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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
My Pop and my Uncle Pat brought me into Horror Movies and Books in just that order. For my Pop, being scared by something that happens centuries from now way out in outer space was silly.
Writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett pitched ALIEN as a "Haunted House" in outer space. Yet though they wrote it, I strongly disagree.
Name one Haunted House movie where the people went out to a strange haunted house, one of them got possessed, they returned to their own house, and spent the rest of the movie dying one by one, as they chased the lethal ghost down, in order to kick it out of - not the haunted house, but their own non-haunted house?
It doesn't exist! No haunted house movie of ALIEN's time or before it ever existed!
Director Ridley Scott took a different tack. He saw ALIEN as Truckers in Space and went with that ethos. These Truckers made a stop, one of them were injured by a varmint, and now they are just trying to kill the varmint that is killing them and get home alive.
And yet -
I'm old enough to have seen ALIEN at a first run theater. I didn't see IT until much later and on TV. ALIEN surpasses IT by such an enormous margin that I feel safe in saying that ALIEN is unique: not as in the only one of its kind, as there have been many rip-offs, but as in the first of its kind.
I could go into a deep dissertation as to why, and many a university grad has built their thesis around it. Instead I'll just encourage you to watch IT: THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE then ALIEN. You'll understand immediately.
ALIEN is a powerful icon of Horror to a far greater extent that Tommy or Jason or even Freddy (nobody is going to make a $100 million dollar HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, or NIGHTMARE movie). ALIEN stands shoulder to shoulder with DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, KING KONG, and GODZILLA.
Historically speaking, after the world-wide success of ALIEN, Director Ridley Scott approached 20th Century Fox with a sequel idea, one that made the Producers and studio executives choke. Whatever it was, it apparently was looked upon as an idea every bit as bad as when RKO took their surprise hit, KING KONG, and put the sequel script entirely into the hands of Ruth Rose, who thought audiences would rather have a cute and cloy baby SON OF KONG, instead of the Horrific terror that was his old man - thus killing the studio's most popular franchise forever (for them).
James Cameron approached Fox with a concept that producers David Giler and Walter Hill already wanted: If one Alien is scary, imagine if the rest of those damn eggs in the alien cargo hold hatched!
ALIEN COVENANT begins with a large white room. The immense and shiny room, overlooking a mountainous and pastoral landscape, is sparsely decorated like a Production Designer was told to ape the feel of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.
The gravitas doesn't hold.
Instead we meet Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce: RAVENOUS, MEMENTO, THE HURT LOCKER, PROMETHEUS) and the robot David (Michael Fassbender: 300, CENTURION). The two men fill the room with exposition and wooden performances. I believe Ridley was going for subtle, but he doesn't know the difference between subtle and stilted (a mistake we saw in the original theatrical cut of BLADE RUNNER and HANNIBAL).
The two have an awkwardly obvious conversation about the nature of a creator, with David pointing out, more than once, that he will outlive Peter and is therefore superior to his aging, decrepit inventor.
We get to the colony spaceship Covenant where a David robot, called Walter (still Michael Fassbender), minds the sleeping human cargo that hang in pods like clothes from clothes hangars. We see that they sway with the movement of the ship. If they sway too much, David comes by and stills them by hand.
So forget real world Inertia Dampers or even SciFi Star Trek-style "Inertial dampers". These hangar pods are such a bone head concept that nobody ever used them - until now. Which means that something is going to happen that will send them flying, damaging the humans within. How ridiculously contrived can you get?
David is in near constant conversation with Mother and he is entirely useless. Either that or Mother is entirely useless. Actually, without a science geek like the late Dan O'Bannon or James Cameron at the script helm, the entirety of David's relationship to the ship's computer is pointless.
Mother tells David what her sensors are reading and David tells Mother how she should respond to them.
They are both artificial intelligences!
What is the freaking point of making a dumb-downed "female" spaceship robot subservient to a "male" anthropoid robot who cannot do it, "himself"?
If Mother is already capable of performing all spaceship duties without Walter - and this scene makes it clear that "she" is - then what the hell, man? A younger Ridley Scott knew the silent value of revealing the nature of the ship without unnecessary talk, and there is nothing but unnecessary talk here. An interaction between the Mother ship and a Walter could have been easily written with Walter taking care of the human side of things while Mother takes care of the spaceship and the two talk to each other silently as machines would, keeping each other informed as to the nature of their actions and reactions as a team - not with Walter as Captain talking to Mother his crew.
Moreover, let's talk about technology available for decades: why isn't David networked so he is both the David robot and the Mother spaceship?
