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Review: Alien Covenant

What can I say? Sometimes reviews come and go out of order. Foregoing the gap of time between seeing this new “Alien” film and this review, let’s get on with it. “Alien: Covenant” directed by Ridley Scott and written by John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen, and Michael Green is a gigantic improvement over Scott’s last foray into space philosophy with “Prometheus” in my opinion. However, while I was not a fan of “Prometheus”, “Covenant” has given me pause to reconsider elements of that initial film.

This time around the focus is on the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship headed towards a new planet for humanity to thrive on. Aboard the ship Walter (Michael Fassbender), a newer model Android with a middle-American accent roams around keeping an eye on the colonists and runs the ship’s tech. Unfortunately for the colonists (but fortunately for the audience), they never make it to their destination of Origae-6. A neutrino blast rocks the spaceship carrying two-thousand frozen colonist members and causes quite the havoc- outright killing the captain (James Franco) and damaging the ship in the process. After the chaos has calmed the crew comes across a signal that Tennessee (Danny McBride) recognizes as a John Denver song. They investigate and find a planet even more suitable for colonization than Origae-6. The former first mate and new captain Oram (Billy Crudup) makes the decision to go for the much closer planet, dismissing the lone contrarian Daniels’ objection (Katherine Waterston), the widow of the late captain.

Only shortly after landing on the seemingly vacant planet does the crew realize the grave mistake they have made. For those curious to know if Ridley Scott could still handle the inherent gore and gross out antics of the xenomorphs, fear not (Or, maybe do?). Scott tries to outdo his own initial chest-bursting alien scene with a fresh and bloody violent vigor. The crew is quickly outmatched by the albino proto-xenomorphs and that may have been the end of it, had it not been for their savior in David (Michael Fassbender, again), the A.I. android from “Prometheus” (coincidentally the best part of that film). The first and third acts of the film are decidedly more “Alien” in nature than “Prometheus” was, however the second act delves back into the Gothic space philosophy that permeated the first film- and this film balances these differing styles and aesthetics fairly well. Scott’s obsession here lies in the big questions surrounding David himself, and he goes to great lengths to give weight to David’s inner turmoil.

David takes great interest in Walter, teaching him to play the flute at one point cleverly pointing out the obvious distance between the models. Walter can take direction and learn, but only David can teach and create. In fact we learn a great deal more about David in this film and the story paints a much more complete picture of his motivations and purpose, which I assume he himself does a lot of thinking on as well. Once again, Michael Fassbender is the best part of this series of films. Having him become the linchpin of these films was a distinct choice and it paid off for Scott. I know some were disappointed in the more predictable “Alien-ness” of these films, and while the ending can be seen from miles away, I love that this universe is finally shaping up to become more recognizable in form. This film at least felt as if it existed in the same universe as “Alien” and “Aliens”, there was even a bright yellow exo-suit worn at one point as a visual reminder and I admit, I cracked a smile at the sight of it.

While this film is not near the heights of the first two films, it is the third best “Alien” movie in the franchise. There are a few moments here and there that were questionable though. At one point David mimes to a freshly born Xenomorph that stands upright and I outright laughed at the screen- it was cheese-tastic and it immediately brought to mind the scene in “Spaceballs” where a freshly chest-burst Xenomorph dons a hat and cane singing “Hello My Baby!”. Probably not the response that was intended or wanted, but hey- don’t do that next time. There was also a sequence where we, the audience, are given the Xenomorph’s perspective a la “Predator”, and that was just an awful idea to be honest. So, while not perfect- this film is highly enjoyable and has finally hooked me into Mr. Scott’s curious prequel series of Alien films. What Ridley Scott does next is anyone’s guess, but I am now invested in finding out what that will be.

Final Score: 2000 Doomed Colonists and 1 Mad Robot

 

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Movie Pitch: A course correction for the “Alien Versus Predator” film series

I don’t know about you, but I found both of the “Alien vs Predator” movies to be rather lacking in quality. Which is a massive disappointment considering both sci-fi/horror icons come from series that are pillars of the modern genres that they helped to pioneer. That’s not to say I didn’t find aspects of both films that were entertaining, but the initial flick was rated PG-13 and didn’t do enough with either property- while the sequel was drowned in darkness and went way too over the top to amend the misgivings of the first. Probably shouldn’t have opened the sequel with a child getting a heart to heart with a squirmy facehugger. So, I’m going to offer a few ideas as to how I would make a third entry into the series and revive the respective space aliens and their age old struggle.

1: Set the film in space

The initial flaw of the first two films, in my opinion, was that they followed the structure put in place of the Predator flicks by setting the stories on modern day Earth. For the third entry, I would flip that idea and set the films in deep space. Put the Predators in the world of “Aliens”. In fact, I would take inspiration from the video game “Alien: Isolation” by placing the story in a gigantic space station that has been taken over by a nest of Xenomorphs.

