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.
I was such a naive fool just a few months ago. I definitely thought I would be able to manage reading Andy Weir’s The Martian before the screen adaptation came out. As I’ve mentioned a million fucking times already, I’m not managing to read a damn thing at the moment. Especially when you consider that Aziz Ansari’s new show is up on Netflix. I’ll always love reading but, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, there’s always something else going on. I’ll wait til I can sit down and read a chapter without falling asleep I’ll get back on with the reading. Before that miracle happens, I’ll just go with the film version. Especially when it has more Matt Damon.
The Martian is the thrilling tale of one astronaut’s struggle to survive alone on Mars. After being mistakenly left for dead, Mark Watney must find a way to get by on a desolate planet with limited supplies. Mark, a botanist, manages to farm crops, get back in touch with Earth and survive in a harsh environment for around 600 Mars days. Back on Earth, a team at NASA must attempt to find a way to get supplies to the planet so Mark will be able to live until the next manned mission lands in four years.
This film pretty much lives and dies on the lead character because so much of the narrative rests on him alone. Matt Damon does an exceptional job and manages to ensure the film remains grounded in the realms of human emotion. Mark is a great character who shows a great tenacity and Damon plays him beautifully. It’s got to be one of his strongest performances to date. It’s the moments with Mark that keep the film together through the slightly dodgier scenes back on Earth.
Despite a quite epic cast list, that includes everyone’s favourite Sean fucking Bean, the plot that takes place back home as NASA work tirelessly to help Mark often threaten to bring the film down. The pacing is a little odd at times and the great actors are given fuck all to do anything with. There are so many characters on the sidelines that they all get forgotten about in the drama of rescue. Sean Bean and Jeff Daniels get a small chance to lock horns slightly as the flight director and NASA top-dog respectively. However, the rest of the cast just coast by with a few furrowed brows and scientific jargon.
Most unfortunately of all, Watney’s fellow crew members who are resigned to a couple of brief glimpses into their personal lives through video messages and flirty glances. Considering how wonderful the moments on Mars are it just doesn’t feel good enough. We deserve to know more about Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis and Michael Peña’s pilot. There should be more to the pathetic attempt at romance between Kate O’Mara and Sebastian Shaw’s characters than a quick peck on a space suit helmet. For a film so invested in it’s main character, the rest of the character development is annoyingly shitty.
Much more annoying than any potential scientific issues viewers may have found. As someone who just about scrapped by in A Level Chemistry, I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the science at play here. To be honest though, I don’t really give a shit. I said the same about Gravity and the I think realism was far more important to that plot. Ridley Scott went out of his way to ensure that enough of what was seen on screen was close to reality and, in my humble opinion, he does a good job. If anything, the most unrealistic part of this plot is the fact that Matt Damon’s character is apparently unmarried. What the fuck? The man’s a fucking god.
To be honest, the science doesn’t really matter. This is a film that refuses to take itself seriously and, against Christopher Nolan’s super serious Interstellar, The Martian is quick to point out its relaxed attitude. Watney is forever cracking jokes and pointing out the coincidences that allow the story to keep moving. The only aspect of the film that belies its unassuming nature is the length. The film is fucking obsessed with time and the number of Mars days (sols) that Mark has stranded is constantly being updated. The constant count, mixed with the problems with pacing in the narrative, has the effect of making the film feel as though you’ve been waiting as long as our astronaut. However, there’s so much charm on screen here that you won’t give a shit about it.