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.

Origin of another species? – Life movie 2017

Out now in cinemas we have the sci-fi movie LIFE. The time it really caught my attention was when I think I saw the trailer at a cinema a few weeks ago when I went to see X-Men spin-off LOGAN.

Suddenly this new sci-fi trailer hit the screens which I had not heard of until that moment (or at least it had not caught my attention in magazines or on the internet). It features a number of well known Hollywood actors including Ryan Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. It looked pretty good, some very good effects of some kind of space exploration mission and some mysterious new lifeform sample taken begins to dangerously evolve or mutate and grow as they return to Earth.

Of course in this brief but exciting trailer the film did resemble the SF classic ALIEN -many similarities with the spaceship crew, the visual sets and direction and the ominous mysterious alien entity threatening them. This is not at all the first or last film to look like this or display the influence of the Ridley Scott/H R Giger sci-fi/horror franchise.

How many different kinds of hostile aliens can we ever expect to see in movies? It is possibly a sub-genre of science fiction, probably mostly in film. Sometimes it works (very well) and often it is repetitive and derivative. With this new film the alien threat seems quite formless which may represent a number of things.

In the past we have had the Species film series (almost like ALIEN, having a monster designed by the late H R Giger) which though good for the first movie, became mostly predictable and boring with the sequels. It was also to a fair extent playing for cheap titillation and soft nudity thrills with the always very glamorous naked female version of the alien monster. We previously saw this in the 1980’s in the Tobe Hooper sci-fi shlocker Lifeforce (and the alien sexy female was also some kind of space vampire…)

We can probably go as far back as Invasion of the body snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing to see the other close influences on LIFE. Either the alien threat captures humans and infects or impregnates them, or like the Species films take on their human form. So while this is no really new vision the return of this kind of hostile alien contact to cinema screens may represent our very current social fears of terrorism and attack from the unknown. We feel the constant threat (thanks to right-wing news media) and their form may take any number of shapes and appearances.

 

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century now available in paperback, hardback and ebook from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and other good bookshops internationally. His first horror novel is due published later in 2017.

 

 

Shellshock future:Ghost in the Shell live- action in cinemas

We are now at the end of March 2017. We are not yet hooked up or linked into the internet or web biologically or with some fusion of human body and wires or cables. Broadband connection has not entered into our internal cerebral consciousness just yet.

Over twenty years have passed since the now classic anime film Ghost in the Shell hit cinema screen, adapted from the manga comic book. Although of course inspired by the cyberpunk novels from William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and films like Total Recall and Robocop, Ghost in the Shell is arguably responsible for inspiring The Matrix trilogy and much of modern science fiction cinema ever since.

A live-action movie adaptation of this cyberpunk thriller has been a contentious idea for so many years. This was an almost perfect animated film, which pushed the visual boundaries and techniques of the medium at the time. To make a version with real actors and sets would almost be like a huge insult to the creators of this classic film.

Also like much science fiction be it in film or books, some of it has dated with the passing of two decades. The basic concept remains fascinating but any kind of inspired remake would be different in a number of ways.

For so much time Ghost in the Shell has been an animated film along with the other anime modern classic AKIRA which so many hardcore fans would defend and protect at all cost before ever wishing ever considering a live-action  remake. The questions of which actors would or should be which characters, which director could successfully take on the challenge?

Those questions are redundant now. The live-action version of Ghost in the Shell hits cinemas this weekend in the UK. We finally had international superstar Scarlet Johansson cast in the lead role of Major alongside a mix of American and Asian actors. What does it mean that a modern classic anime/manga story enlists a hugely popular American actress for the lead over an actor who comes from where the actual story originated? There has been much debated about this issue in the last year or so since during the movie production. Some people genuinely outraged at the choice of Johansson, others more accepting of her. Was she chosen for her acting or her previous similar role as Black Widow in the Marvel films? Was she picked simply because she is arguably the most famous or popular female actor in the world currently?

Putting this issue to one side perhaps the other more interesting aspect of this live-action version of Ghost in the Shell comes with the original being decades old now. The original ideas and visuals of what might be futuristic technology used by police and state now do look in some ways unbelievable and outdated. We may not exist in what we thought of as virtual reality in the early or mid-90’s but we do now have very sophisticated smart phones and computers with touch screen wifi, broadband, almost every month or so we have new devices which merge how  we use and interact with technology and the internet. It makes sense that a 2017 version of Ghost in the Shell we look even more advanced and altered than the previous film. Now that we know the future vision offered to us in the original is not what we have, but we have lived with this cyberpunk vision for years now and many of us have a kind of affectionate nostalgia for it in a similar way to the steampunk phenomenon. With this in mind, Johansson has even suggested in one magazine interview recently that the world of Ghost… is possibly a parallel version of our future or present. This is handy for sidestepping how a futuristic vision has aged alongside real technological progression.

