Darke Reviews | Alien: Covenant (2017)

I have many fandoms. So once again I will say these words, “I am a fan of this”. I have read quite a few of the Alien books, comics, and other media over the years; at least until the late 90’s. I could, and can still, recite to you from memory the names of every member of the crew of the Sulaco and the Nostromo. I called one of my ex girlfriends Ripley as a nickname. I have literally watched every Alien movie more than once, multiple cuts of them, directors cuts, “assembly cuts”, I’ve collected deleted scenes and for awhile I kept trying to hunt down the laser disc (ask your parents kids) of Aliens just so I could see the extended death scene of Burke, Carter J.  I also don’t think Prometheus is a bad film. I see what the director was trying to do and have a feeling that he may have seen the death of his brother Tony coming and was trying to cope with it in his question for whats next, life and death, and being angry at your makers. I also get why this movie divided the fans, some forgive it (I don’t), some hate it (I also don’t).

So how was it’s sequel?

Four writing credits. That’s never a good sign right? Right. The movie has a story by Jack Paglen (Transcendence) and Michael Green (Logan, Green Lantern); which was converted to screenplay by John Logan (Skyfall, Last Samurai) and Dante Harper (first writing credit). So we have a mix of good, bad, and holy hell this is bad – which explains much. The movie decides to lift from Percy Bysshe Shelley and so shall I in excerpt:

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

It’s ironic really that a friend of mine and someone I look up to Satyros Phil Brucato posted today on Facebook about the responsibility of IP holders and writers in relation to their products; his is specifically about the dumpster fire that is Marvel comics right now. I find that both Ozymandias and Satyros hit the problems I have with this movie.

*pulls up a chair and stares at the Hollywood writing room*

I am a writer. I know what you do is very difficult. I have yet to finish a novel. I have yet to finish a script. You have done these things. I applaud you. BUT – when you are making a thing, based on a previous thing…there are dangers. The waters are not uncharted, many have navigated them successfully, far more have crashed upon the rocks of fandom. As Satyros pointed out,

When you work with legends… even, perhaps, create them… those legends are bigger than you are. You might legally own the intellectual property rights to a given legend, but the power of that legend belongs to its audience. A legend holds that power because it speaks to human needs, fears, aspirations and dreams.

The Alien series, the creature, the world it is legend. You, even its creators such as Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett, and the original director Ridley Scott – have a responsibility to the fans. Yes, you as owner and creator can do anything you want with it. I do not argue that. Your changes do not devalue my love of the original works, such as Alien and Aliens – both of which can easily be classified as near perfect films. What you do though when you try to retcon (Retro-Active-Continuity …ie changing the history you already wrote to …do something) your own world is leave us confused to the status of your world.  When you ignore literally every work that has come since the original you take a huge risk of alienating the fans. Jurassic World took the risk and didn’t do so badly with it – but the sequels of Jurassic Park are not looked upon with legendary eyes.

Alien and Aliens are. The links between the universes of Alien and Predator are. The comics, the books, all of it – people have passion about. There are people who have done full blown physiological studies of both the Xenomorph and it’s cycles as well as the Yautja (Predators).  You had a chance, you choose to do something …else with it; you changed your own history, science and so much else. Something you had a right to do.

 

The point is, this product in my opinion is nothing more than a disappointment. You told nothing new. You didn’t scare us. You didn’t make me care if the characters lived or died. You changed so many of your own rules and so much of the backstory people know and care about – nothing ends up mattering.

This is what brings us back to Ozymandias – look upon your work and despair.  Nothing beside remains. Round the decay.

I can talk about the acting – its fine. No one stands out to me. Fassbender can act we know this. Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts) can have a range of emotions, but I never saw her evolve. The character I was introduced to is the character I ended with. There was no metamorphosis of the character – she is a shadow of Ripley and that is not the fault of the actress. I have a new respect for Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) and want to see him act in more straight roles like this one. They are fine. They are all fine.

The effects are…good. Mostly. Every effect is very clean and looks in frame. I appreciate the effort there. It should be noticed and applauded by anyone in that industry and looked to for guidance in the future. There’s a lovely mix of practical and CG that works very very well. However, some puppetry looks…wrong to the point of being nearly silly.

Production value? Yes. Very high. Very well framed, crafted etc. The biggest complaint is the film is too dark. It’s been colour corrected to be darker but is also washed out because of it bluring the lines of contrast at times making it difficult to see what, if anything, is going on – but not in a way that illicits fear.

TL;DR

This should be the last of the Alien franchise for awhile. Mr. Scott, please leave it alone. Fox. Please leave it alone.

If your intent was to make a movie that was gothic horror, or horror at all like the original – you failed.

If your intent was to touch on the action and sci fi horror/action of the sequel – you failed to deliver.

If your intent was to create a science fiction movie that raised questions and could allow for debate or good conversation – you missed your mark.