2: The timeline should be post “Aliens”/in the future

I would set the film after the events of “Aliens”, not being directly related to that film, but taking place after that film in the timeline. In order for the humans to have any kind of impact I would give them the benefit of this time jump when we have superior weapons and technology. I would also keep the world tactile and retain that “lived in” sensation partly by keeping the eighties technology, something that looks old and outdated-but is actually futuristic in its ability. As a side note, I would embrace practical filmmaking practices as much as possible. Real, large, sets built from scratch, costumes, animatronics, and slimy oozing gore.

3: Make the Xenomorphs great again

Okay, ignore the political subtext, it simply made me chuckle. Now, one of my favorite aspects of “Alien” and its sequel are the fact that these creatures are horrifying. They’re essentially space raptors. We should treat them as such. Show that they are capable of being an intelligent species-not purely a source of fodder for the predators’, or humans’, weapons. Maybe have them trick the humans into falling into a trap, much like coyotes or wolves operate with a pack mentality.

4: Have the Predators pull the strings

As the galactic hunters that they are, the Predators should be the driving force behind the plot’s movement, even if the viewers are unaware of this as its happening. In this story I would set up the Predators as a small group of elite hunters tasked with eliminating this alien nest. We could play with the possibility of this being a sort of “last stand” scenario for the aliens in this section of space? Or the Predators motivation could be that they don’t like the idea of a space station filled with Xenomorphs so close to their own planet? There are a few different ways this could go, however I do enjoy the idea of the Predators subtly manipulating the space marines into checking out this station. Or, another possibility is that the space marines were sent there independently, as a response to a distress signal, but the Predators use the marines to their advantage when they discover humans also milling about the derelict space station. Either way, I think the Predators using the humans as bait to bring out the queen they intend to kill would be a great deal of fun.

5: Humans storyline should be military based

The human element of the story should be present and at the center of the film. However, we are not the stars of the movie, the warring alien factions are. So, through this effort I believe creating bombastic characters from a military squad akin to the one in “Aliens” would benefit this story greatly. We cannot simply slavishly recreate those characters or scenes though. No one can take “Game over man!” from Bill Paxton, R.I.P. I would view this as a monster movie, set in space, with a horror aesthetic permeating it. We can meet new characters as the film progresses, survivors on the station etc. Obviously somebody also has to be an android in hiding.

Those are my ideas for a possible third entry in the “Alien vs Predator” series of films. I think this would be an excellent return to form if handled with care, and more than anything else- it’s a movie I want to watch. Maybe some day we’ll get something along these lines. So, what do you think? Comment below with any ideas you have for another film in this series or let me know what you thought of my rendition. Thanks for reading!

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More ‘Aliens’, Less ‘Prometheus’ please

Recently news broke on twitter by director Neil Blomkamp himself stating that he would be moving on to other projects for the moment as preproduction has been halted on his ‘Alien 5’ film to make room for Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ sequel. Personally I think this move is a mistake. I’m critically biased, though, in that I don’t necessarily love Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ and have a deep connection to his original ‘Alien’ and James Cameron’s fantastic sequel, ‘Aliens’. But my concern comes from more than just fanboy woes. This ‘universe’, if you will forgive the overused term, of Alien films seems to be at odds with each other as one film is fighting to reinstate the old nostalgia filled canon of yore, while the other wants to build a film series around looming existential questions within the world that the Alien films inhabit.

What excites me about Blomkamp’s installment in the Alien series is that it has the potential to put the spotlight back on the Xenomorphs and showcase just how much of a threat even one of those space raptors can be. I feel that the films that the Xenomorph has been a part of in the last decade (and its own sequels in the 90’s) have only weakened the monster’s image as a large hulking terror that thrives in the shadows (Something I believe the videogame ‘Alien: Isolation’ aesthetically nailed. Check it out!). Both of the ‘Alien vs Predator’ films portrayed the slimey villain in large numbers being taken out quickly by humans or Predators, which is hard to argue against at times as that IS what the predators are there to do. Simply having the two iconic sci-fi/horror villains on the same screen might be a problem of too much excess. An embarassment of riches if you will.

Blomkamp’s iteration was also rumored to be ignoring the events of ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien: Resurrection’ a wise choice. This would only solidify the series and reestablish tone that was lost in the transition from ‘Aliens’ to its much maligned sequel sisters of the 1990’s. Having the series revisited by an innovative filmmaker like Blomkamp, who is also a large fan of the series, is something that not only seems to be serving other studios interests well, (ie Marvel Studios with the Russo Brothers and Star Wars with JJ Abrams and Gareth Edwards to name a few) but will also inject a new style with a robust and clear love of the material as well.We also have to consider that Sigourney Weaver isn’t getting any younger. If we want a true sequel that continues with the character of Ripley then we ought to get moving, something the ‘Indiana Jones 5’ property is also likely dealing with considering Harrison Ford’s age as well.