However the live-action adaptation will be view on the big screens, it is still just one of a number of films and shows which has come from the original and continually influential movie.

 

James E. Parsons is a SF/Horror author. His books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century are available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and all good bookshops as paperback, ebook and Hardback. His first horror novel will be published later in 2017.

Star Wars-Rogue One:Film Review

Another year, another new Star Wars movie. This is the way for the next decade or more we can believe. So this new Star Wars connected film has been out on release for a couple of weeks, but I often wait a little while until the crowds have died down. In a good way, I went along to a local cinema on January 1st, a great way to bring in the new year I would say.

We have had a year of build up and hype again but this time it has been a little different. This new movie is not a strict ‘important’ Star Wars event movie-or not to some people, as it is the first ‘spin-off’ film. It takes place in the space world, the same time-line of the original three movies, but it is not a sequel and not really a prequel either.

From the pictures and stills and then the trailers for the related movie, I was increasingly interested in just what kind of movie it would turn out to be. It features another group of entirely new characters-although does include and add in a few well loved ones-like The Force Awakens. The difference here is that these characters will not continue on in another sequel after this film. Most clued up Star Wars fans will be very aware of this.

So as this is a stand alone separate but related Star Wars movie, does it matter? Do we care about the story or characters this time?

That answer is yes, very much so. I had been very interested in two things really before seeing this. One was the director chosen being Gareth Edwards who has in a short time build up a reputation for really great sci-fi films with epic effects combined with great storytelling and acting. The second point of interest was the new female lead-Felicity Jones. With The Force Awakens we did get a great young female lead, which was excellent. Here with this new film, it had been hinted at that the story would be more mature, sombre and with an older female lead, I thought it could be much more interesting and good to see.

From the first couple of minutes, the direction had pulled me in. It looked superb, it really did. The musical score in new and different although does bring in small pieces of the well known Star Wars score here and there. We are introduced to the character of young child Jyn, which feels very familiar but is told well in a few minutes. Cut to a few years later and adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) escapes captivity and goes out on a bold adventure with a group of defiant yet interesting characters.

It does often feel a lot like the first three original movies, and it is visually styled that way very carefully, even more so than The Force Awakens which works in the time-line order or events and the films.

Yes, as you may have heard now, in some ways it is almost as good as or better than Empire Strikes Back. Even so, this is not a perfect or flawless movie. After the first hour or less it does slump and slow down and the familiarity of the classic Star Wars movies echoed in a number of the scenes and visuals perhaps does not help this movie. That does not ruin it all the way by any means, and it does continue on and I would say that it very much is as great as those early movies and so then it is a real shame when it comes to an end and we find that we will not see these characters again. There are some great dialogue lines regularly, a really great new sarcastic droid, fine supporting actors involved including Riz Ahmed and Forrest Whitaker. We also see a very powerful and aggressive Darth Vader back on the big screen and this does impress I must say.

There are some surprises, some great acting, fantastic visuals among the best ever seen in any Star Wars movie.

This next December will bring the next Star Wars sequel in the ongoing series but I might be looking forward much more for the next stand-alone film like this fine example. The Force elsewhere is strong.

 

James E. Parsons is author of SF novels Orbital Kin, Minerva Century both available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Nobles and other good bookshops internationally.

 

 

Westworld-Friends are electric again…

Inspired by the cult 1970’s sci-fi movie written and direction by Michael Crichton-the man who also gave us Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, this new HBO show was billed as the new event to step into the place of Game of Thrones.

It may not be the first seventies SF movie that comes to mind when considering an adaptation for small screen. Other cult movies films of that period to adapt could have included A Clockwork Orange, THX-1138, Zardoz (maybe…), Deathrace 2000, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Mad Max among others.

With the first released picture of this new Westworld tv show, it looked like something that might have come direct from cinema screens and Hollywood millions. There are a great number of very big cast name actors involved including Anthony Hopkins, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood to name only the main players. Yes, the producers really were aiming to give us something very special and high quality this time. We were to believe this as well given that brother of Batman director Chris Nolan, Jonathan Nolan was (who co-wrote those Batman films) helped create this series and it had the huge guiding hand of J.J. Abrams.

So is it a good show? How much like the original cult movie is it?

Well right with the first episode you will quickly recognize many familiar visual elements and tropes seen in the film. You get the wild west theme park, we are shown that the cowboys are of course robots called Hosts. Like the film, at first it seems like a great place to spend some leisure time. Although with the show, we follow a different set of characters as the story moves along.

