Considering the hugely positive reaction to his incredible, Oscar-winning work on the film’s predecessor, it’s little wonder that H. R. Giger was “disappointed” not to be contacted when production began on Aliens, the second installment in what is one of the most successful movie franchises in cinema’s history. Indeed, Giger, the celebrated Swiss artist who famously designed the beautifully horrific Alien itself in the late 1970s, vocalised his displeasure and, via his agent, Leslie Barany, even wrote to the sequel’s director, James Cameron. Three months later, Cameron explained his decision by way of the fascinating and remarkably honest letter seen below.
(Huge thanks to James Cameron and H. R. Giger for kindly allowing this letter to be featured both on the website and in the Letters of Note book.)
AMERICAN GOTHIC PRODUCTIONS, INC.
February 13, 1987
Mr. Leslie Barany
New York, New York
Dear Mr. Barany:
I regret that the intense pressure to complete “ALIENS” did not afford me the time to reply to your letter of 3/11/86, which was on behalf of your client, Mr. H.R. Giger.
In that letter you describe Mr. Giger’s ‘initial sense of disappointment’ at not being contacted for “ALIENS” in view of his, quite correct, intense sense of authorship of the creatures and designs. Ironically, it was the production design of “ALIEN”, with its bizarre, psycho-sexual landscape of the subconscious as created by Mr. Giger, that initially attracted me to the project of a sequel. However, having been a production designer myself before becoming a director, I felt I had to put my own unique stamp on the project. Otherwise, it would have had little meaning for me a that point in my career, when I had a number of original concepts and creations which I could have pursued, with equal financial reward and an even greater degree of authorship.
I found that creating a sequel can be an uneasy exercise in balancing creative impulses, the desire to create a whole new canvas, with the need to pay proper hommage to the original. Mr. Giger’s visual stamp was so powerful and pervasive in “ALIEN” (a major contributor to its success, I believe) that I felt the risk of being overwhelmed by him and his world, if we had brought him into a production where in a sense, he had more reason to be there than I did.
Because 20th Century Fox liked the story I presented to them, they gave me the opportunity to create the world I had seen in my mind as I wrote. I took that opportunity, and enlisted the aid of special effects designers, sculptors and technicians with whom I had worked before which, of course, is a natural course when one must guarantee a schedule and budget.
An additional deciding factor was Mr. Giger’s conflicting involvement in “POLTERGEIST II” which unfortunately did not utilize his vision nearly as well as “ALIEN”.
I offer all this commentary by way of apology and explanation in the hope that Mr. Giger can find it possible to forgive me for abducting his ‘first-born’. If so, there may come a time when we can collaborate in mutual respect on some completely new and original project where the only limitation is his superb imagination.
I am, first and always, a fan of his work (a signed litho of the alien egg commissioned during “ALIEN” is one of my prized possessions).
JAMES F. CAMERON