The Coolest Movie Hardware Ever

- The Emergency Destruct System of The Nostromo

So I was watching Alien (1979) the other day to prepare for my weekly podcast, when a certain special scene came up. Every time this scene comes up, I always tune out a little bit. It's the one where Ripley must activate the Nostromo's self-destruct.

In the midst of Alien attacks and people dying left and right, I always pause for a moment here, fascinated by the hardware at the center of the scene: The Emergency Destruct System. The only thing more fascinating than the design of this device is how insanely complicated it is to activate! Really! It's a miracle anybody ever blows up a ship! Then again, perhaps that's the desired effect, these ships are rather expensive, you know.

As my good friend and fellow podcaster Dennis Rosenfeld points out, it's also rather disturbing that a spaceship would even need this function. If catastrophic disasters happen often enough to build such a device into every ships, I sure hope there's some decent hazard pay involved.

But I digress.

To help you in case you find yourself on an M-Class star-freighter and need to activate the self-destruct, and because I have no serious articles ready, let's look at how you operate this cool piece of hardware.

Emergency Destruct System Activation Procedure

1. First you have to punch the big red knob. A hatch will spring open. Pull the lever behind it.

2. Then you need to unscrew two screws that hold a cover in place. Remove the cover, and pull both levers you find there. They will give you resistance, put some muscle into it. This will make the primary activation panel pop up. For your convenience this has been located in the floor, in case you're bleeding so much you can't stand.

3. Read the instructions carefully before proceeding. I'm gonna say that again. Read. The. Instructions. Carefully.

At this point it's assumed that you've already warned your shipmates (the ones who aren't dead), who should be located in the ship's emergency escape shuttle. Also, any pets should be secured in a company approved carry-case and placed on the shuttle, but wait until the last moment to do this.

4. After reading the instructions, press a series of random buttons with odd symbols. (Avoid the one looking like an umbrella. It will activate the sprinkler system.) The four nuclear bolts will pop up.

5. Activate the nuclear heads. Take bolt 1, screw it into hole 1, and pull up nuclear head 1. Activate, by flipping the little switch, located behind the little hatch. Repeat this procedure with bolts 2 through 4.

Note that at this point a detached female voice will begin an annoying countdown. Also, flashing graphics will appear on every monitor in sight. Don't panic, this is normal.

The self-destruct is now activated. (Actually, the self-destruct will activate BEFORE you're finished with all four bolts. This is being worked on. Version 2.0 will not have this problem.)

6. That's it, you're all done. Now run.


The overload will take exactly 10 minutes. After 5 minutes you will no longer be able to stop the destruct mechanism. This is rather inconvenient since it will take you exactly 5 minutes and 3 seconds to run to the escape shuttle, realize you've made a mistake, run back and deactivate the self-destruct.

So once again, you REALLY have to be sure, before you turn it on.

Also, please note that screaming at the computer will not help anybody.


Is it just me, or does it seem rather silly to have to go through such an elaborate process to blow up a ship? I mean, if it comes to that, you must be in quite a hurry to get the hell out of there. I would also like to point out that the activation requires no codes or identification. Anybody can basically turn this thing on!

Also notice that even though this is obviously an English-speaking crew, the arming instructions are also presented in French!

In fact, Ripley appears to read off the French version when she attempts to deactivate the device. Could this be the reason she fails?

Anyway, the practical applications of this device notwithstanding, this is still the coolest piece of movie hardware ever, and now you know exactly how to operate it next time you need to blow up a spaceship.

You're welcome.


Gigantic Star Wars Related Movie Geek Books


Take a big gulp of the nostalgia cup with me.

A few weeks back a book landed on my doorstep with a clunk. It was The Making of The Empire Strikes Back, by J. W. Rinzler. This could quite possibly be the best book ever made.

Flipping casually through the pages, I'm taken back to a more simple time. Back when I lived and breathed Star Wars every day. Back then I wanted nothing more than a speeder bike, so I could impress everyone at school, and I thought Princess Leia was the most beautiful woman in the world.


As I sit here and gush over this book, I can't help but look over at my bookshelf, which is struggling to carry the weight of a dozen similar, wonderful books. So I figured, why not write a blog about the best of them?

Now, full disclosure, I haven't read all of these, not cover to cover, I mean. I bring them out every now and then, to look at the pictures and read selected parts of the text, but people do that with the Bible as well, so I'm good, right?



