the rapidly growing alien before it gets to them first.

The brainchild of screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, “Alien” was an attempt by O’Bannon to improve upon concepts he had previously explored in “Dark Star,” a 1974 sci-fi comedy he had collaborated on with soon-to-be famous horror director John Carpenter (“Halloween,” “The Thing”). Drawing inspiration from sci-fi horror movies like 1951’s “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” and 1965’s “Planet of the Vampires,” O’Bannon and Shusett crafted a script (at this point called “Star Beast”) about a monster who stalks and kills the populace of a spaceship and pitched it to numerous studios around Hollywood. A production company named Brandywine (headed by filmmakers Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill) expressed interest and purchased the script, with the film to be distributed by 20th Century Fox. Although O’Bannon had wanted to direct the movie, Brandywine insisted on then-relatively unknown British filmmaker Ridley Scott (now known for classics like “Blade Runner” and “Gladiator,” but who at the time had only directed television commercials and one feature film: 1977’s “The Duellists”) to helm the project. Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger was brought on to design the nightmarish, biomechanical-looking alien in all stages of its life cycle, as well as the large “space jockey” creature seen during the crew’s investigation of the planet; and Oscar-winning composer Jerry Goldsmith was hired to write the score.

The “Alien” paperback tie-in novelization, published by Warner Books in 1979.

An “Alien” hanging wall relief piece, produced by Sota Toys in 2004. Value: $10 approx.

A plastic Alien model kit, released by AMT ERTL Co. Inc., in 1999. Value: $10-$15.

A smash hit upon release, “Alien” was one of 20th Century Fox’s biggest hits of the year, and in addition to winning an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, would go on to spawn three direct sequels (“Aliens” in 1986, “Alien 3” in 1992 and “Alien Resurrection” in 1997), as well as two crossover films featuring the titular threat from the “Predator” franchise and a host of rip-offs. A prequel to the original film had also been in development for several years, but after numerous delays and changes in direction, the project has finally come to the screen in the form of the recently released “Prometheus.” Also directed by Ridley Scott, the film is not a direct prequel to his 1979 classic, but does share a number of aspects with it.

In addition to its impact on the science-fiction genre and pop culture in general, “Alien” would also give birth to a number of toys and collectibles—which is perhaps a bit unexpected when one considers they were based upon an R-rated film. Among the items released were a number of books, such as the tie-in novelization written by prolific author Alan Dean Foster. Published in North America in both hardcover and paperback versions by Warner Books and an illustrated paperback by Futura in the U.K., the novel was based on an earlier version of the screenplay and contained several sequences and elements not featured in the final film.

An original “Alien” 1979 11-by-14-inch lobby card. Like movie posters, lobby card stills were originally used to promote film in cinemas.

“Alien” trading cards, released by Topps Chewing Gum Inc., in 1979. Value: $2-$3 per pack.

Various DVD and VHS releases for Alien and its sequels, released by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.

Other books included a beautifully illustrated graphic novel-like adaptation, “Alien: The Illustrated Story,” from the publishers of “Heavy Metal” magazine; a “photo novel” containing over 1,000 color photos that was edited by Richard Anobile (who had also put out black-and-white photo books of cinematic classics like “Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Psycho” in the past) and published by Avon; a “making of” book, “The Book of Alien,” by Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross that was published by Heavy Metal/Futura and offered a detailed look at the production of the movie with behind-the-scenes photos and concept art. And providing an in-depth examination into the creation of the film’s creature was a slick, oversized art book entitled “Giger’s Alien,” published by Big O Publishing Ltd., which was full of rarely-seen sketches, paintings and glossy color photos.

Toy-wise, fans were given four 10-by-14-inch jigsaw puzzle sets, smaller 2-by-6-inch puzzles (amusingly packaged inside plastic egg-shaped containers) and a beautifully illustrated three-foot-tall puzzle from HG Toys. The company also released two fantastic (and now very rare) target sets—the Alien Blaster Giant Target Set and the Alien Chase Target Set. The “Blaster” set came with a large, three-foot-tall cardboard alien and a blaster gun and plastic balls to shoot at it; while the “Chase” set featured smaller-sized target pieces of the alien and egg, as well as a toy gun with suction cup darts. Model company MPC put out a 9-inch-tall plastic figural model kit (which would later be reissued by AMT/ERTL in 1999), featuring a movable head and arms and extending inner jaws; and Ben Cooper produced a great-looking Halloween mask and costume set.

A large-scale “Alien” figure produced by Neca in 2008. Although advertised as being 18 inches tall, the figure actually stands nearly 22 inches when assembled. Valu: $70-$90 approx.

Packaging artwork for the original “Alien” figure released by Kenner in 1979. Poor sales of the toy resulted in a low production run; as a result, specimens can now fetch hundreds of dollars.