This was a slow burning series. There were some serious changes and unexpected switches from the movie to what we were watching here. At times it almost felt as if they may have taken things too far with the onscreen violence of various forms, as if it was just too much for what we remember the film as being, besides the last twenty minutes or so. Here it is like this series starts with the end of the movie and continues along that path but then goes on to explore and wide range of notions of violence as entertainment and what that means for us humans, why we sometimes seek that out and how it affects us.

Coming from J.J.Abrams and Jonathan Nolan many of us probably did expect to some extent some mysterious macguffins or long and unwinding narrative paths which could take many weeks to unravel and reveal strange truths-if they ever would. Yes, this is a challenging show regularly. After a couple of weeks many viewers were agreeing on social media how they were confused or perplexed in a number of ways by the often very vague and elliptical way characters would walk or scenes were cut suggesting a number of thing but not always obviously clear of meaning or the plot. But how often do we really want everything always spelled out to us in cinema movies or television like we are very small children with the smallest attention span?

This show does go way beyond the basic premise of the original movie, delving deeper into the existence of the theme park robot wild west characters. They do become conscious but why and how and for what reasons are held from us but very teasingly suggested episode by episode. There are some episodes where you really do have to pay very close attention or you will sudden be very confused or lost but stay with the show and I think I can say that you will probably be very rewarded and stimulated emotionally and intellectually.

We are challenged to ask questions about how we use modern technology, what we might do with artificial intelligence and super-realistic robots in our near future. These can actually be quite disturbing things to consider but with the whole series and the well chosen cast of actors we can look at some possible times of tomorrow and the challenges of our rapidly advancing technology and how we will live with it.

 

James E.Parsons is the author of SF novels Orbital Kin and Minerva Century, both available on Amazon and in various other well known and reliable bookshops internationally.

 

 

More human than human…Robots on television in 2016

Like my own new SF book, robots are in our thoughts and on our screens again…

We are getting close to the end of the year soon, Halloween in a couple of weeks, and all kinds of plastic creepy and kooky merchandise in the stores. But this is a good time for the small screen and tv shows return after their summer breaks and new shows land with promises of all kinds of unusual entertainment.

Here we are after summer and a couple of weeks ago the increasingly anticipated television reboot/adaptation of the 1970’s sci-fi classic movie Westworld had begun on Sky Atlantic. As the global success of fantasy swords and dragons epic Game of Thrones nears the end, this show has hopes to take its place if viewers show an interest toward the interaction between man and machine mankind.

Did you see the original movie at cinemas decades ago? Personally I finally watched it just perhaps half a dozen or more years ago. It has dated, and does seem quaint most of the way through now, right up until the end. The last twenty minutes or so are still very much pretty disturbing viewing as the almost unstoppable psychotic robot played by Yul Brynner stalks onward on the kill.

The new show, of course intends to last for at least a whole series (probably a couple more) and so sets up the tale in a slightly fresh angle, flipping around the characters and who we identify with as viewers this time. It also intends to explore just how real the cowboy robots might be, and how the humans interact with them. The original movie was a long time ago now, but adapting it to television at this present time could be a real prescient move, as it connects up with the rapidly increasing advances in robot technology around the world and our actual genuine concerns and fears around this.

 

Just a few weeks after this intense and all-star Hollywood cast sci-fi show, we see the return of a series which was possibly surprisingly popular to some. UK Channel4 series Humans makes a return-the first series turned out to actually be the most successful drama on the channel for two decades. A much smaller budget than Westworld, but arguably an even more emotionally challenging and stimulating show which focuses on a group of ‘synths’ (robots) used and built for domestic purposes but who begin to regain their original conscious memories and come together to escape being captured and ‘turned off’. This show was very much a family drama which just happened to contain robot characters portrayed in very realistic ways, and was then very engaging and a must-see show. With the obvious building popularity, the producers did soon announce a second series but how this will play out can mostly only be guessed at this stage. Does the show really much more to say? Was the one original series enough?

If you do just a brief search on the net, you will find that more and more varied kinds of robots are being built globally for many different reasons. We really will see them much more involved in our daily lives in the next few decades, but how we will react to them is something which it seem we are all very interested in finding out.

James E.Parsons is an author of science fiction/horror and more. His latest SF book Minerva Century was published this summer, is available from all good bookshops including Waterstones, Amazon, WHSmith, Foyles, Barnes&Noble as paperback, ebook and hardback. His previous book Orbital Kin is also available.

To leave Earth-Minerva Century thoughts

The countdown has now begun. There are just weeks until my new science fiction/speculative fiction book Minerva Century is published.

