In 1979 I was twelve years old and in the midst of a preteen conundrum.
America was in the midst of a Golden Age of Science Fiction. Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had crushed box office records a couple of years earlier and had inspired countless imitators. Broadcast television was filled with science fiction and fantasy shows, although admittedly most were pretty terrible — not that that mattered in the least to a sixth grader.
In May of that year, a dark, stylish film called Alien appeared in theaters. The critics buzzed about it. They debated as to whether it was science fiction film or a gothic horror film set in outer space. They reveled that the characters were essentially blue collar miners ultimately led in their fight for survival by a young woman, played by the then unknown Sigourney Weaver. They were mesmerized by the pugnacious alien, a bio-mechanical nightmare so different from the weird but mostly agreeable creatures offered up by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
I knew I had to see it. Yet a single obstacle lay in my way: my mother.
A surprisingly efficient gatekeeper when it came to television and movies, my mom allowed me and my sister only 3 and a half hours of TV per week and we were required to use color-coded pens to circle our selections in TV Guide to prevent any cheating. As for films, it was G and PG ratings only. Alien’s hard R and its provocative tagline — In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream — had sealed its fate long before I had ever asked to go.
Now let me just add that my mother was absolutely correct in denying me access to Alien. As a parent, her instincts were spot on but my juvenile brain and sense of indignation were not quelled by a logic I did not see at the time.
Later that summer however, my father offered to take me, a suggestion which was undoubtedly motivated by his complete ignorance about the film and a lingering desire to stick it to my mom who had divorced him a few years earlier. But I was not the type of kid who routinely lied to or disobeyed my parents, so I declined and we a double feature of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker instead. It wasn’t a decision I regretted. After all, James Bond had a super cool Lotus Esprit S1 which turned into a submarine IRL and fired missiles! But it did mean that I would have to wait a few more years to see Alien.
If there was any light at the end of the tunnel, it was through books. My mother, a school librarian, had no problem with frequent trips to libraries and book stores. As it happened, Waldenbooks carried the illustrated Alien Movie Novel so over the summer I literally READ the film I was never allowed to see. This had to be done in covert intervals of course, as purchasing the book with all its gruesome, chest-bursting, head-smashing color photos was also verboten.
Decades passed and I hadn’t thought about that book until I stumbled upon a used copy of it in a comic book store two weeks ago. There was an immediate rush of nostalgia, warm memories of being a kid and getting away with something. Granted, reading the Alien Movie Novel wasn’t quite as scandalous as flipping through a dirty magazine, but for a boy who loved horror films born into a family that loathed them, it felt like a naughty victory.
Now, 38 years later, the book sits on my shelf next to my Alien Blu-ray, a quiet reminder of when life was defined by the simple problems of childhood.