The Hunter Or the Hunted? Pt 6 (Alien Covenant, 2017)

Alien_Covenant_posterAfter the beating Prometheus took from critics and fans, the rumor is that Ridley Scott proclaimed, “They want Aliens? I will give them f___ing Aliens.”  And so the Prometheus sequel morphed into an Alien Prequel.

Set ten years after Prometheus, we are introduced to a ship called the Covenant.  It is carrying thousands of colonists (and embryos) and is headed for a distant planet suitable for human colonization.  Piloted by a crew of married couples.  When tragedy strikes and kills the captain, the crew goes to fixing the ship.  They desire to honor the death of their captain, but Oran (now as the acting captain) is focused on the business.  As they finish the work, a transmission is intercepted.  It leads to the discovery of a habitable planet just weeks away.  Somehow this transmission and planet escaped notice.  Oram wants to visit the planet, as their original destination is seven years away.  Daniels (who was married to the deceased Captain) expresses concern that this is a bad idea.  Also on the ship is a Synthetic named Walter (played by Michael Fassbender).  While he looks like David, he is a decidedly different character.

They land on a lush, yet seemingly lifeless planet.  And things rapidly descend into horror.  Some of the crew is exposed to spores that result in proto-xenomorphs that burst from the backs of victims.  You know, instead of from the chest.  David saves the crew, only to be revealed as a lone hermit who spent the last ten years trying to create a weaponized life form.  In a flashback we discover that when Shaw and David arrived at the planet, he dropped the goo on the Engineer populace.  Now he hopes to do the same to humanity.

The film borrows from all the previous films in it’s resolution.  For example, there is an airlock fight like Alien and Aliens.  The film has a lot of ideas that never play out.  And worse, the questions of Prometheus are cast aside, as is Shaw.  The film telegraphs it’s twist ending from miles away.

The film takes several moments to cast Billy Crudup’s Oram as a disgraced man of faith.  Not disgraced in regards to his faith, but rather that his faith has had him blackballed from further advancement within the company.  The problem is, aside from a couple mentions of his faith, we never really see what that faith is in…or why it has been an impediment.

Daniel seems to be in shock the entire film, some of which is understandable, but then she suddenly becomes the “Ripley” of the film.  And they try and out-Ripley with Daniel.  She swings around the outside of a ship with a giant gun blasting away at the xenomorph.

For the large part, the effects are good, though there is one scene where a newly birthed xenomorph is clearly (and pretty embarrassingly) CGI.  Like Prometheus, the ideas seem unexplored and the story incomplete.

I did not hate the film.  Fassbender was great in his dual roles.  Walter had an entirely different tone and cadence to David.  I have always liked the design of the Alien franchise.  And the ships in Prometheus and Covenant do not feel like they cannot occupy the same space as the rest of the franchise.  In Alien we saw an industrial transport ship in Aliens a military vessel, in the third film a dilapidated prison and in Resurrection a military station.  All of these were utilitarian.  The Prometheus was a private company’s high tech research vessel and the Covenant is a luxury transport.

I really like the design of the proto-xenomorphs.  They are creepy and unnervingly vicious.  I liked the characters for the most part, and felt Danny McBride’s Tennessee one of the more stand out characters, in spite of being a fairly standard character in these types of films.  I would put Covenant above, say, the Alien Vs Predator films or Alien Resurrection.  But it does not rise to Alien or Aliens either.  The movie takes so many shortcuts, it results in characters looking a bit stupid.  “Lets not wear protective gear in a new environment, after all, we can breath the air!”  It is still a disappointing follow up with a annoying and dismal final reveal.

The Hunter or the Hunted? Pt 5 (Prometheus, 2012)

Prometheus_PosterResurrection seemed to kill the franchise.  But after two Alien vs Predator films, Ridley Scott became very annoyed and wanted to right the ship.  Kind of.  The vaguely titled Prometheus would be set before Alien, but it was not a direct prequel.  Rather, it would be Alien Adjacent.  This certainly made for an intriguing idea, and trailers showed a lot of hints of the unfamiliar future with brief glimpses of familiar sites.