Then there’s ‘Prometheus’. A film that asks many big questions, and answers none of them. A film that feels oddly out of place in the Alien canon it tries so hard to insert itself in. The film commits several sins throughout the runtime in its attempt to both connect itself and yet stand alone. *SPOILERS* The ending in particular is the most egregious error if memory serves correctly. In the final scenes the captain of the good ship Prometheus crashes the ship in an attempt to stop the engineer’s spacecraft to avoid the potential calamity of a biological weapon being released on Earth. This wouldn’t be so bad if this entire story took place on the moon from the original ‘Alien’ movie, but it does not. It takes place on an entirely different moon, which makes one wonder why the marketing sold the movie as a direct sequel setting up shots of the sideways fallen Engineer spacecraft that fell on its side in the exact same fashion that the one on a different moon in the future must have done(?). This wouldn’t have bothered me as much if it hadn’t been for the fact that the moon that Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley investigates in the first Alien movie is the one that the crashed ship ‘Prometheus’ distress signal is coming from! A fatal flaw in my mind, why would you go out of your way to contradict yourself and name the location of the events of ‘Prometheus’ as entirely different from ‘Alien’, since Ridley Scott made both films, I seriously question this obvious obstruction.

Even Scott himself has said that the movie only has strands of continuity relating to the Alien universe. I could go on, ‘Prometheus’ does some things very well, particularly Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of David the Android, but the film’s story feels muddled, stretched, lazy at times, and convoluted. The scene where the central character ‘Shaw’ has to cut a version of the alien out of herself is pretty intense and enthralling, but there are so many other parts of the film that just don’t coalesce. So, in my opinion, if Ridley Scott wanted to make a film about big existential questions set in space, why didn’t he just create a new property? This easily could have been it’s own film series,and that’s fine! There’s no need to force other intellectual properties to burden themselves with other sets of expectations and tone unnecessarily. Scott has even said his sequel might not even include any version of the eponymous Xenomorph at all! Which begs the question, why make a movie set in the Alien universe without including the famous baddie in some fashion? The current title for that project is “Alien: Paradise Lost” So hopefully they stick to their roots, we’ll just have to wait and see!

If I had my way (Don’t we all wish for that?) I would simply switch the fate of these two films. ‘Prometheus’ didn’t wow me, but here’s hoping Blomkamp can go above and beyond the line of duty and revitalize a franchise both legendary, and a piece of film pop culture.

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The Final Frontier

“Guardians of The Galaxy” Marvel Studios’ craziest risk factor that features a ragtag group of thieves in a pulpy science fiction adventure hit theaters a year ago and quickly became one of the most beloved movies of 2014. In light of this I’ve decided to focus on the science fiction genre for this piece. While personally I enjoy a lot of different styles, genres, and sub-genres, of movies science fiction is my absolute favorite kind of movie. I believe this to be so because its sense of imagination and wonder is boundless. What better playground to construct a story within than the universe itself. The possibilities are in fact, endless. Any type of story can exist with science fiction, romance, adventure, drama, horror, mystery and more!

Lets not beat around the bush here, I’ll dive in headfirst with the biggest nerd debate since Mac versus PC (The answer is Linux by the way), Star Wars, or Star Trek? Both franchises have earned their monumental fan bases at this point for their different perspectives on planet hopping, never ending, space/time adventures. I have to admit, I never paid much attention to Star Trek before JJ Abrams rebooted the characters back in 2009. Yup, I’m that guy. I will say that, however, that Abrams re-imagining of Trek is what hooked me to it though, I’d honestly just never sat down and watched any of the television series. After that movie I went back in time, courtesy of Netflix, and encountered a gigantic universe of space faring tales. From “Voyager” to “Deep Space Nine”, to the spectacular “Next Generation” I fully embraced the daring exploits of the Star Fleet crew in its different iterations. Star Trek is an excellent example of quality science fiction that embraced it’s serial expectations to its fullest extent by focusing on powerful ideas and themes such as authoritarianism, imperialism, loyalty, economics, racism, class warfare, religion, sexism, human rights, feminism, and the role of technology in the character’s lives. Merging the vast possibilities of imagination with real world conflicts and issues, Star Trek has successfully etched its own place in the history of science fiction.

