Tag Archives: ridley scott

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant posterSeveral years ago, when Ridley Scott announced his prequel to his 1979 classic Alien, Prometheus, I wondered whether we really needed an explanation for events leading up to a film that already worked so efficiently and effectively.

Now, with the follow-up to that film, Alien: Covenant, that is also another precursor to the original, that question occurs once again.

From the off it ties the two threads of the story together with a prologue featuring Prometheus‘ replicant character David (Michael Fassbender) before we are sent to the colony ship Covenant and meet another replicant, Walter (also Fassbender).

From that point on we get a story that seems to be unsure quite what it wants to do and say. Certainly there are plenty of thrills and chills and a good dose of action and excitement as the crew of the Covenant (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the title) encounter a version of the Xenomorph Alien (apparently the ‘Neomorph’) seen in the past instalments of the series.

Katherine Waterston - Alien: Covenant - Daniels

Daniels (Waterston)

Along with the action, again much like Prometheus, the film seems to want to deal with some big questions, so we have Oram (Billy Crudup), thrust into the role of ship’s captain and a self expressed man of faith.

The fact this is self expressed is where the problem with this attempt at exploring something really comes to fore as anything Alien: Covenant might be trying to explore is just stated by the characters rather being genuinely explored through the film, so it falls a little flat.

As well as this there is a thread that, like the original Alien and its direct sequels, takes something of a feminist angle with crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) echoing original heroine Ripley as the film’s (comparatively) grounded heroic centre as chaos escalates.

Alien: Covenant - Walter - Michael Fassbender

Walter (Fassbender)

Unlike the original though this feels rather too heavy-handed, especially as it’s already an established trope of the series and it just never quite rings as honest and true, particularly when we reach a rather over gratuitous scene toward the film’s climax.

This might be for the very simple reason that, while Daniels is arguably the hero of this film’s story, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the series now belongs to Fassbender’s replicant characters.

It’s fair to say that, as David initially and then Walter, Fassbender has found a way to make these characters that, in the past were often sinister bit parts, into fascinating explorations of humanity and our place in the universe (as much as a big budget sci-fi blockbuster might).

The Neomorph - Alien: Covenant

The ‘Neomorph’ alien

Fassbender is undeniably the most engaging presence here and, as with Prometheus, his performance is phenomenal – to the point where his blankness is at times a little too convincing and genuinely creepy, and makes any outbursts all the more effective, but I may already have said too much.

As a whole though Alien: Covenant, while enjoyable, feels a little too much like a ‘best bits’ of the better past films thrown together, with the attempt at philosophy of Prometheus thrown in, and not quite coming out with an entirely satisfying whole and it’s hard to escape the fact that this is all somewhat unnecessary exposition for a pair of classic films that never needed it.

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The Martian

the martian posterDirector Ridley Scott and science fiction have a long association, from breakthrough Alien and Blade Runner in his earlier days to Prometheus and its upcoming sequels he has (arguably) a fairly good track record in the style. So, it was with some anticipation that I headed into his slightly more factually styled new sci-fi movie, The Martian.

The film, based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir, is the story of astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) accidentally marooned on Mars and of his subsequent attempts to survive and the mission to rescue him – which all sounds like it might be pretty heavy going.

Thankfully as soon as Watney fires up his video diary its clear this isn’t all going to be serious and worthy. Throughout the film a surprising streak of humour remains intact, which, if anything, makes the whole thing feel all the more real (despite it being about a man stuck on mars).

Matt Damon in The Martian

Matt Damon as Mark Watney

Damon is alone on-screen for a fair chunk of the film and his performance is flawless. Despite the humour at no point did it over step the mark and he created a perfectly balanced delivery with genuine moments of jubilation and despair along the way.

Away from Watney on Mars we get the efforts of NASA and their associates on Earth to rescue their lost man. Again these keep the streak of humour going despite the serious story and there are more solid performances to be had.

Sean Bean is a surprisingly cast flight director, but brings a human element to proceedings to counterpoint Jeff Daniels’ NASA boss. Many have referred to Daniels as the films ‘bad guy’ and, while he is the man with the tough decisions to make, and he doesn’t always make the ethically best ones, I never felt he was really a ‘bad guy’ as such.

The Martian landscape

The Martian landscape

As the film goes on tension is ratcheted up more and more building to an expertly staged attempted rescue sequence that genuinely left me unsure which way it was going to go – quite a feat in mainstream cinema.

Aside from the general tense adventure side of things there was a mild undercurrent of a vaguely political message running through the films second half. While an interesting idea this never really felt properly explored so was just a bit of a strange addition that gave the movie a nice positive send off message, but little else.

That’s a minor quibble though as for the rest Scott delivered possibly his best and most consistent work since his 1980s heyday with great performances from all involved and some very impressive, but all not typical blockbuster ‘spectacle’ style special effects that made the whole thing feel real. Added to that at no point in films more than two hours did I feel the need to check the time as I was immersed in the story and world so expertly rendered on the screen.

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Blade Runner – The Final Cut

Blade Runner posterRidley Scott’s Blade Runner has long been regarded a masterpiece of science fiction that, along with Alien, cemented his reputation as a major director and helped establish the more thoughtful brand of sci-fi that Star Wars had done its best to knock off the mainstream radar in the late 1970s.

For me though the 1982 ‘sci-fi noir’ has always been something of an enigma – raved about by seemingly one and all but never quite clicking with me – so, on getting the chance the to see the movie in a good quality cinema (the BFI at the NFT) I was excited to see if I could finally break through all the talk and get to the actual film underneath.

