Tag Archives: Prometheus

ALIEN: COVENANT

“…a film that tries far too hard to be everything for everyone, and consequently, on balance, falls short in all departments.”

Wayward Wolf.

Oh how I long for simplicity.

There are a handful of set pieces within Alien: Covenant that hint at what a decent film it could have been, but so buried are they within an over-cooked, rambling backstory, that any impact they may lend the film is fleeting, to say the least.

It was Ridley Scott who took charge of the much-hyped, but ultimately quite frankly poor, Prometheus, and in Alien: Covenant, he once again looks to rediscover a bit of that old Alien magic in the latest chapter of this most patchy of franchises.

Sadly, long gone it seems are the days when we cowered in horror and bit our nails down to the bone in fearful awe of the most excellent Alien, not to mention it’s excellent James Cameron-directed sequel, Aliens. Whilst Alien: Covenant does have its moments, it’s a very pale imitation of what’s preceded it.

Another 2017 release, Life, made no pretence to be anything other than something of a homage to some of the great science fiction films of the last half century, yet despite its relatively unoriginal concept(s), it delivered a tight, neatly packaged and thoroughly entertaining finished product with both considerable impact and laser-sharp precision.

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, in contrast, struggles somewhat for identity. There’s clearly an ‘epic’ vision at play behind the scenes here. The director tries manfully to engage his audience on far more of an expansive scale and cerebral level than simply throwing rampaging aliens in numbers at unsuspecting space travellers (although there’s plenty of that to be getting on with), but the general impression is that this is a film that tries far too hard to be everything for everyone, and consequently, on balance, falls short in all departments.

Part thriller, part thought-provoking science fiction piece, part action-packed white knuckle ride, part philosophical lament, you name it, this is a film that struggles gamely yet ultimately fails to weave these and other disparate threads together into something resembling a coherent whole.

Alien: Covenant is not helped by both momentum-sapping, drawn-out scenes of unnecessary ponderous self-reflection, and by fairly weak characterisation.

Although Michael Fassbender (playing both David & Walter) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) turn in strong performances, and as whole-heartedly as all other parts are played, there’s something of a disconnect here between viewer and character, and I doubt that there will have been too many tears shed by the viewing public as the cast are predictably whittled down in number via various grisly means, leaving the remaining few to battle it all out in overly exaggerated bloated fight sequences.

Where Alien: Covenant does however score highly, is in the ‘memorable, hard-hitting set pieces’ department. Indeed, never let it be said that Ridley Scott doesn’t know how to shock, or to sear disturbing imagery into our collective grey matter.

There are certain franchises that tend to garner a generous tidal wave of goodwill regardless of the true quality of their output, attracting something of a blinkered, head-in-the-sand devotion by the masses. The Alien franchise is one such example. But the truth is that there have been just two truly excellent Alien films in the series, and the rest, no matter how much you dress them up, or who’s been pulling the strings, have largely been regurgitated re-hashes of the original, admittedly excellent concept.

There’s no doubt that there were good and very grand intentions behind Alien: Covenant – this is a film not without its positives, rest assured – but it’s probably all  best summed up by the rather sign-posted ‘twist’ at the film’s conclusion. Well executed, but rather predictable and ultimately all a bit unnecessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: The Martian

Consider outer space…

If 2013 was the year that brought us the science -light, yet impressive Gravity and 2014 the hit and miss but highly commendable Interstellar, then 2015 is the year that will be remembered, in sci-fi circles at least, for Ridley Scott’s Martian (The), crash landing into cinema land.

A director like Ridley Scott can boast an impressive back catalogue of films too numerous to mention and can therefore be forgiven the occasional downturn in form (Prometheus) and rightly still generates a sense of expectancy and excitement, particularly when he’s back in his element, exploring outer space…

Why then has watching The Martian left me with such an overwhelming sense of disappointment?

Let’s get this straight, right from the off: The Martian is one great big missed opportunity.

Mark Watney (the always very watchable and here, very well cast, Matt Damon), is separated from his fellow crew members and left for dead on Mars when a major storm disorientates them whilst out exploring, putting their lives in great peril.

Unable to launch a rescue and left with no choice, the remaining crew members are forced to flee the planet, abandoning Watney in the process.

Mark Watney however, is not dead.

Alone, many millions of miles from home on a desolate planet, he’s now got one hell of a situation on his hands.

This is where the film has a massive, great big, gilt-edged opportunity to cement a status as one of the great solo performance films of all time; a one man show; the monologue to end all monologues.

I don’t know whether it’s a sense of distrust in the ability of the average cinema- going punter to appreciate a different direction or whether the director simply felt that the ‘lonely man in outer space, figuring things out with a considered approach’ angle only had so much mileage in it before the natives would get restless, so, despite a promising start, the film’s gradual descent into predictable mediocrity feels like a real kick in the teeth.

Yes, a fair amount of time is spent observing Damon in his quest to ‘science the shit out of it’ (just a snippet from the film’s unfortunate, sound bite-heavy dialogue), by cultivating a food source, attempting to contact NASA through ingenious means and generally putting in place a system of survival whilst so far from home, that any potential rescue possibility remains a mind numbing four years away, at best.

To a point, Scott does capture an element of the loneliness and futility of the predicament that Watney would surely have felt so resigned to, and it’s this core aspect of the film that makes the early scenes intriguing enough, but it takes a strong director to stick to his guns when steering the enormous financial beast and burden that The Martian must surely have been – It’s not 12A rated for nothing –  and sure enough, any early signs of promise are soon vanquished as the film turns about face, transitioning quickly into predictable, mainstream, contrived fodder; each plot manoeuvre playing out with heart-aching predictability.

As Damon and NASA between them attempt to come up with a rescue plan, the action switches back and forth rapidly between Earth and Mars, and an array of poorly drawn characters, natter away with badly conceived, plot-explanatory, cringe-inducing dialogue, a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ as they go with self congratulatory glee.

Any positives the film had managed to muster to this point, are quickly expelled like the rush of pressured air escaping from a punctured spacesuit.

Why oh why Hollywood?!

The Martian is classic what if territory. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, that would be an overly harsh summation, but it’s hugely erratic and any positives that it threatens to deliver are simply overpowered in a sea of cliches, contrivances, play-it-safe direction and ropey dialogue bordering on the insulting at times, in a film that is way too long and ultimately tedious.

…And it’s a real shame because without doubt, The Martian is an excellent concept left in the hands of an innovative and above all brave director.

Those were not the hands of Ridley Scott on this occasion.