I’m going to be honest, as much as I’ve defended Prometheus to people it’s a film that I had, until very recently, only watched once and that was just after it was released on DVD. Yes, I didn’t even watch it in the cinema. That, obviously, hasn’t stopped me feeling qualified to defend it and, if there’s one thing you can be absolutely sure of about me by now, I won’t back down in an argument regardless of how much I know/remember about a topic. Especially if I think I’m morally superior. And, when it comes to Prometheus, I am definitely on the moral high ground. A lot of people I know have unduly criticised this film because it wasn’t what they were expecting. It’s a similar situation to the time I nearly ruined an old friendship because of the film Hugo: they hated it because they thought it was going to be a kid’s adventure instead of a love-story to cinema. People were so desperate for another Alien that anything else was bound to be torn apart. It’s nonsense. Ridley Scott always made his intentions for the film super clear and warned audiences not to go in with any stupid expectations. Is it the film’s fault if they didn’t listen and just wanted another Sigourney Weaver type killed massive black alien creatures? No. Look, I’m not a stubborn monster who isn’t willing to listen to people’s reasoned arguments about why it’s a terrible film. I myself think it has a few major issues. However, if you’re only going to negatively compare it to one of the best films of all time… well, let’s just say, in my head nobody can hear you moan.
Before I started writing this review I decided it was time to remind myself of Ridley Scott’s first prequel to Alien. I feel like I’m always having to defend Prometheus from people who thought it was a disappointing addition to the franchise. When I looked at the reviews I was shocked to see that a lot of critics gave the film moderate praise. I mean, yes, that praise was mostly for the aesthetic appeal and Michael Fassbender’s performance but I was under the impression that it had received more of a negative response. I, personally, didn’t mind the film. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be another wild ride of alien escapes and craziness in space. So I went in with realistic expectations. The people that I know who were most disappointed by it are the ones who expected Ridley Scott to pick up where he left off. Before 2012’s prequel, Scott had only directed the original film in the franchise so there were fans who were hoping he would give us the same treatment that Sigourney Weaver got but a few years earlier. Instead, we went on a journey to discover humanity’s existence and find out where the Alien menace came from. The story wasn’t quite as slick as we were used to and, for the most part, Prometheus gave us more questions than it answered. However, it was still enough to whet our appetite for the prequel’s sequel. Although, there was always the chance that we would get another Attack of the Clones here. I mean nobody expected that to be even more disappointing to fans than Phantom Menace but then Hayden Christensen managed to take shit to a whole new level.
I admire Ridley Scott for making this film. I mean, he was responsible for making one of the single greatest sci-fi films of all time. Hell, I’d happily say that Alien is one of the single greatest films of all time. The last time I watched it I was still scared shitless and I know exactly what’s going to happen at this point. So, he could have bowed out gracefully and let that be his legacy. Instead, he risked pulling a George Lucas and decided to show us the background to a much loved classic. Now, I know a lot of fans weren’t too keen on Prometheus but, if you take away all of your expectations of a film in the franchise, it is actually not that bad a film. There is a great cast and an interesting, if slightly overreaching, narrative. It has fantastic visuals and attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the alien that caused so much grief on the USCSS Nostromo. I enjoyed it and, with every repeat viewing of the Alien: Covenant trailer, I was really looking forward to its sequel.
A sequel which appeared to go out of its way to make connection to both the original Alien and its own sequel Aliens. We are introduced to a colonisation ship, the Covenant, in the midst of its journey to a distant and habitable planet. When an accident causes a few issues, the crew are awoken from hyperspace and discover another habitable planet that is closer to their current location. Now, because the crew have never seen a science-fiction movie before, new Captain Oram (Billy Cruddup) decides it is worth checking out this mysterious, new planet. He goes against the wishes of his second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterson) for the good of the audience. So we see most of the crew head down to the weird planet whilst a small minority remain to keep things in order.
Unfortunately but not unexpectedly shit starts to go down in typical Alien fashion. The crew starts to be infected by a weird spore that, strangely, causes creatures to burst from their bodies. Hmm, I feel like I’ve heard of that happening before. Luckily, though, David (Michael Fassbender) the creepy android from Prometheus, is on hand to give the crew his new expertise on the creatures. Turns out he became stranded on the planet 10 years earlier and has spent his time alone studying them. The scenes in which he takes Orman through his weird museum of Xenomorph skeletons is super creepy and just amazing.
In terms of plot Alien: Covenant still isn’t exactly as tight as Ridley Scott’s original but it feels as though it is reaching for something within its grasp. It attempts to answer as many of the questions that Prometheus left us with whilst getting closer to the structure of the earlier parts of the franchise. We see glimpses of both Alien and Aliens as the action moves from the wide open spaces of the planet to the confines of the ship. We have the inevitable nods to the very first facehugger and chestburster scenes but with the added gore of CGI. This film certainly pays fan service and will delight for nostalgia alone. However, it may still feel kind of empty to those who are used to this kind of thing. Just as Prometheus was a bigger hit with younger audiences, I believe those unfamiliar with the series will get a bigger kick out of these moments than lifelong fans. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a watch of course.
