Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

A fan reviews Alien: Covenant

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As a big fan of the Alien franchise, it has always been difficult for me to write or even think about reviews of the films and remain unbiased. As a child, I played with a six inch tall action figure (that I still have) of the Xenomorph, the frightening and brilliant monster at the center of the franchise. It was, as everyone that knew me would tell you, my favorite toy, by a long shot.

I watched the original 1979 film sometime between 1990 and 1992, when I was between 6 to 8 years old. Soon after, I also managed to watch Aliens, James Cameron’s fantastic action packed sequel, and I was forever captivated.

What started from a simple script that had the makings of a silly B-movie was turned by a young Ridley Scott into a horror sci-fi of a quality and thoughtfulness that had not been seen before. With an ensemble of very good actors which included Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt and Ian Holm, Scott hired the services of a relatively unknown Swiss artist, H.R. Giger, to manufacture a credible alien universe that would be convincing enough to elicit fear and dread in audiences. With the invaluable help of Giger’s twisted and unique vision, Scott would introduce us to an exosqueletal U-shaped alien ship sitting in isolation in the midst of a stormy unexplored planet. Inside, there were tunnels made out of what seemed to be organic material that led to one great chamber, where something that looked like a super weapon, or perhaps a giant cockpit, held the remains of a fossilized giant that had been torn open from its insides (popularly refered to as the Engineer). Soon, we would meet the gruesome eggs, the nightmarish “facehugger” and the xenomorph bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in one of cinema’s most unforgettable scenes.

In an act that would later prove to be extremely wise, Scott declined the chance to work on a sequel, giving the keys of a promising franchise to the up-and-coming James Cameron who, with a bigger budget and studio backing, made a thrilling sequel that felt like the first film but on steroids. Once again, our heroes were led by a toughened yet relunctant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) against an entire colony of the deadly creatures.

Though one can argue the merits of the third entry directed by David Fincher (many point to the less than amicable relationship between 20th Century Fox and the director as a cause for some of the dissappointment), there is no denying that the sequels that came after Alien 3 followed the law of diminishing returns. It seemed the franchise was headed to an inglorious end.

In 2012 and with the very real prospect of irrelevance looming nearby, Ridley Scott resurected its acclaimed creation with Prometheus. The film, which took us to the very beginnings of the Alien universe (and of the Weyland corporation), had a surprisingly philosophical and existential vibe that seemed to be entirely disconnected to the older films.

Even though Prometheus ends on a high note by promising an exploration through the Universe in search for the “Engineers”; Alien: Covenant is both a continuation and a rejection of the path that was hinted at by its predecessor. As crafty and stylish as Scott’s direction is and remains throughout the film, there is a designed attempt to please the fans whose nostalgia for horror, dark smokey tunnels and death had been less than satisfied with Prometheus.

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Halfway through the film, Covenant abandons any hope to give us answers about any of the questions posed by Prometheus, entirely dismissing the journey of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), and giving David (Michael Fassbender) a far more protagonical role than most of us expected. In it, I saw similarities to the abrupt and unceremonious divide between Aliens and Fincher’s Alien 3, where two of the four survivors had been killed off before the first scene.

The latest part of the franchise is a conscious return to its roots, bringing back the beloved xenomorph, the gory horror, and the occasional bit of dark humor and eroticism that distinguished the 1979 film.

Covenant also has the makings of a blockbuster summer film, giving us moments of genuine thrill and edge-of-your-seat suspense that feel, however, far less distinctive than its stylish and more introspective predecessor. At times, Covenant played as a film that is clearly self-aware of its place in popular culture, hoping not to betray the lust for “xeno violence” that many had waited years for.

To add insult to injury, Covenant suffers in the details, much like Prometheus did. Even though it clocks in at 2 hours, the film struggles for pace in the first half hour to then feel hurried and messy. The crew of explorers that confronts an unimaginable danger in a yet unexplored and unknown planet follows a pattern of decision-making that reveals either their low IQs, or their complete lack of training and preparation. Once again, the first creatures that appear in Covenant are a close relative of the original, until they eventually give way to our long lost trifecta: egg, facehugger and Giger’s xenomorph. Sadly, by the time our violent guest comes into the film, its presence is more thrilling than scary, and perhaps shorter and less remarkable than I had expected. The monster’s prey isn’t a group of navy seals (Aliens) or violent criminals (Alien 3), but a diminished space expedition crew that was already on the run. The monster’s thirst for violence and death not as horrific as it once felt back in 1979.

