Holy macaroni, it’s July! As our strangest year ever continues to take us on a voyage into uncharted territories, allow us to help you navigate your way to safe harbours, sheltering from the storms. Now is the time. Here is the place. This is The Cut.
Same deal as earlier this week, as I find myself on a bit of an uptick in trips to the cinema. Unstructured grumbling, spoilers abound. Let’s do this.
Rumour control: here are the facts. I have been a big fan of the Alien franchise since the late seventies. Slightly too young to watch Ridley Scott’s iconic movie on the big screen, I nevertheless soaked up the production designs of Ron Cobb, Chris Foss and HR Giger, and still own battered copies of The Book Of Alien and Walt Simonson’s astonishing graphic novel adaptation. I saw Aliens in its first week of release at the Odeon Marble Arch back when that was one big screen showing films in 70mm. I’ve been around these movies, this universe, for quite a while. I have skin in the game.
Prometheus, Scott’s attempt to fill in the backstory of the mythos, satisfied no-one. It didn’t help that he was trying to make an Alien film without, yannow, Aliens. Bloated, pretentious, self-indulgent and bewildering, it left me angry and more upset than I’d like to admit. I’ve laughed long and hard at the Star Wars man-babies complaining about how George Lucas consistently trampled over their treasured childhood memories. Now, here comes Ridley, stomping his expensively-shod size tens all over a world I love dearly. Gotta admit, there were man-baby tears from me after Prometheus.
Which brings us to his attempt to re-bootstrap the legacy, taking on board the wails of us man-babies and making something more tailored to our tastes. Alien: Covenant is supposed to be the story the fans want to see. And, well, honestly? He’s gone too far the other way. Covenant is fan-service.
Consider: he re-uses the classic ‘fade-in typography’ of the first movie. Jerry Goldsmith’s classic theme is larded all over the place. We see elements of Ron Cobb’s innovative Semiotic Standard designs in alert screens. There’s even a big, loving close-up of the dipping bird toy briefly glimpsed on the bridge of the Nostromo. ‘Here,’ says Ridley. ‘This is what you want, right? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?’
And actually, I was for the most part. There’s plenty of money up on screen, and John Logan’s script is pretty solid. I have issues with the attempt to make every female lead in an Alien movie into Aliens-era Ripley (sorry, I simply don’t buy the notion of gentle Katherine Waterston with a gun). Similarly, the inference that Billy Crudup’s captain is weak and ineffectual because of his faith is problematic, and the source of way too many weak religious puns.
Of course, even through the Alien fan-service, Covenant is a movie that wants to deal with Big Themes. Creation. Life. Meeting your maker. It’s become increasingly clear that Scott’s heart is not in making more Alien films. He wants to make a statement, an epic SF take on Milton’s Paradise Lost (which was of course a working title for this movie). Unfortunately, the only way Fox will give him the dough to make it is if he throws a few chest-bursters into the mix.
Which is a shame, because the Alien stuff is the least interesting thing about Covenant. The film really comes to life when the Luciferesque figure of David finally appears, messianic in long hair and robe. He’s literally playing God (or at the very least Dr. Moreau), and not that bothered about creating in his own image. His playful taunting of the Covenant’s resident synthetic Walter are real highlights (and the seductive scene where Michael Fassbender teaches Michael Fassbender how to play the flute is a technical triumph–’I’ll do the fingering’ indeed). These gave me a sense of the film that Scott actually wants to make–a darkly gothic take on creation mythology. Not an easy sell, though.
Largely, then, Alien: Covenant is a mishmash, a slumgullion, a cut-and-shut that, while it has a lot to recommend (it’s a huge improvement on Prometheus) is still frankly a bit of a mess. It’s a big statement on epic themes that has a skewed monster movie wrapped around it. I’m still chewing over whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I think I did. Even though I know when I’m being pandered to.
That being said, I do want to know what David gets up to next. Scott finally has an anti-hero as delightfully amoral as Hannibal Lector. I still dig his take on everyone’s favourite cannibal, and David is cut from the same cloth. The ending of Covenant finally sets up a dark new path for the franchise–one that, despite all my man-baby tears, I’d be happy to tread.
Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula books are wild, freewheeling takes on alternative history that that gleefully mash together fictional and historical figures to tell the story of a word where Dracula is real. A meta-fictional treat for anyone that likes their pulp. Rob and Clive certainly do…
No, we’re not talking about the 70s Michael York/Jenny Agutter film. Rather, we’re taking a look at the source material–the William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson novel. An entirely different, much darker but much more cinematic prospect. Which is frankly a lot more fun!
We believe the time is right to reconsider this cracking, pulpy take on a society that has shrugged off its humanity in favour of youth. Who needs another movie?
What would survival in a post-oil society be like? As life slips back into an agrarian, hard-scrabble existence, how can we find meaning or even happiness? How much do we have to lose before we lose our essential humanity?
Stephen Fingleton’s cult psychodrama The Survivalist takes on these questions and weaves a taut story of uneasy trust and betrayal from the tangled threads. A film to admire, and one that gives you a lot to think about…
For a more informed take on the film, check out director Stephen Fingleton in conversation with Stuart Wright on the excellent Britflicks podcast…
A parable on the sacrifices even the most utopian societies have to make. Does Ursula LeGuin’s acclaimed story dig into a deeper truth…or is it simply stating the obvious? Worse, is it suggesting that the best we can do when faced with atrocity is walk away? Rob and Clive try to unpick this most knotty of threads, only to find themselves more deeply tangled than before…
Rob, Clive and Curiosity celebrate a landmark piece of SF in the shape of the 1956 classic, Forbidden Planet. Widely recognised as a formative text in the creation of Star Trek, and influential in the production and sound design of Star Wars and many other examples of filmed and TVSF. If you like the fiction of sciencey, you need to be all over this film.
Star Trek: Deep Space 9 is often thought of as the darkest of the franchises, but it had its lighter moments. Take the 20th Anniversary commemorative episode, a goofy, utterly delightful celebration of everything that makes the show such a beloved SF benchmark for so many people.
It’s got time-travel, Terry Farrell in THAT dress, a proper cantina fight and an exploding Tribble! What more could you want?
Hey, if you have Netflix, you can check out Trials And Tribble-ations right snecking now! If not, here’s a taster…