Alien: Covenant (2017)

I’m back! Briefly, anyway. I couldn’t let a new Alien film arrive in cinemas and not review it, so I’ve dusted off the pencil and notebook and taken a crack at it. In short: entertaining but forgettable sci-fi, and something of a disappointment from Ridley Scott.

Sam Mendes’ SPECTRE felt like it was trying to be both a sequel to every Daniel Craig-era 007 entry as well as a big fat homage to the entire Bond franchise, but failed to do justice to any of them?

That sense of grasping overreach pervades much of director Ridley Scott’s newest slice of sci-fi horror, ALIEN: COVENANT. Intent on serving as both a sequel to previous entry PROMETHEUS (the sort-of-but-not-quite prequel to Scott’s original ALIEN) and a more traditional standalone entry in the canon, COVENANT tries to have its cake and eat it; the end result feels like a film with a personality crisis, with neither the scale and ambition of the former or the gut-wrenching chills of the latter. What’s left is a modestly entertaining excursion into familiar genre territory, which comes up short next to Scott’s classic, as well as James Cameron’s ALIENS and arguably David Fincher’s unfairly maligned ALIEN 3.

Full review: Alien: Covenant | TAKE ONE

Friday Favourites: 10 sequels we should all pretend don’t exist

A few weeks back I suggested ten films that deserved a sequel but sadly never received one. The flip side of this would be a list of sequels that were made, but shouldn’t have been. This is a much harder task, given the sheer volume of sequels that disappointed or just didn’t measure up to the original; but here for your reading pleasure are a few of my choices of follow-ups that not only disappointed but utterly stained the film from whence they sprung.

 

Batman & Robin poster

1. Batman & Robin (1997)

Easy one, this. A genuine contender for Worst Sequel of All Time: a pun-drenched, painfully poor script from Akiva Goldsman; headache-inducing camerawork; the camp, dayglo production design; and a cast that couldn’t be more ill-suited to their characters. Result: franchise crash and burn (until Christopher Nolan’s 2005 reboot, anyway).

 

2. Aliens vs Predator: Requiem (2007)

Regular readers will know of my love of the Alien franchise, so this really was a heartbreaking moment for me. Regardless of whether you count it as a sequel to the original tetralogy or its immediate predecessor, AvP, this is a follow-up so genuinely unpleasant (tedious characters, tedious plot, nasty action) it just shouldn’t be watched. Even the studio realised this, hence the film’s cinematography being so dark it’s practically unwatchable anyway.

 

3. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

How the mighty have fallen. That Richard Donner’s original comic-book masterpiece should have given birth to this load of cheap old tat is unthinkable. Christopher Reeve is reliably excellent as usual, but he’s the sole reason for watching this poor excuse for milking a cash cow dry. Two words – Nuclear Man. I mean, what? Incidentally, what is it about part fours that consistently make them so much worse than any other sequels?

 

Jaws: The Revenge poster4. Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Speaking of which, here comes another part four from 1987 that shits all over its classic 1970s forefather. Witness the inept direction and nonsensical plot: the way it tries to replay key moments from Spielberg’s film but completely fails to make them work. This is the film about which Michael Caine famously commented he hadn’t seen, but he had seen the house that it built – surely the only positive thing to emerge from this travesty.

 

5. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

I don’t even remember what Exorcist II was about. All I can remember was a) it was a bizarre mess; b) there were quite a lot of locusts;  and c) Richard Burton popped up. Probably best just to leave it there, to be honest.

 

6. Omen IV: The Awakening (1991)

Oh hello, another eye-gougingly awful part four. Seriously, if you’re a filmmaker asked to take on a third sequel to a great original – just leave well alone. This film was in fact a TV movie, an attempt to resurrect the Damien franchise that should have been left dead and buried after part three. Miraculously, it reached some cinemas in Europe. I pity the fools that paid money to watch its miserable attempts to stir up terror.

 

7. The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008)

In which a warrior rises, apparently. Yes, I did watch this. No, I shouldn’t have. I quite enjoyed the first film – a bright and breezy sword-and-sandals actioner which tipped its hat to the slightly camp fantasy adventures of the 80s typified by Conan the Barbarian/Destroyer and the like. This direct-to-dvd follow-up looks like an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, but on a lower budget. It does however win points for its hysterically funny giant invisible scorpion at the end, which looks like it might have been created on an Amiga 500.  But what’s with all the pointless Greek mythology references?

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End poster8. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

If I’ve learnt one thing from this article, it’s to fear sequels that are released in a year ending in 7. They are certain doom. Still, at least it wasn’t a part four (On Stranger Tides – which, in point of fact, was slightly better than part three). At World’s End was a near three-hour long barrage of noise, gloom, CGI action and general melancholic tedium. Despite the high volume levels, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to nodding off at the cinema (not counting the Alien Trilogy all-nighter, which saw me briefly flag at around 6am in the middle of Alien 3).

 

9. Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Steven Soderbergh’s sequel to his highly enjoyable 2001 caper remake is a textbook lesson in How To Destroy Everything People Liked About The First Film. Here, the plot isn’t clever, it’s stupid; worse, it cheats by going back on itself and changing the rules. The plot point about Julia Roberts’ character looking quite like Julia Roberts is also gobsmackingly irritating, to the extent that you want to punch the film repeatedly in the face. ARRRRGH! *punches film in face*

 

10. Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990)

Let’s finish with another part four, shall we? Going down the prequel route, this unwanted drivel purports to show us how Norman Bates became the man we all loved to be scared of. In doing so, the film completely misses the point of Hitchcock’s classic original: that horror can be found lurking in the most ordinary and benign situations – even behind the eyes of a seemingly nice young man like Norman. Just awful.

