Thursday, 25 May 2017

Review: Alien Covenant (second-pass)

Alien: Covenant (second-pass / SPOILERS! Also, LANGUAGE!)
Cert: 15 / 122 mins / Dir. Ridley Scott / Trailer

You see, I did enjoy Alien: Covenant the second time around (first and spoiler-free, here), it's just that…

The two producers credited on-screen at the same time are David Giler and Walter Hill. Am I alone in wondering if this is related to the two synthetic characters in the film being called David and Walter? Like they got to name characters as part of a Kickstarter-perk, or somesuch?

Jed Kurzel did the score for Covenant, and while I've no strong feelings on it either way, it seems a bit odd that in the opening scene, he's credited as David begins playing Wagner's Das Rheingold on the piano. That's quite a slap in the face from editor Pietro Scalia there, to be credited for the film's music the moment someone else's work is playing. Unless those are Kurzel's hands of course, because the framing of that sequence certainly suggests that Fassbender can't play the piano.

Now I know everyone else is asleep, but why does the ship's computer, MU/TH/ER, bark on at Walter to deploy the recharge-sails? All he does is presses a button, which then begins an electronic sequence of automatically deploying the recharge-sails. Fairly certain the computer could have done that by itself?

And while I'm on, why does the same computer harp on at Walter about retracting the sails because there's an incoming neutrino-burst instead of, oh I don't know, not wasting those precious seconds waiting for another button to be pressed and just retracting the sails?

So, if the neutrino-bursts are pretty much unpredictable and unavoidable, and if one of those will damage the deployed hardware, then this weakness has been deliberately built into the ship, yes? Knowing it could happen and knowing the effects of it happening, Weyland/Yutani seem to have done nothing to build in dampers or surge-protectors. Well done, guys.

Acting-captain Oram has a pop at Walter about the unpredictable nature of these natural phenomena damaging the ship, yet six minutes later he's sitting in a landing craft (which is essentially a big box of computers and sensitive electronic equipment, with seats and an engine) and telling the pilot to drive right through a fucking electrical storm, just because he's nosey.

Although on a far geekier note, this isn't the first time a character played by Billy Crudup has come a cropper due to unexpected neutrinos...

Even if the crew of the lander didn't clock the massive ship parked on a mountain which is sending out the beacon-signal on their way down, they land 8km away from it then decide to walk, over forests and mountain-sides. Why not get back in the lander and cruise over to the signal? That's what the craft was actually designed for. Transportation.

And after David pops out of the night and is like "follow me!", they walk to the desolate city he's made home. This crew have landed on a planet - from space, up above - literally within walking distance of a city and not noticed it.

When the two synthetics are discussing programming upgrades, I like that Walter's observation is that David's model was thought to be "too human". Given that the latter bore a deep-seated grudge against a parent, went mad after isolation on a long-haul flight, killed the entire crew through idle curiosity, committed planetary genocide, developed biological weapons then betrayed and killed the only person who still liked him, I'd say David was very human, yes. And indeed too much, so. To the point where you really can't blame his artificial side at all, to be fair.

So watching Daniels and Walter scrapping, there's the moment where she drives that nail under his chin. Ah! I thought, I hadn't noticed the significance of that first time round. As well as the scripted giveaway later in the cryo-tube scene, she'll be looking up at the synth she thought was Walter, see the scar and realise it's actually David! So, I kept my eye open for that when the film's denouement arrived, and… no. Not there, mate. In the film's final moments there are at least two clear shots of the underside of David's chin, and there's not a scratch to be seen, despite the wound having been sustained at the same time as the ones on his face, which are still patched/healing. So either that android's got super-fucking-healing around his lower jaw only, or David transferred his consciousness into Walter's already-handless body (why bother, when they look alike and he's got to lose the arm anyway?), or it really is Walter after all and he's just turned into a massive space-bastard.
Who sets up a huge callback then forgets all about it? Answers on a postcard, please…

But that's not what's really got under my skin. No, for that I'll need to skip the bullet-points…

why is this film so determined to reboot the history it has no real right interfering with? All credit (and deservedly so) to Ridley Scott for directing one of the finest genre-redefining movies of the 1970s, if not all time. But for the pedestal he's put upon, you'd be forgiven for thinking he wrote the story/script (Dan O'Bannon & Ron Shuster) and designed the creatures (HR Giger, as we all know). Now obviously as director he's still at the sharp edge of the creative team, but that's what it was, a team effort.

