ALIEN:Covenant Film Review & Thoughts 2017

*There may be some spoilers ahead…

In the cinema nobody could hear me scream. I didn’t scream at all, but then I didn’t laugh or moan either.

Yes this weekend I finally got down to one of my local cinemas and caught a showing of ALIEN:Covenant. This has been very hyped up and one of the film of 2017 I have very much been looking forward to personally. It almost did not happen after the sharp and often very negative and critical reactions to Prometheus a few years ago. Director Ridley Scott had plans and thoughts of quickly following up that film with a new series of films which would lead to the first ALIEN film chronologically. The fans did not warm to much of what Prometheus had offered us, and it had not made as much money as may have been expected at the box office.

So for the last four or more years I feel like I have been one of the few people on planet Earth willing to give Prometheus the time of day and observe some redeeming things in among the numerous plot gaffs and more.

Was Prometheus just too confusing? Did it make any sense at all? Was it far too pretentious as it considered space Gods while most ALIENS fans may have simply wanted to see classic bloodthirsty Xenomorphs?

ALIEN:Covenant picks up the Prometheus storyline a decade later. A new crew are travelling to a potential new home planet across the galaxy on a seven year hyper-sleep trip. They are woken early after some unexpected damaged affects the spaceship. When working to repair the damage on the outside of the ship they pick up a unusual signal which seems to be human. Decoding the message eventually reveals to them coordinates for a planet which seems at first to have almost perfect balance of ecology, land, sea and gases for human life. After arguing they decide to follow the signal as it may lead them to a perfect new planet years soon than they were due.

When they reach the planet they land and go out on foot to explore the landscape around them. They see familiar plants, fields, trees around them. Only a short while later, one of the crew having stopped for a smoke becomes ill. His is taken back to the grounded ship but among the rest of the exploring group, another stumbles and falls, coughing and the group is slowed down. Before reaching the ground ship he spasms and a savage embryonic creature bursts from within him. The thing runs out trying to attack the group and they shoot at it. On the grounded ship the other crew member also has a creature burst forth from him and it runs off inside the ship. Out on the land, as the crew try to shoot at the fast moving thing, a figure comes out and shoots it down instantly. The figure is David-the android from Prometheus.

This is where it connects up with the previous film. Covenant is very much where the story becomes about David. He was saved by Prometheus crew member Elisabeth Shaw as they stopped the Engineers and took control of their spaceship with setting course for the Engineer home-world which is where the Covenant crew have landed now.

At the start of ALIEN:Covenant there is a brief prelude scene with Mr Wayland and David. Wayland asks David how he feels as a new android. Even at the start David seems to have been unbalanced.

Is ALIEN:Covenant the non-nonsense bloody gorefest with many wild Xenomorphs that many fans had hoped they would get with Prometheus?

We do get this but much of the philosophical musings about God, mankind’s origins and creation from Prometheus continue on in this sequel. This is no bad thing, I personally did enjoy much of that previously but at least in this sequel it is balanced out against more action sequences and actual recognizable Xenomorph creatures on screen. Did audiences really only just want to see a simple copy or retread of James Cameron’s ALIENS all over again?

ALIEN:Covenant on the whole feels like a mix of the first ALIEN movie with some degree of ALIENS. We get some fast paced shooting and chase scenes this time around, there are a number of very large spaceship machinery and equipment, guns and pulse rifles familiar to die-hard fans of the series. Also unlike Prometheus, after only around half an hour we see the first nasty little alien creature racing around and biting at the crew members.

Now lets just think for a moment-what did we not like about Prometheus? How many dumb mistakes were made by the Prometheus crew? Did that film really have to leave so many questions unanswered?

It may have been a flawed film, but in my opinion it did have some great things going for it. Some suggest that we can now see ALIEN:Covenant as the real prequel to ALIEN and this may be true but it does not mean that we should all together forget Prometheus. In some ways Covenant now makes us understand and appreciate Prometheus much more.

It is obvious that Ridley Scott has heard some of the criticism for Prometheus-not that he should only makes films to please fans at all-and he has made a film here which does give many nods what the loyal ALIEN fans remember well and have loved over the years. The Covenant crew are a more interesting and real group of characters this time around. There are several moments and ways in which Covenant reminds us of ALIEN and it feels good and right it this is to all lead right up to connecting with that film.

Like I have said, this film focuses on the android David-he is very much now a new distinct monster of modern science fiction. Tragic and calculating, Scott has decided that David is at the very centre of the creation of the Xenomorph species. Michael Fassbender can be applauded for his dual performances in Covenant is both David and new android Walter.

The other strong performance comes from Katherine Waterson as Daniels-very much a precursor to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley of the ALIEN franchise. Waterson really takes the character all the way, and goes through many great scenes of emotion and frantic action trough to the very end.

Again like Prometheus there are a few dumb moments early on, characters peering into places they really shouldn’t and things which obviously just exist to move the narrative along. We can go with this, let it go and sit tight for the right. It is a good one. Some of the CGI creatures may not look entirely convincing every time they appear on screen. This does not ruin the film on the whole. As it ends, we have seen a very pleasing addition to the ALIEN series of films. I may have expected to see the Engineers again, more of their planet and their ways but I think that just will make me appreciate Prometheus more.