The problem isn’t that Covenant is a bad film; it’s just that it doesn’t feel new enough. People criticised Prometheus for being too dissimilar to anything that had gone before but this is starting to feel like a step back. The cast is great and, I have to say, that Katherine Waterson makes a much more convincing lead for the film than Noomi Rapace did before her. Waterson has more of the Sigourney Weaver feel about her and handles the character well. Michael Fassbender, in the dual role of David and his contemporary Walter, is still on fantastic form and is clearly having a blast making these films. The film, as its predecessor was, is absolutely stunning. However, there is something missing. The first Alien made so much of such a small concept but, since that point, the concept are getting bigger and less terrifying. I get that Scott wants to handle bigger ideas but, if this is to continue, everything needs a bit more clarity.
On Saturday 25th February it really was “game over, man. Game over” for actor Bill Paxton. The 61 year old died after complications during heart surgery. 61 really is no age at all and I can hardly imagine how his family and friends are coping. I liked Bill Paxton; although, I find this a sort of hypocritical statement to make considering most of the time I didn’t get his name correct. Yes, I’m one of those people that could never tell the difference between her Bills. Just like trying to get a USB stick into the hole, it always takes me 3 attempts to work out if I mean Bill Pullman or Bill Paxton. Even though I know there is one Bill I prefer, I just can’t remember his name. Bill Paxton was a great actor who had the ability to turn his hand to any number of roles. In order to honour his work and, conveniently, find something to write about for TBT, I decided to rewatch one of his greatest early roles. It was the role he won himself a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor. It only seems right.
Apparently there is still something of a debate going on about which film is better: Alien or Aliens. The major consensus seems to be that James Cameron’s follow up is the better all round film but Ridley Scott’s Alien is still a classic mixing of two genres that has never been equalled. Really I don’t understand why we need to pick between them. The two are very different films with very different approaches. They just happen to be about the same Alien creature. It’s about as fair as comparing Dracula and Twlight because they both contain vampires. I say, just admit they are both great. Alien was a triumph of horror and sci-fi. As I discussed a few weeks ago, it is still terrifying after all this time. Aliens, on the other hand, is more action driven and ramps up the special effects. The Alien is no longer a single entity stalking it’s prey. There are loads of them going to war with the crew of the spaceship of the USS Sulaco. Alien was Hitchcockian whilst Aliens is the kind of film that would have inspired Michael Bay.
The film picks up 57 years after the end of the first film when Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is rescued after drifting through space in stasis. Her employers, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, are skeptical about her claims about the Alien that killed the crew. Ripley is then informed that the exomoon, where the crew of the Nostromo first encountered the eggs and Kane got infected, is now the home to a colony of people. When Weyland-Yutani lose contact with the colony they as Ripley to accompany a unit of Marines and a company representative to investigate. Obviously, it turns out Ripley was right and a lot of bad shit had gone down. The colonists have been turned into hosts for Alien embryos and there are Facehuggers and Xenomorphs waiting to strike the Marines. Ripley must use her knowledge to get the Marines out and ensure the safety of the colony’s only survivor: a young girl called Newt (Carrie Henn).
As I mentioned earlier, Aliens is a much more familiar seeming sci-fi film. It keeps certain amounts of the horror and tension of the original film but adds more violence and explosions. Instead of an unsuspecting group of civilians trying to outwit a monster, this time we get to experience a group of full-blown Marines blow them the fuck up. It makes the first film look kind of tame and is unrelenting and uncompromising in it’s quest for more bloodshed. It’s a wild and crazy ride that was pretty technologically advanced in it’s day. It is the perfect action film. Although, I will say that out of the two films, it is the earlier one that has stood the aesthetic test over the years. The only problem with cutting edge special effects is that, in years to come, they start to look very silly and outdated.
All this talk of action doesn’t mean that the film lacks depth. Maybe it lacks a tiny amount of finesse that the first film did but has much more to offer than gunfire. Sigourney Weaver is given more room to develop the character of Ripley as she revisit her past and has to deal with the emerging mother-daughter relationship with Newt. She has a lot of emotional drama to deal with as well as going further to prove that Ripley really is the original badass female. The rest of the crew also have greater room to move than most of the original crew. We get to know the group of Marines much better than we did the crew of the Nostromo and their relationships feels more familiar and understandable. The soldiers are brave, bloodthirsty and scared in equal measure. They are like a family and a realistic military unit.
Just like Alien before it, this sequel will leave you in a fragile and terrified state but it will be for much different reasons. Rather than the slow build up of tension, this films offers a much more visceral punch and is a non-stop assault of action, scares and violence. Is it better than the original? I refuse to make a choice. Both films are fabulous in their own way. Why can’t we live in a world where we enjoy each of them?