The Making of Star Wars
By J. W. Rinzler

This is the prequel (NO! Sorry, I used the bad word). Scratch that. This is the predecessor to the book that spawned this blog.

In this day and and age, with The Google and The Wiki only a click away, it's great to see that some people still value a hardcover brick tome such as this. Author J. W. Rinzler had unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm Archives, which seems to contain every single scrap of paper Lucas every wrote. He also had access to hours of interviews conducted in the late 70's, which has never been released before.

I would literally have killed for this book when I was a kid.

The Art of The Empire Strikes Back
Edited by Deborah Call, text by Vil Bulluck and Valerie Hoffman

This one has a special place in my heart. It was the first REAL movie geek book I ever got. I checked with my mum, and she said I was twelve. It was the first time I got an appreciation for the development of a design. It was the first time I realized that what ends up on the screen is developed through a process.

The book does contain some text, but otherwise it mostly consists of images and sketches. I could look at these for hours, and I have! I guess the new Empire book has made this redundant, but flipping through the pages still brings me back. (On an odd note, this book is far better than the ones for Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, which both include the screenplay for the films, at the expense of some explanatory text.)

The Star Wars Vault
by Stephen J. Sansweet and Peter Vilmur

This is a geeky as it gets. You have to see this book to believe it. You have to actually touch it. The cover claims it contains "thirty years of treasures from the Lucasfilm Archives, with removable memorabilia and two audio CDs"!

It's unbelievable. The book is stuffed with hundreds of unique photos celebrating the nerdiness that is Star Wars. We get reproductions of old programs, handwritten notes, stickers, cardboard model planes, and all kinds of glitter! You can flip through this book fifty times, and still discover new things. So epically cool!

Sculpting a Galaxy: Inside the Star Wars Model Shop
by Lorne Peterson

It's heartbreaking to flip through this book. Why? Because the shop that produced all these wonderful things doesn't exist anymore. The Industrial Light & Magic model shop closed in 2006, and ILM is now only a computer farm.

Anyway, back to the book.

All the famous star ships, vehicles, and creatures are covered here, with behind the scene photos of their creation, and text that explains the thinking that went into each design, but honestly, you'll be too fascinated by the pictures to care. Just look at those gorgeous images that lets us appreciate every inch of these beautiful models in close-up. The craftsmanship is mind-boggling.

Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects
By Thomas G. Smith

I bought this book almost 20 years ago. As I have stated before on these pages I'm absolutely in love with old school, photo-chemical effects and this book is one of the reasons why.

Thomas G. Smith, who used to be general manager at Industrial Light & Magic, writes in a simple, fairly non-technical language. He carefully explains the complicated work that went into old school visual effects, taking each category of effects one by one. He gives the reader a great overview, but also goes into specific details about specific shots, which is really where you learn some interesting stuff.

Naturally every page is lavishly illustrated with tons of behind the scenes photos from ILM. Every film nerd should read this book, and fall in love with that old film magic too.

The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Paintings
By Mark Cotta Vaz adn Craig Barron

And speaking of old school effects, here is the cream of the crop!

Focusing exclusively on "matte paintings" this book traces the history of this wonderful technique from the early days of film making to the modern digital age. It describes how the old masters worked under the studio system, how the technique became a mainstay in Hollywood, creating incredible images of places that didn't exist, or simply lending a helping hand to studios during the war, when they couldn't afford to build sets.

The book is full of large images, and plenty of "before and after" shots that really let's you appreciate the miracle of a good matte painting.

The Complete Making of Indiana Jones
By J. W. Rinzler

Finally we can't cover gigantic movie books without including this one, despite the fact that it's not Star Wars related at all.

J. W. Rinzler, who wrote both the Empire book and the Star Wars book, was once again given unlimited access to the Lucasfilm Archives (Gosh! That must be a wonderful place), resulting in an exhaustive book that covers all four Indy films in great detail, with interviews, behind the scene photos and plenty of trivia.



When people talk about everything going digital, books disappearing, and everyone reading stuff on a .5 inch mobile phone screen I just shake my head. NOTHING can replace the experience of sitting with books like these, and I hope they NEVER stop making them.

And finally... Can I say it? No, I can't say it, it's too nerdy. Screw that, I'm gonna say it...

May The Force be with you!