And while the 1979 original laid the groundwork for everything to come, the universe didn't really expand until seven years later with Aliens, where we learned of the creatures queen/hive system. The species further adaptability was explored in Alien³ and Alien: Resurrection, and notably in around twenty years' worth of novels, comics and video games. The life-cycle of queen/egg/facehugger/chestburster/drone has been given biological resonance by comparing the species to bees or ants, not to create any sympathy for the xenomorphs, but to add a layer of practical believability (and, therefore, danger). And the many, many authors and artists involved in this narrative evolution all used O'Bannon's story as a seed, but they added to the story, they didn't re-write it.

So then Prometheus comes along and goes, 'actually they're a bio-weapon, mate'. Which is a little disconcerting, but basically fine. Then Covenant comes along and goes 'no really mate, the aliens you know won't even be invented until 2104 by a crazy synthetic living in a cave. All the proper 'Aliens' films take place after that anyway, but all those 'Predator' tie-ins? They can go fuck themselves into a cocked hat. Xenomorphs start now, with David. Alright?'

And it seems a bit… well, disrespectful, frankly. As if Scott and the Covenant writing-team of Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan and Dante Harper had invented the sandpit, rather than just being invited to play in it. And that's where the sentiment creeps in of 'oh, but it's Ridley Scott, it's all his'. Not really, see above. He helped, fair play. It's bad enough that the highly-anticipated (and now apparently aborted) Alien 5 movie from Neil Blomkamp was going to re-route the series own timeline *1, without this one sticking two fingers up at everyone who's coloured within the lines for so long. I just get the impression nobody at 20th Century Fox really has any direction for this series and they're hoping it'll freewheel into something cohesive.

None of this would even matter if Scott's grand vision for a clean-slate universe wasn't so smugly oblique. First there were going to be three films in this pre-Alien cycle, now it's looking like four. Although Scott's mentioned six, and said the next movie 'might' be set before Covenant*2, even though the audience now knows what happened to a) Elizabeth Shaw, b) David the synthetic, and c) The Engineers. And there's still no sign of LV-246, despite both prequels so far deliberately framing shots to match the curved ship from Alien. It genuinely wouldn't surprise me if the final prequel answers precisely no questions on the run-up to the Nostromo's fateful encounter. All I want is a cinematic universe where there's the possibility of the Yautja walking around the corner at any moment. Fat chance.

Over-reacting? Oh, probably…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
That Prometheus.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
To get the most out of it visually? Absolutely.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
With the best will in the world, no.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Shouldn't think so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not that I heard.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: This film stars that Demián Bichir, and he was in that Hateful Eight along with Sam 'Windu' Jackson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Okay, Resurrection's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but you stick by your past endeavours, Fox. Think of the problematic areas as potential ret-cons, not narrative black sheep to be airbrushed out of the family photos. If the film was good enough to release and promote in 1997, at least have the courage of your convictions when it comes to retrospective appreciation. If I as a Star Wars fan can stomach the Holiday Special, I'm fairly certain Alien 4 should be workable. And I'm not even going to apologise for David Fincher's Alien³, it's a good movie. [ BACK ]

*2 Although Scott also went on record as saying there'd be no Xenomorphs in his Prometheus sequel and that it was going to be called Paradise Lost. In terms of sticking to his word, it's not dissimilar to David standing next to four facehugger-eggs and saying "Yep, totally safe mate. Come on, have a gander. No, seriously!" [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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