Covenant’s greatest pleasures come from its striking visuals in the way of stylish spaceships, convincing creatures, and a deserted hellish planet whose dreamy exterior holds many deadly secrets within. More significantly, the cast of Covenant is as great as the ones from the first two movies of the franchise. Katherine Waterson fills the void left by Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw in convincing fashion as Daniels, while Michael Fassbender’s double take as androids David and Walter is at the level of the chameleonic actor’s best work. Each a distinct personality, each with a different accent, standing at opposite ends of a philosophical question: to serve your master, or to upend the status quo by killing everyone in sight.

Rating: 3.5/5

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2015, The Year in Film

STAR WARS POSTER

After nearly two months of no activity in my blog and a few hours away before the end of 2015, I simply couldn’t let December pass me by without offering something to reminisce about the year.
I hope this coming year finally gives me the purpose to really devote some time to blogging, as I’ve wanted to since I started it about 3 years ago.
There are also a couple of series to catch up with, like my reviews of the first season of Mr. Robot, and my ongoing monthly round-ups.

Anyway…

2015 was a year filled with great films, many of which I have yet to see. In lieu of a “best films of 2015” post, I will instead share thoughts on the films I watched this year, whether they were first released 50 years back, or just a month or two ago. The following list will comprise some of the greatest movies I watched (grouped by high ratings of 4.5 or 4/5 only as there were no perfect scores given) and some honorable mentions that did not quite make the cut . The following are limited to films I had not seen before or that I had not seen in their entirety until this year.

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A fan of the Alien franchise reviews “Prometheus”

Released: 2012

Synopsis: A crew of scientists embark on a mission to find answers about the origin of the human race in a distant planetary system. What they find is not only surprising but a bit more than they can handle.

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba

Director: Ridley Scott

To watch Prometheus on the big screen at your local multiplex is an experience that should not be missed. From the gorgeous visuals, to the effectiveness of the cast and the artistry of the special effects, Prometheus is one of those pieces of cinema that is well worth the admission price.

After years away from science fiction, Ridley Scott shows that this genre might be his true forte as an artist, always able to create immersive worlds that border on the sublime. The stylistic language in Prometheus takes cues from Scott’s previous work while utilizing the latest in special effects to modernize his view of the future. Whereas Alien featured clunky, heavy machinery with computers running on MS-DOS in a maze of dark hallways filled with smoke, Prometheus takes the route of revisionism and updates Scott’s vision towards sterilized, streamlined, minimalistic technology inside spacious rooms adorned with splashes of bright colors. The change is mostly an aesthetic one. Prometheus continues with the tradition of Alien, crafting sets that contribute to the suspense, almost too large and too perfect to be inviting.

Continue reading A fan of the Alien franchise reviews “Prometheus”

A preview to Prometheus: looking back at the Alien franchise

After a month-long hiatus, I return not to miss the chance to talk about the upcoming release of Prometheus, marketed as a prequel of sorts to Alien, one of the most significant sci-fi thrillers of all-time and one of my favorite films.

Even though I count myself as a true fan of the franchise, especially of the first two installments, I have gathered the impression that there is a lot of skepticism about the continuation of the franchise, understandably so given that the last few attempts to revive it have been such a disappointment.

Continue reading A preview to Prometheus: looking back at the Alien franchise

IMDB Top 250: The Thing (1982)

Carpenter

After a long hiatus I restart my blog with my tenth film review of my IMDB challenge: The Thing, released in 1982.

The Thing stars Kurt Russel in one of the most convincing roles of his career. He plays R.J. McReady, the charismatic leader of a pack of roughened-out American scientists locked away by snow and ice from any meaningful hint of civilization in a distant outpost in Antarctica. The film benefits from a very strong opening sequence that shows us a Siberian dog running for its life as two men in a helicopter seem determined to end its life. As with the rest of the opening third of the film, the first few scenes are permeated with an ominous atmosphere that fills the screen with a sense of doom that is rarely as effectively delivered as it is in this film.

Despite the vastness of the environment, the film feels incredibly claustrophobic. The almost constant snowstorm that cuts all communication with the outside world serves as the lock that keeps all of these men trapped inside a narrow ensemble of hallways and rooms that make up the scientists’ outpost. From the moment we are introduced to the dog desperately running away from a certain death, we know that there is something off with this picture and that whatever it is come, it would have to be confronted in this limiting setting, where escaping is impossible. There is, as a result, a sense of unavoidable doom that inhabits every room and corridor. There is always a presence lurking among the men and even after we discover what it is, the very nature of this unexpected visitor keeps us guessing for who its next victim will be. It is never a matter of if it will happen, but a matter of when.