Ridley Scott seems to have wanted to make something special here, and it has moments where it looks much like 2001:A Space Odyssey and with androids David and Walter it shares some themes with his own Blade Runner movie.

Was this the sequel to Prometheus first intended? Will there be more films leading from this linking it all to the original ALIEN movie? If so, how many do we need?

If you are an ALIEN fan, do go and see this film now. You will not be let down, but again go with an open mind and enjoy.

 

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available now from all good bookshops-amazon, WHSmith, Waterstones, Barnes & Nobles- in paperback, ebook, hardback. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published late 2017.

Stake Land 2 :Film Review 2017

A sequel to Stake Land which came in 2010, it has been a gap of a few years but it seems to get right back to the feel and look of that film quickly and with ease. There had been quite a bit of positive respect for the first movie at the time as it seemed to offer something with a slightly different take of the vampire/dystopian future story which had been lacking in cinemas at that time.

I did like that first film even if I did maybe feel slightly let down or confused at what had felt like very high praise, possibly too high. It was a good film though which did try to do something different enough even if it did not change the vampire/horror genre totally.

The thing that did stand out for me with the original was how the blood of the vampires in that first film seemed to appear almost like tar-very black and thick. It may have just been the setting on my television…

This new sequel has come to Netflix suddenly I was curious to see if the next chapter of the story would be worth viewing. It have a different director this time, but it has continuity as it retains the same writer whom is also the main older lead character known only as ‘Mister’.

The first film followed a young man who joins with the mysterious ‘Mister’ in a potential near future ruined world plagued by rabid vampires as the pair of them travel across to a safer place. This sequel picks up the story a while later when the pair have been separated. The young man called Martin travels alone until finally reuniting with Mister. They also save a young feral girl and move together to take down the Brotherhood.

This sequel has come when audiences have been watching shows such as the hugely popular The Walking Dead and movies like The Hunger Games. People are very familiar with bleak future dystopian lands on screen. While there are unavoidable similarities with The Walking Dead and many modern zombie movies this sequel does manage to mostly move forward with a storyline which just about keeps us interested. the Brotherhood were introduced in the first film, which stood as a symbol for what religions can often do when not held back by state or led by the most immoral and crazed leaders. As with The Walking Dead where the zombies regularly are a background threat to the narrative, vampires here are around and get in the way but the story about much more than  simply bloodsucking terror.

The concept of the ruined dystopian world run wild and lawless with all kinds of barbaric human violence besides vampires stalking around is no fresh thing here, and so the writer of Stake Land 2 continues to explore the relationship between young Martin and Mister and what is now happening with the deadly Brotherhood religion/cult. It is not taken too far, and does remind of a few 80’s fantasy movies such as Willow as well as other zombie survival flicks from Romero and others and also I am Legend.

It is really the cinematography of the film and the acting which kept me in my seat until the end. Like the first film it does look visually very convincing-vast oppressive skies, stark dried out bare landscapes around the characters. The main actors also seemed to have really built a strong connection and work well together, all very suited to their individual roles.

While it may not seem very original among the increasing numbers of dystopian post-apocalyptic movies and years of The Walking Dead on television, it is still a good enough sequel to a special first movie. There is not really too much in the way of real serious vampire imagery or gore. This is a film about a young man maturing into a grown adult and stepping right into the vampire hunter role of his adopted father figure Mister.

A contemplative but still adventurous dystopian horror sequel journey.

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available now in amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and all good bookshops in paperback, ebook and hardback. His first horror novel is published later in 2017.

 

Neon Demon Film Review

This very gorgeous looking film was released only around a year ago and it has just come up on Netflix. I had read about the film being very unusual, maybe challenging. It looked very erotic, stylized and unreal. I expected something kind of psychedelic in a dark and disturbing way.

This is what I got in some round about way. Quite obviously from the start it is heavily inspired by film directors such as David Lynch, Brian De Palma, and European art house films from over the decades. There is also a very strong debt to Italian horror director legend Dario Argento. But did it concentrate too much on the visuals and forgetting about story? I will have to say yes.

I am a big fan of David Lynch and this film plays out very slowly, with very consciously crafted images which do remind the viewer of Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and more. It also made me think of Black Swan, the ballet film starring Natalie Portman. Like that film it focuses on a young insecure woman trying her best in a field of work which places strong emphasis on looks and body image.

The story is really very basic from the start-very young teenage girl goes to the big city for top modelling job. She is very naïve and meets a number of characters who may or may not want to help her on her way up.

It does seem to desperately want to be a great Lynch film. Like some of his films, this one mostly goes at a very slow pace. In films like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet that is usually fine as Lynch sets a number of things up for the audience to watch for in the story. With this film not too much is really set up at all to care much about. The start of the film looks fantastic and then most of the rest of it really drags along. Keanu Reeves plays an obnoxious and out-of-character motel keeper. Jena Malone is often quite interesting and seems to pull the film along. Sadly at the end she seems to let us down (after a couple of very crazy scenes.)

This is not any kind of bloody horror film if you may be expecting that at all. It could be labelled as psychological horror, yes and does have a handful of horrific moments which are quite surreal. I do think that I could probably watch it again and get more from it but generally I think the director did not really put on screen what he really may have been after which is a shame because I can seem that it could possibly have been something very good.

 

James E. Parsons is an author of science fiction novels Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from all good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is due published later in 2017.