This is a new story which looks at a possible time in future when humankind has left this planet, relocated to another, and we have changed ourselves and where we are, and why we are.

If we were to really leave our Earth, in big numbers-say hundreds or thousands of people at a time, or even more than this-how would we do this, and why would we do it?

There are a number of specific business people and individual corporate entities right now attempting to take small numbers of regular, willing individuals who are will to pay the price on brief journeys into near space with mixed results.

Very many sci-fi tales over more than a century now have considered where mankind might go in outer space, which planets we would make our own first. I would hope to think that I am not a pessimistic person, but what do you think might be the main thing which would finally make us leave this planet? Would we be leaving for good, progressive reasons or actually could it be that some terrible or horrific event or change in global cultures, economies, technologies might provoke us to escape?

The new SF book Minerva Century from James E.Parsons is published at the end of June, in paperback, ebook and hardback from all good booksellers. His first book Orbital Kin is available now.

Minerva Century -New SF Book News 2

My second science fiction book to be published is due in print soon, and this one-titled Minerva Century-probably sits in the SF subgenre called space opera.

The story follows Dale and Cathy, two characters from Earth but now like so many others, many decades later living either on the space stations or new adopted human planet Minerva.

My first book Orbital Kin was some kind of dystopian sci-fi thriller perhaps, and was influenced by books and films such as I am Legend, 28 Days Later, 2001, the works of J.G.Ballard, Philip K Dick to name only a few.

This new book has been influenced by books such as Frank Herbert’s Dune, the works of Isaac Asimov, films including the Terminator movies, Robocop, Mad Max series, Arthur C. Clarke.

This book is set much further into our future, where mankind has left planet Earth, found a new home planet and named it Minerva. Political and social ways have changed, adapted. Our known cultures and societies reformed, made a kind of peace, and come together to explore the wider galaxy.

Things never remain perfect for too long. Mankind may have learned from the colossal mistakes made on Earth over centuries, but in space there are still some dangerous things which wait and move around, the paranoia, uneasy and carefully structured harmony soon to be threatened once again.

The story explores our faith in technology, our pursuit of understanding our place beyond Earth, identity, addiction, our use and abuse of technology and more.

Watch here for the next part of this Minerva Century introduction.

 

James E.Parsons is author of science fiction novel Orbital Kin, available now as paperback/ebook from all good bookshops and online retailers.

Ex Machina- Film Review

This was another one of the significant science fiction films from 2015 which I have only just watched. I had been interested to see it from early on, knowing that the writer/director was the man who had written films including 28 Days Later, Sunshine and recently the second big screen adaptation of Judge Dredd. This new film, written by Alex Garland, was also his first as director as well.

Early on pictures of the cutting edge visual effects were released, which suggested something very special. This certainly was true, and it does turn out to be a very mature and different SF film.

This is a different kind of film in the science fiction genre, and some SF fans may need to really be prepared for that. It is slow at times, and very concerned with the psychological affects of finding real artificial intelligence.

This film looks fantastic, with an amazing real location out away from crowded cities and towns. Away from everyday civilization Caleba young programmer is flown out to take part in a Turing test with only a reclusive highly successful software company founder. The test lasts around a week, and day by day tensions and questions about the test rise as Caleb spends more time with the new A.I. and designer Nathan.

While the visual effects and design of A.I. female robot Ava and honestly very amazing, this is also very much a seriously tense and dramatic psychological drama. Young programmer Caleb becomes increasingly paranoid, and wonders how the testing of Ava really works, and why he really is there. Not everything is as it seems.

Visually the Ava robot reminded me of some of the effects and designs from Steve Speilbergs’ A.I. film from over a decade ago. Other than her, the film visuals are very basic and minimal which probably works to highlight our focus upon her. Not many modern SF films are so seriously focused on the very real ethical and moral questions relating to potential A.I. if or when it comes. As the film is set very soon from now, and with the CGI effects so convincing today, we really can feel the confusion and desperation of Ava, and understand why Caleb is concerned about her and what is really taking place. It also seemed similar to the recent tv series from the UK, Black Mirror, which has science or speculative fiction tales set in the very near future of years or even months from now.

Besides the science fiction element, it also reminded me of some European films, especially those of Ingmar Bergman and theatre plays in the way it moves along and focuses on the thoughts and feelings of the three main characters in this one building.

This may not be easy for all science fiction film fans to watch, but it is rewarding and really does make us think about things which may in real life, be just around the corner.

 

James E Parsons has his first SF book Orbital Kin out now from all good bookshops, and new book Minerva Century out soon in 2016.