Hell, you even failed at making a continuous sequel that makes sense. You had no set tone. You had nothing compelling. The characters were erasable.

You created instead bland mediocrity that served no purpose and delivered no meaning or subtext – or entertainment value.

So…should you see it?

Look, yes, I am a fan girl. But I do my best to judge a movie on it’s own merits. It does a few things interesting but fails in every other regard to make me care or invest myself in the story. Guardians of the Galaxy with a terribly weak story pulled that off, so something like this should have been able to without trying.

It didn’t.

So no – don’t see it. It is in a word: Disappointing on every level.

How do you rank it in the franchise?

Well…I’d watch it before the theatrical cut of Alien 3? At least the AVP movies and Alien 4 were enjoyable in their badness. This is just bland.

So not buying it?

No. Not even on a dare. It just would anger me more.

Wow – you are angry?

Yes, because I went in with no expectations after the last one. I went in with a gleam of hope it could be better. I was upset by how little this left me caring.

So what next?

I am not reviewing Pirates 5. Didn’t see the 4th. don’t want to see the 5th (who asked for a 5th?). Wonder Woman on June 2nd is my hope now…I must be crazy.

 

This is Jessica Darke, last survivor of Alien Covenant signing off.

 

Darke Reviews – Alien (1979)

Some movies have good posters. Some movies have good trailers. Then there are the taglines.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”

“Who ya gonna call?”

“Houston, we have a problem.”

“They’re here”

Each of those evoke a memory of a film or a moment in time. They are all you needed to know what you were getting into. Now, imagine if you will (a place beyond sight and sound?), the concept of a horror movie in space is all but unknown. Sci Fi horror and truly gruesome alien monsters don’t exist. You walk into your local cineplex and see the image above with this tagline:

“In space, no one can hear you scream.”

At the bare minimum you might be curious, but what would you be getting if you paid money for a ticket?

The very definition of gothic horror actually.  Written by Dan O’Bannon, inspired by his earlier work Dark Star, and co written by Ronald Shusett. Both of the men would go on to have little success beyond this with Total Recall being one of the few non-Alien based movies of any notoriety.  It’s a shame since they did such a fantastic job in making relatable working class characters that you bother to care about. If that seems a trend in some of my reviews, it is. It is important to me that I care about the characters and create investment in their well being. If I don’t care if they live or die, then where is the tension? There’s no reason to care, then I am only watching for the psychotic glee of witnessing horrific deaths. That has its purpose from time to time, but to be truly great – you need to care. It’s also worth mentioning many of the tropes and cliches of modern cinema started with movies like this. Not only that, but they created a universe here. One we keep dipping our toes back into year after year – Books, Comics, Sequels, Video Games…all of it.

The story here, for those uninitiated, focuses on a group of blue collar miners on a massive space ship and refinery called the Nostromo. They are woken from cryosleep by a mysterious signal from a nearby planet LV-426.  A small recon team is sent to explore the source of the signal and uncovers an ancient ship with secrets within. A specimen is brought back to the ship which begins its return voyage home; only for things to go  wrong. Claustrophobia, fear of an unknown creature, fear of each other, and an ever increasing body count ramp the tension to a climax unlike most others.

The acting cast reads almost as a who’s who of 70’s and 80’s films. Tom Skerritt as Captain Dallas, Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ellen Ripley (in one of her first screen appearances),  Veronica Cartwright as Lambert, Harry Dean Stanton as Brett, John Hurt as Kane, and Ian Holm as Ash. Every aspect of their characters works. They feel real. Their reactions are honest (in some cases very honest). Special recognition of course must go to Weaver. She has the unenviable task of carrying the film when it initially appears Skerritt – the veteran – would do so. She is outmatched in nearly every capacity by the creature that is stalking them except her will to survive. That is a thing of beauty to watch.

Director Ridley Scott, who has done more famous films than I can list reasonably, made this his opening to Hollywood as a director. He did it remarkably. Every aspect of this after the script came down to his raw direction. Tight claustrophobic tunnels, steam, poor lighting, uneven camera angles, and practical effects all from his hand and eye. Granted all the beautiful atmosphere that makes it the gothic classic that it is wouldn’t do well if the villain was Pennywise.

AlienPennywise

Beep Beep Ripley. Beep Beep

 

For that we went to the mad genius H.R. Giger. His brain had a thing for the blending of man, machine, and monster. This isn’t to say he made cyborgs or robots, but rather things that seemed to defy both in their surrealist organic nature. Thankfully, he won an Academy Award for this. The creature design is iconic and alone may be the reason this franchise has spawned so many sequels and stories over the decades.

TL;DR

This movie is definitive. It is the work you need to go back to if you want to do horror in space. No one, arguably, has done it better since.

It has some gore to it, but most of the horror comes from what you can’t see and what you aren’t being shown. This movie successfully combines psychological horror, science fiction, and monster movies.

It’s an absolute film.

This is Jessica Darke, with the last review of the night. Signing off.