Star Wars on the other hand has always been the big budget brother to Star Trek. Now that JJ Abrams has brought the Enterprize and her adventures into the limelight though the average moviegoer now has two major space faring sagas to consider. The Pepsi Starship to your Coca Cola X-Wing, so to say. Wars is about different ideas and structures than Trek though, it focuses more on the themes within political science with a favorable distinction towards democracy over the totalitarian order pushed by the Nazi-like regime of the Galactic Empire. In fact most of Star Wars is just an adaption of our own cultures and ideas, Jedi are simply Samurai in space with blades of light rather than steel, and Han Solo is the classic embodiment of a wandering western hero a la Clint Eastwood, granted with more of a verbal personality. It’s the edge-less boundaries of what Lucas did by making his saga a thing of its own that intrigues me most though. Star Wars is unique (in film) in that it truly stands on its own like a work of Fantasy. It has no connection to the Earth we all know and love, but rather exists within a galaxy all its own. It resembles the completely imagined setting of Middle Earth in its fully created environment, a true force of creativity.

Melding genres has always been exceptionally enticing to me, whereas Trek and Wars utilize human themes, issues, and ideals these next few entries mix science fiction with other genres to blend a unique take on both. Three series in particular have effectively morphed the horror, or monster subgenre, with the infinity of the cosmos. The Alien series is one literal hell of a time, cause who doesn’t enjoy the idea of something living inside you and then ripping through your abdomen? Apologies to all expecting mothers. The first Alien in particular is more horror than science fiction, but it reshaped both genres significantly and its set in space, can’t get much more sci-fi than that. Alien got a lot of recognition and critical response due to its sexual overtones and female empowerment. Plus how good was that pacing? I’ve only recently re-watched this classic and its tension still holds up quite well! The sequel continues the themes of female power in a masculine environment. Ripley is constantly being shut down by her male counterparts, but she is also partaking in misjudgment by exhibiting a sort of robo-racism against the android Bishop because of her previous betrayal by another robot named Ash during the events of the first film. This further continues the “android apartheid” seen throughout the entirety of the Alien series.

Predator, on the other hand, is akin to the alien series (lets forget the versus movies for the rest of… time) in that it shares monster brethren that hunt humans and mercilessly murder their faces. While the series might embrace more action than horror as far as sci-fi goes, it still offers a good time at the movies. Unfortunately while Alien and its sequels empower women, the Predator series hardly even gives them a voice to be heard. The focus here is more on the idea of a galactic hunt, the fear of being pursued, and the heart pounding thrill of hunting your hunter.

Vin Diesel’s Chronicles of Riddick series has had its fair share of tonal changes over the trilogy, but it’s most compelling entry, in my opinion, was the latest. Simply titled “Riddick”, the newest flick dropped the world building nature of the sequel in turn for a tighter, more character driven entry in the antihero’s planet hopping antics. Working as a spiritual successor to the first movie, “Pitch Black”, Riddick goes back to being a grimacing, shadow loving, murderer. The entire first act is essentially a slasher film as Riddick systematically toys with the bounty hunters that pursue him. Its sheer brilliance. Riddick is one of my favorite antiheroes because you can constantly see him calculating, manipulating people with his words and my god does he utilize his environments to his advantage. If you haven’t checked this series out yet, I highly suggest it, if anything else it’s just a fun way to spend a rainy day if that’s all it does for you.

Not all sci-fi has to be off planet though. My favorite original science fiction film of the last five years has to be “Looper”. This movie smartly utilizes one of my favorite storytelling devices, time travel. “Looper”, if you haven’t seen it (see it!) the film deals with the Mob of the future sending their marked victims back in time to be killed by specifically chosen executors known as loopers. These arbiters of death meet their victims at a certain time and place, kill their targets as soon as they have been sent back in time, get paid, and live the high life. That is until the future Mob sends the future versions of the loopers themselves back in time to the present looper who ends up killing his future self while getting a golden pay day. They then live out their days until the Mob comes for them. One looper in particular, dubiously named Joe, (who is excellently portrayed by both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis) gets into trouble when his future self comes back and subsequently escapes from his present self resulting in an extremely fun AND intelligent take on a man pursuing himself. The movie is about mistakes at its core, what we can do to correct them, or prevent them from even happening in the first place.

Lastly, if you enjoy this subject or material at all I can’t leave you without suggesting “FireFly”. I came incredibly late to the game here but this short lived space-faring series is truly a thing to behold. Joss Whedon’s intergalactic team of feisty underdogs is full of heart, superb writing, and a clear love of the genre. Imagine a western in space and you’d be close, it speaks for itself, but that’s a good way to approach it. It’s unique to itself and it was a tragedy that the series didn’t get more time for itself. If you’re only watching for fan favorite Nathan Fillion’s role as Captain Malcolm Reynolds, then that’s well enough, but I’d be doing the series a disservice- all of the characters consistently shine through! Do yourself a favor if you haven’t seen this gem and knock out the 13 episodes and the film “Serenity” in a weekend, it’s well worth your time!

So, yes, I love science fiction, and I’m quite glad that it seems to be sticking around and caught in the current attention span of the masses, which isn’t always guaranteed. Even if it drops back into obscurity, as it once was, I’ll still be there to watch starships, time travelers, space samurai, and even face murdering aliens do what they all do best, entertain.