So I’ve only got one more day left of my holiday before I’m back at work for 6 straight days. I’m not sure I’m ready for it but I guess I have to start earning my keep again. In the last week I’ve not done as much as I wanted to but I’ve actually been quite good at getting ahead in terms of Instagram. It means I should be able to cope with the rest of this month without worrying about lighting and stuff. I won’t have many opportunities after I go back to work to get pictures taken until after dark so I’ve been planning ahead. It means some of my ideas have been a bit ropy but some of them are turning out pretty well. Now I just need to get ahead with posts and reviews so I don’t have to worry when I’m away later in the month. Turns out that after all these years, organisation is actually really useful. If only I’d thought of this sooner.
- Camp Nightmare by R.L Stine
- The Plague by Albert Camus
- The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
- Penguins Poems for Love by Laura Barber (ed.)
- By Heart 101: Poems To Remember by Ted Hughes (ed.)
- Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets by William Shakespeare
- The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
On 25th January this year, legendary British actor John Hurt died. He was the kind of actor that never really fit into the role of leading man but would have been familiar to a whole host of people thanks to his supporting roles. As I’ve talked about multiple times since his death, John Hurt was the kind of actor that could turn his hand to anything and had a great deal of skill to bring all sorts of people to life on screen. My review on Tuesday looked at one of Hurt’s final films before he died where he made a great impression in the small role of a Catholic priest who Jackie Kennedy talked to after her husband’s death. His role has been made all the more poignant following his death as the character discusses death and the prospect of what follows. The film is definitely emotional but it was watching Hurt’s performance that really got to me. So I wanted to use my TBT post to revisit of his classic films. There are plenty of great ones to pick from and, normally, I should have watched something like The Elephant Man. There are so many great performances to decide between that it becomes impossible to pick just one. Instead, because I’ll take any chance to watch it, I picked Alien. John Hurt may not be in it for very long but his role in the film was certainly one of the most memorable moments in movie history. John Hurt is iconic in this role.
Alien is one of the greatest films of all time and, after watching it again the other day, I can honestly still say that it is still fucking scary. It’s a masterpiece of suspense and horror set in space. The casting is fantastic and the design is great. However, it wasn’t always considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. On it’s first release, several eminent film critics declared it to be nothing more than a mass of effects and little else. Oh how the table have turned. Alien is the film that changed its genre and became the template for so many films that followed it. In the 70s science-fiction was becoming more popular but was staying in the fairly family friendly realm. Alien reinvented space with a hideous Hitchcockian twist. And it’s fucking fantastic.
The premise is super simple and it really doesn’t matter. The small crew of a commercial towing vessel are woken from stasis early. Their ship brought them out of sleep to answer a distress call coming from a nearby ship. Upon investigating they discover the crew were killed and the ship has become a breeding ground for some mysterious being. Whilst taking a closer look at one of the creepy eggs on board, one of the creatures attaches itself to a crew member, Kane’s (John Hurt), face.
When the creature eventually becomes unattached and dies, it appears that Kane is unharmed. Until a fucking tiny alien creature bursts from his chest. The rest of the crew then face the bigger issue of a fully grown and deadly monster chasing them around the corridors of their ship and picking them off one by one.
When it comes down to it, Alien isn’t a success because of it’s narrative or it’s script. It’s a mixture of elements taken from so many science-fiction or horror films before it. Writer Dan O’Bannon freely admits that he took inspiration from multiple sources to create a familiar but workable story. What elevates the film is it’s design. O’Bannon and director Ridley Scott were inspired by the artwork of H.R. Giger and it was his paintings that inspired the final look for the film’s fearsome creature. Scott hired Giger to work on the whole of the film and it is down to him that we have such amazing visuals. Those images of the inside of the crashed ship and the egg chamber are all down to his dark vision and it is the making of the film. And it is not just Giger. Every aspect of the film’s design comes together perfectly to create this materpiece. At the time, it was a special effects dream. Everything was done by a skilled team who made some incredibly complicated set pieces come to life. The chest bursting scene is one of the most infamous moments ever seen on screen and has been parodied an infinite number of times by now.
That scene is a feast of blood, gore, and jump scares but Alien is so much more than jut a mindless horror show. The film carefully builds up tension as it goes along and is designed in such a careful way to ensure that the audiences experience is just as terrifying as the crew’s. The film doesn’t rush and takes a perverse pleasure in slowing down the pace as much as possible. It’s all about the suspense because, when it comes down to it, that’s what we want. Shots are held a little longer than necessary to suggest something is about to happen. The lighting and sound helping to create that sense of claustrophobia. Ridley Scott and co. came together to create something that has stood the test of time and is, to this day, one of the most terrifying films ever created. It’s simple and full of cliches but it’s so well crafted that it doesn’t matter. It is the film that started the trend and only goes to prove that you can’t beat the original. I still have to sit through certain scenes with my hands over my eyes. But I’ll always go back for another watch.