Sheesh this is awful!
...and then it gets worse.
The ship momentarily slows in order to recharge. Mother asks Walter if she/it should unfurl the solar sails - since that is the only possible way for the ship to recharge and Mother already slowed down to do that very thing.
Walter's answer is basically like, "Yeah, good call, Mom. Right on the damn nose. You're really on the ball for an advanced AI. You go ahead and do that thing you are supposed to do every time we are scheduled to recharge." and she/it does.
Massive solar sails that dwarf the Covenant like unfolded dinner napkins to a toothpick, are out, catching photons, electrons, and protons from a nearby star.
There is a reason that NASA does this on a much smaller scale and plans to do it on a much larger scale in the near future. Outer space, relative to a single object, even one the size of earth, is enormously empty.
That's not to say space cannot be dangerous of course. First off remember that this is space, the Covenant is traveling extremely fast in human terms, and there is a whole lot that can happen in space from hydrogen to asteroids to unexpected magnetars.
What happens instead is a Neutrino Blast.
The star has a neutrino "blast".
Said Neutrino blast rips through the delicate sails, thus ripping the ship apart.
In the time it took you to read that, those same neutrinos passed right through the earth, out the other side and will soon pass through the moon, if it is so situated.
So the movie goes, one head-desk awkward dunsel after the next and yes, you shouldn't need a basic understanding of science to enjoy a movie, not even a science fiction movie. But just as a drama must be dramatic and a comedy must be comic, a science fiction movie must get the science right - or at least not get it so wrong that it becomes supernatural. And when the movie makers want to take imaginative liberties?
Well you just rock the hell on with your visionary self! Take to those wild liberties like Sir John Falstaff to another brew!
Except those liberties shouldn't be ham-fisted plot-holes, bizarre and foolish character motivations presented as if natural, and the number added to number of ridiculously obvious contrived plot points all ceaselessly calculated to, by the end, go nowhere.
What happens at the end is a direct result of the entire cast and their character actions behaving as absolutely incompetent, inept, naive, and stupidly as possible with no basic survival instincts.
What kind of manifest lunacy Colony ship is this?
Okay, I grant you that this was tried once before, by such an esteemed literary giant as Douglas Adams no less, in his novel THE RESTAURANT AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE. Space colony ship, Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B, had a solid sound reason for existence and I'm certain that this humorless movie was not following suit. For one thing, ALIEN COVENANT would be a whole lot better if was riffing off of the Golgafrinchans.
You would think, wouldn't you, that when dealing with a big budget and a tentpole movie intended to re-ignite a franchise that 20th Century Fox butchered, that the best writers would be hired.
Instead, the producers brought on first time scribe Dante Harper and team member writer, John Logan (BATS!, THE TIME MACHINE, STAR TREK: NEMESIS, SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET). In over 20 years of produced screen writing credits, whenever John is the lead or sole screenwriter, he has an unbroken track record of bombs: Some rather expensive, big budget bombs, but always major money losers. At this point it's a guarantee.
Someone like Dante Harper is actually the better risk because he's worked in the movie industry for years and may have a solid idea of fan appreciation, what sells, character development and narrative structure.
Someone like Michael Green (HEROES [TV], KINGS [TV], THE RIVER [TV], LOGAN) who was one of the two guys who originally pitched the story, would have been the slightly better choice because he's a moderately successful writer for TV shows nearly as long as John was writing for the big screen.
The best thing to do, of course, since you're already laying down around $100 million smackers for your flick, is to simply hire better writers. The town is crawling with them, often literally crawling - and not just in San Pedro.
Oddly though, and this is something you see repeated often, Hollywood measures success by how much money paycheck work you get, not by the quality of that work.
Seriously, I don't know John. I've got nothing against him, and he's clearly a force to be reckoned with if he can do this bad and keep getting major studio, big budget work. That's one hell of a great agent or something. Maybe John Logan is a real sweetheart of a guy and follows the myriad of daily production notes to the letter until the suits are infighting and blaming each other and not him.
At any rate, in my review of PROMETHEUS, I said I was done with Ridley Scott's nonsensical ALIEN reboot. His subsequent apology after the fact convinced me that he knew where he went wrong and could fix it.
ALIEN COVENANT proves he doesn't know and I'll be waiting for the home video before I'll watch another with him at the helm.
You used to be the guy, dude!
I really hope someone can interview Ridley, in a respectful manner, and reveal the process that led up to these two disasters.
How do such cinema experienced, proven, capable people, and their gaggle of cinema experts, Not See?!?
One Shriek Girl.