Having pointed out some of the most prominent features of the film, some sci-fi fans might be able to see a striking similarity to Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece: Alien. While Carpenter’s film does borrow a lot from the famous sci-fi thriller, which certainly undermines the raw artistic value of the piece, the director makes it his own by successfully reinterpreting the concepts and ideas elegantly used by Ridley, while introducing new elements that still made it feel fresh and nerve-wracking. While Alien is helped by incredibly convincing special effects for the time in which it was filmed, The Thing lacked, even 3 years later, the sleekness of its predecessor. In this sense, The Thing comes out as more of an unfinished material that is odd, gory and awkward all at the same time.

However, what the film lacks in intricacies and richness of detail, The Thing makes up for it with a sense of realism that is almost exclusively the merit of the unpolished look of the film. While the creature’s appearance is not altogether convincing, the circumstances these men find themselves in seem genuine.The characters we see on camera are far more relatable than those we see in Alien. These are not nerds or cowboys of a distant future, these feel like average Joe’s that are trapped in this impossible situation none of them could have avoided. It is this sense of impending doom that the film so effectively generates that keeps you at the edge of your seat throughout.

There are, as in other Carpenter films, several cheesy lines and cliches that hinder the overall effect of the movie. However, Carpenter does an awesome job at building a highly suspenseful and atmospheric environment that does wonders for the film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Blade Runner (1982)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films listed in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) has officially begun.

In picking the first movie of the long list of 124 films that still await to be viewed, I chose one of the few that I have always been interested in watching but never quite had the opportunity to do so. The movie is Blade Runner, released in 1982. It was directed by Sir Ridley Scott, who is also known for other great movies like Alien, Thelma & Louise and Gladiator. The film stars Harrison Ford, who was still at his prime having already been immortalized by his roles as Indiana Jones and Hans Solo in Star Wars.

It is clear from the very first scene (seen above) why this film is among the most influential motion-pictures ever made. Blade Runner relies heavily on the legacy of science fiction movies to create what was the most believable larger-than-life fictional environment in cinema’s history.

When analyzed from a purely visual perspective, Blade Runner takes many cues from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, conceived over 50 years prior. Both present us with a highly machinized society that thrives on monstrous corporations and social disparities. Blade Runner depicts its version of Los Angeles in 2019, a mere 8 years away now. The first picture we get is that of a heavily industrialized, dense, compacted city of unbelievable scale. As the film progresses, so does our impression of this future. We are taken from the calm, organized, clean and luxurious upper stories of the presumably gigantic Tyrell Corporation to a street level that is compacted, dirty, noisy, diverse and hectic in every way imaginable. Within a few minutes, Blade Runner explores topics that go beyond the central storyline. The movie offers a rather critical perspective of a world dominated by corporations where technology has not necessarily contributed to the betterment of life on Earth. The disparity of riches is apparent, and it is clear that the vast majority does not benefit from the extreme industrialization that the world has undergone.

As a person that is usually inclined to appreciate the visual before any other aspect of a film, I was perhaps devoting a lot more of my attention to the environment so skilfully depicted in the film than to the story itself. However, I believe this is exactly the intention of the director. The objective was not so much on the details that made up the plot, but rather on how this story would gain life within the unique environment that was created around it.

The movie communicated, like very few have, a sense of place. When you follow Harrison Ford, you get a sense you’re just another passerby in the busy streets of futuristic Los Angeles. We are offered with an “inside look” that simultaneously and continuously delivers a sense of chaos, of foul smells, of political and social decay.

It is to Ridley Scott’s credit that the overall success of the film was not severely hampered by the linearity and flawed storyline. However, if analyzed rigorously, we will find that the story lacks pace, where we find characters that seem to be a few revolutions behind the world around them. Such a discrepancy in forward-motion lessens the visual impact of the film but not the extent one would expect.

The storyline is not especially rigorous either. There is a lack of attention to detail that makes us care less about the conclusion to the plot and wonder more about what the rest of the city looks and feels like.

For the artistry behind the making of the film, Blade Runner is certainly one of the most finely crafted science-fiction movies I have ever seen (and one of the most influential), which is not to say it should be considered in any way perfect, or as great as some of its predecessors.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Niels