Cinematic heaven: watching the Alien trilogy on the big screen

As this is my first proper post, I’ll own up to my favourite film series: the Alien movies. Some films just make such an impact on you when you are surviving your formative years, that you can’t help but love them for the rest of your life. They are movies that you are intimately familiar with, that you can just sink in to each time you watch them. They do not breed over-familiarity; instead you notice something new about them each time, or they trigger a new thought or angle that you hadn’t considered before.

So it is with me and the Alien films. The first one I saw was James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), which I watched on video one summer holiday. It was the time in my youth when sci-fi, horror and fantasy computer games, films and magazines were the coolest things; when girls were still to be feared, but also secretly worshipped; and when watching 18-rated movies was finally becoming possible. I managed to convince my mum to rent Aliens out for me, as my sister had promised to rent out the just-released Alien 3 for me to watch while babysitting my extremely young nephew. I hadn’t even seen Alien yet, but I had heard of the Alien films and was intrigued by them. After I watched Aliens I knew this was just the best film ever made. It was (and still is) a tour-de-force. Every single element of the film is unified in to a perfect whole, which, considering how many elements there are in making a film, is a miracle. The action, the atmosphere, the music, the special effects, the instantly quotable script, the sets, the designs, the monsters themselves, the performances – what could possibly have been done to improve it? Ok, the lead character was a woman, but Sigourney was no stupid Hollywood babe, she was cool and quite sexy in her own weird kind of way. It was brilliant science fiction. Aliens invited me in to an entirely credible universe that I became hooked on.

Alien trilogy all-nighter flyer

So it was with huge anticipation that I awaited Alien 3 (1992). Not being a movie geek quite yet back then, I had no idea what the story was for the sequel. But it’s safe to say that the almost instantaneous demise of Hicks, Newt and Bishop was not what I expected. Talk about gutted. I’m sure these feelings are pretty much what every fan of Aliens felt when first seeing Alien 3. It was like A3 robbed the ending of Aliens of all its power and meaning.

And yet… and yet, I still loved it. The astonishing production design, the camerawork, the bleak setting, the prisoners of dubious loyalties, the weird new Alien – it still felt true to the Alien universe. The ending especially so. And that’s still what I feel today. Also, just like Aliens, it scared the crap out of me.

So, where next? Back to the original of course. I had yet to see The One That Started It All. Now, this is my main regret in watching the films out of order – that the surprise had been taken out of who survived Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). Of course, still being under 18, there was no way I was going to buy the video, if it was even available, and certainly renting was impossible (renting a 15 year old movie? Who ever heard of such a thing?). So it was that my first experience of Alien was on ITV one Saturday night, with my dad watching it too. The advert breaks didn’t spoil it for me: Scott’s movie could overcome any obstacle in it’s path. The thing that struck me at the time was that, even though I knew Ripley had to survive, and that the others almost certainly couldn’t, I was still rooting for them all. And the awesome sets and production design still looked cool. Like it’s sequel, it was a brilliant piece of science fiction.

Over the years, with repeated viewings, my opinions and critical tastes developed and changed. Aliens was the best one, easily. I increasingly disliked Alien 3. The first one was almost as good as Aliens. Then, Alien 3 wasn’t too bad actually. Later on Alien was the best one, with its greater emphasis on atmosphere and characterisation. Today, I still can’t pick between Alien and Aliens – they are both magnificent films, with different strengths. Alien 3 I still admire and support, although there’s no doubting its flaws. It brings the series to a logical and fitting ending in my view, while imprinting its own identity on the franchise.

Alien: Resurrection (1997) eventually came along, attempting to revive the story, when I was actually old enough to go to the cinema to see it. I enjoyed it then and enjoy it now, though there’s just a bit too much humour in it for my liking and its certainly the weakest of the series. Good story though (writer Joss Whedon recycled the concept to much greater effect with his short-lived but hugely enjoyable tv series Firefly). After several years they tried to take the series in a new direction with the spin-off Alien vs Predator (2004). There are of course many things wrong with this film, not least the fact that the Aliens aren’t remotely scary. It was nice to see Lance Henriksen back in the series however. Here’s hoping the forthcoming sequel Aliens vs Predator (2007) will salvage something from the wreckage.

My one great cinematic hope over the years was to be able to see the first three movies in a huge screen, preferably alone, or at least with an appreciative audience that similarly loved the movies. I saw the director’s cut of Alien in 2003, which was totally spoiled by two teenage twats in the back laughing and talking through it. I also saw an old print of Alien in a tiny screen in Cambridge, which was in distractingly poor condition.

Then… a miracle happened. My prayers were answered. Out of nowhere, the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge (Lord Bless them) announced they were screening an Alien trilogy all-nighter, from 11.30pm to 7am on a Saturday last June. In their biggest screen. 70mm prints, with THX sound. My brother noticed this first and pointed it out to me – my jaw dropped some several feet and I knew I had to be there, come hell or high water. I told him he had to come too, which he happily agreed to.

What can I say? To rediscover these films in such good condition, on such a big screen, was a revelation. The details in the picture, the atmosphere of the soundtracks. My only concern was not staying awake through the third picture – there was no way that Cameron’s adrenaline rush was going to let me fall asleep. And indeed by 6am, halfway through Alien 3, I could feel my eyelids start to droop. But I kept eating my trusty sweets, and kept refocusing, and made it through. It was pure cinematic heaven. Even the audience were well-behaved.

I love these movies – the epic stories, the action, the suspense, the tangible universe they created, the horror of the creatures themselves, the human characters who must face them, and Sigourney Weaver’s magnetic presence onscreen. I will always enjoy re-entering their universe. I only wish everyone could experience their favourite movies this way.