The final product is an imperfect attempt at an epic tale.  Borrowing heavily from Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, Prometheus opens with a gorgeous and vast shot of lakes and mountains.  We travel along this landscape until we come upon a “man”.  He is tall and muscular, with marble like skin.  A large spaceship (which is the same type of ship from the first Alien where the eggs are discovered) is leaving him behind.  He drinks a strange black drink and instantly his body starts to break down and he falls into the water, his DNA dispersing.

If you are not sure what Chariots of the Gods is, it was a book in the 70’s that claimed that all religion and technology we know today was the result of guidance from extra-terrestrials who were revered as Gods.  Prometheus takes this a step further, positing that mankind was created by these aliens.  They become known as “the Engineers” in the film.  Considering that Scott completely ignores the Alien vs Predator films, I am surprised he pretty much steals this concept from them.

The film leaps to the future, where we meet Elizabeth Shaw and her fellow archeologist (and boyfriend) Charlie.  They have been traversing the globe comparing various ancient sites, specifically the artwork of cultures from all over the world that share common themes.  They believe they have assembled the coordinates to a home world of “The Engineers”.  A crew is assembled by dying Peter Weyland to visit the planet.  They are told he will be dead by the time they arrive.

Once on the planet, the crew discovers an ancient ship with bodies of the engineers and holograms of them running from some threat.  Many poor choices are made and everything goes wrong.

The film gives us all sorts of “almosts”.  Almost a facehugger.  Almost an Alien. Almost the planet from Alien.  The film has grand attempts to explore themes of faith, diety, humanity and creation.  A lot of this focus is on Shaw and the Synthetic David.  David is one of the more interesting characters…he is also both sympathetic and disturbing.

The ending is a massive storm of confusion and destruction, in which Shaw becomes determined to discover why the Engineers have chosen the course they chose in relation to humanity.

Prometheus is gorgeous to watch, which breath taking visuals.  It is a stunning and spectacular feats with a strong cast, including Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender.  Fassbender especially shines as synthetic David.

But the story seems only half cooked.  They have ideas at play that never meet fruition.  The unanswered questions seem allowable, as the film was clearly left open for a follow-up.  With Prometheus, we have a film that is not terrible but not quite great.  And if it was part one, it might even be a great start and set up.  But, that was not not meant to be.  Instead we are left with an incomplete story.

Prometheus Lost

So, Ridley Scott announced the title to the sequel to Prometheus.  And I was a bit surprised they caved this early.

prometheus_ridley_scott

I was one of the few who at least generally liked Prometheus.  It had some problems, such as the whole “what I choose to believe” thing was never grounded tightly enough to make sense as a solid philosophy and the final act is pretty crazy messy to the point of confusion.  Adding to the confusion was the similarities that seem to set up Alien, but clearly at the same time could not be the same ship found in Alien…and the filmmakers emphasized that this is a different planet, different ship…this was set in the same universe as Alien, but is a separate story.

And I like that idea.  The notion that there might be a film to line up more precisely with Alien, but that it would come after a divergent story in the same universe.  Rapace and Fassbender are welcome performers for me and I am curious to see the next step in that story.  But of course, the problem is…they are not just trying to appeal to me, who would have no problem getting interested in another Prometheus film.

I suspect the lukewarm reception has resulted in bringing the Prometheus story directly under the Alien name brand with the upcoming sequel being called Alien: Paradise Lost.  I see some potential confusing, what with Neil Blomkamp’s possible Alien five.  I presume that will get a re-title.  And ever since Alien Resurrection, religious and mythical titles seem to be the go to.

But I suspect they realized continuing Prometheus 2 would not have the attention getting power of actually calling it “Alien”.  This does beg one question…will we see the regular Xenomorphs this time around?

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