I’m please to say that not only did that happen, but that I discovered the excellent movie everyone else was going on about too.

Telling the story of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner of the title, as he investigates and hunts down an escaped group of android ‘replicants’, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) the plot, as in much ‘grown up’ sci-fi is used as a framework on which to hang ideas and, in the case here in particular, some very impressive visuals.

Harrison Ford as Deckard - Blade Runner

Deckard

That’s not to discredit the story that is engaging and drives along at a great pace without over egging anything, which a story like this might, and certainly is part of why Blade Runner is referred to as ‘sci-fi noir’ and is quite so enjoyable.

The noir aspect though is certainly most visible in the film’s production design, by Syd Mead and Lawrence G. Paull, that evokes a ‘near future’ mega-city style Los Angeles with oil fields giving way to enormous, 1984-like, pyramids and narrow, busy, rain drenched streets populated by people of all kinds in which our hard-boiled ‘hero’ is found.

The design has become something so replicated in later movies I thought it might lose something, but it still holds its impressive place and it is clear that little that has come since has bettered (or even approached it) as it combines aspects of many styles into a great whole with a balance that other movies have tried but, generally, not succeeded.

blade runner batty Rutger Hauer

Batty

Into this world comes a the group of escaped replicants, who have returned to Earth from their off-world postings to seek out their creator and, essentially, try to answer many of the ‘big questions’ humans have always asked. As with a lot of great sci-fi this is clearly a prism through which we may seek answers (or more questions) based around the themes.

Over the years many themes and discussions have been found in Blade Runner but the one that struck me most is, it would seem, the one that the original source (Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep) deals with, and that is notions of existence and personal identity, along with the big question of the meaning and purpose of our existence.

Los Angeles - Blade Runner

Los Angeles

This is all summed up beautifully and comes to a head as Deckard’s hunt climaxes when he confronts Batty face to face on the roof of a dilapidated building in driving rain in what has become known as the ‘Tears In Rain’ monologue. As well as being an impressive piece of performance from Hauer it brings the whole story round on its head by actually making the de facto ‘bad guys’ into genuinely empathic and relatable characters that again builds on the movie’s themes.

Along with a supreme piece of projection work thanks to the BFI Blade Runner has certainly leapt into the list of some of the most impressive and enjoyable films I‘ve seen as it pulls together all aspects of its production (with the music by Vangelis being another highly impressive factor) into something astonishing.

Origami unicornAnd its all capped off by an enigmatic final scene that leaves some questions intentionally unanswered while posing even more, without feeling like sequel bait or making the rest of the movie feel like its been undermined.

A sequel is now of course in the works, but how that deals with these questions will be a big factor in its success of failure it would seem…

And here’s the Tears In Rain scene (probably best not watched if you haven’t seen the rest of the movie):

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Prometheus – review and podcast

Ridley Scott and co create an at once astounding, fascinating but ultimately over reaching piece of sci-fi.

So the hype and expectation are over and the film that was both heralded as a prequel to Alien and not is finally on our screens.

I am writing this about an hour after seeing the film so these are pretty much my first impressions only slightly ruminated upon.

Despite being a fan of the original run of Alien movies I had, since the announcement of Prometheus, been concerned as to if we really needed to have the blanks filled in, but had confidence that Ridley Scott would at least come up with something interesting that would, hopefully, render the Alien Vs Predator films redundant (and I’m pleased to say, if nothing else, that has happened).

I had also done my best to avoid as much of the hype and speculation about the film as possible, though I had seen one of the mock TED videos and an early trailer.

So I headed into the cinema with mixed, but hopeful, expectations, and that is kind of how I still feel now I’ve seen the movie.

While the film is undeniably well made with some amazing special effects, some great performances (Michael Fassbender in particular) and some massive ambition, I can’t help but feel Prometheus was allowed to run away with itself leaving the finished film as something of an undisciplined mess.

What really struck me was that it seemed the filmmakers really didn’t know whether they wanted to make something that stuck with the horror of Alien, the action of Aliens, a more adventure style film or a film dealing with the biggest of big questions, so they threw in bits of all four leaving a film that never seemed to be any of these enough to be a coherent whole.

This meant the tone and mood seemed to shift around a lot, occasionally from one scene to another, and made it very hard to properly get lost in the film in the way I had with Alien and Aliens or any other great movie.

While the film was imbalanced, it wasn’t without its impressive moments, though these were mostly visual and referencing Alien in one way or another.

The designs by, and inspired by, HR Giger, were undeniably astounding and suited the ‘ancient aliens’ premise to a tee, looking at once both futuristic and primeval in the way that only Giger seems able to manage, and the other aspects harked back enough to the old designs but with enough that was up to date to create something new but clearly in the same universe as Alien.

So in all on first impression I found Prometheus to be a film with too many good ideas for its own good and that seemed worryingly obsessed with setting up its own sequel in the final scenes rather than rounding off its own story. I just hope that with the sequels that seem to be on the cards we get some of these thing dealt with and questions answered, and we are able to get more properly attached to the characters.

As well as this review I also joined the guys from the 24LPS podcast (including Wynter who writes the CinemaScream blog), and Claire Mockett, to take a look at Prometheus (and a few other movies), you can listen to that here:

Warning Spoilers!

Trailer:

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Alien: 2003 Directors Cut (video review)

While its status as a true ‘directors cut’ is debateable, this tweaked version of the 1979 original is just as atmospheric and effecting.

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