An “Aliens vs. Predator” 2-pack action figure set, released by Kenner in 1993. Value: $20 approx.

Prolific toy company Kenner put out several “Alien” items, including a board game, a Movie Viewer (which allowed kids to re-watch scenes from the movie by cranking a strip of film through a hand-held viewer) and one of the most-sought after of monster toys—an 18-inch-tall action figure of the titular creature. Featuring retractable silver “metal” jaws, spring-loaded arms to “crush its victims,” a long, bendable tail and a glow-in-the-dark “skull,” the figure was a very impressive and scary-looking toy. But perhaps it was a bit too scary (or deemed inappropriate by disapproving parents), for instead of flying off store shelves like the company’s “Star Wars” toys, the figures were to sit unsold on clearance racks. Of course, poor sales lead to a lower production run, and as such, the toy is now a rare collector’s item, able to command several hundred dollars when found complete with accessories (which included a translucent cover for the skull), poster/instructions sheet and box. Interestingly, a line of 3 ¾-inch action figures was also planned, but the idea was scrapped when the 18-inch doll failed to sell in sufficient quantities.

This 1979 18-inch action figure from Kenner just sold on eBay for $1,000.

A close-up of the Alien toy.

The back of the box.

[An auction recently wrapped up on eBay and one of those 18-inch Kenner Alien action figures sold for $1,000]

Some of the other memorable merchandise to spring from the film included a wall calendar, various poster magazines, a set of trading cards (with each pack containing 10 cards, one sticker and a piece of gum) from Topps Chewing Gum Corp., and an original soundtrack LP of Jerry Goldsmith’s score, courtesy of 20th Century Fox Records. Genre magazines like “Famous Monsters of Filmland,” “Starlog” and “Cinefantastique” did cover stories on the film, as did industry publications like “American Cinematographer.” Even the satirical “Cracked” managed to spoof the film in its November 1979 issue.

Over the years, a multitude of Alien-themed collectibles have been produced, much of it in to tie-in with the release of the sequels, which saw Sigourney Weaver’s fearless heroine, Ellen Ripley, assist a platoon of gun-toting space marines in battling a multitude of aliens (also referred to as “xenomorphs”) and their fearsome, egg-laying “Queen” in James Cameron’s action-oriented follow-up, “Aliens,” get stranded on a prison planet inhabited with an alien in “Alien 3” and is herself finally cloned (along with alien DNA) in “Alien Resurrection.” In 1992, Kenner manufactured a line of figures, vehicles and playsets loosely based on “Aliens,” including Ripley, the space marines, Alien Queen and several different species of creatures like the “Scorpion Alien,” “Gorilla Alien” and “Rhino Alien.” The company also released a two-figure set based upon the Dark Horse Comics comic book line, “Aliens vs. Predator” in 1992; and in 1997, Kenner’s parent company Hasbro produced toys for “Alien Resurrection,” including figures of Ripley in her cloned form, the android Call (portrayed in the film by actress Wynona Rider), and a new creature—the half human/half alien “Newborn.” In addition, the 1990s saw Japanese-based Tsukuda Hobby release a near-replica of the Kenner 18-inch figure; and model company Halcyon produced several highly-detailed kits of the various creatures, spacecraft and vehicles seen in the films.

During the past decade, “Alien” toys have been comprised of numerous mini-figures and playsets from such companies as Mezco and Medicom; several wall relief statues from Sota Toys; a 3D movie poster (with light-up egg) and seven-inch action figure from McFarlane Toys; a bobblehead statue and a huge, 22-inch tall figure produced by Neca; and (gasp) even plush dolls from Palisades Toys.

The original soundtrack CD for “Prometheus”, released by Sony Masterworks.

The release of “Prometheus” has not only spawned its own merchandise (including a soundtrack album, making-of book, “Prometheus: The Art of the Film” from Titan Books, and soon-to-be released figures by Neca), but has also led to new items related to the original 1979 film, such as the book “Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film,” published by Voyageur Press and a reprint of “The Book of Alien,” from Titan Books.

Thirty-three years after it first shocked and surprised audiences, “Alien” still retains its power to thrill, astonish and frighten. From its masterful direction and believable performances, to its brilliant production design, hauntingly beautiful score and supremely effective monster, it remains one of the greatest examples of genre filmmaking. And for “Alien” fans, the recent renewed interest in the franchise will ensure that they’ll be busy collecting for some time to come.

James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.


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One Response to “Space Is a Frightening Place: Collecting ‘Alien’ Toys and Memorabilia”

  1. Jaq Hawkins says:

    I purchased the whole alien set on and the novel “Alien The Illustrated Story,” This was made by the same guys which created “Heavy Metal” (The first animated movie I ever watched). Couldn’t go wrong for $20.00!

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