Monday, 22 May 2017

Alien: Covenant Review (Spoilers)

Waiter, there's a bug on my windshield. 
The first thing I wrote on this blog, five years ago, was a review of Prometheus. You can see it here.

Now, the sequel is out.

Prometheus, for me, was a very flawed yet intensely interesting film.

Covenant is less flawed, but also less interesting.

Instead of following up on questions of its predecessor, Covenant wastes time rehashing Alien tropes. That's entirely understandable, it's a franchise, but it's also tedious.

The xenomorph is not even the real monster in this movie.

The film begins with David (Michael Fassbender) being brought online by the uncredited Guy Pierce as the inventor Weyland.

David's a little cheeky, pointing out how he will not die but his creator will, which doesn't sit well with Weyland, who sourly orders David to pour him tea. Know your place, android!

This dynamic, the subordination of David to what the exceptional android regards as an inferior human master, sets in motion events that will eventually have dreadful consequences. David's the resentful, unloved son and this hatred builds up to homicidal levels over the decades. Eventually, when opportunity presents, he takes a pointer from Milton's Satan and decides to rule in Hell instead of serve in Heaven.

David's a flat out psychopath, devoid of empathy and capable of lying and even murdering without hesitation or remorse. Untrustworthy, manipulative, and the ultimate user, he betrays and dissects those he claims to love. Shaw, who helped reattach David's disembodied head, gets turned into a horrific medical experiment for her trouble.

Honestly, with friends like David, who needs enemies?

He's an immortal android version of Hannibal Lector mashed up with Victor von Frankenstein. Or Josef Mengele. He just doesn't eat people with a nice glass of Chianti.

At the heart of this is one of the interesting questions the film raises: if we create superior beings, would they not resent serving inferior masters? Ridley Scott explored much the same question in the classic Blade Runner. If we treat them badly, will they not learn from such mistreatment?

Psychopathy, a Cluster B Type personality disorder, is linked to a lack of parental love and care during childhood, along with narcissism and sociopathy.

That fits Davey to a T.

From Weyland's tea room we skip ahead several decades to the colony ship Covenant, headed towards a distant planet. The crew picks up a signal, a John Denver song, from a nearby planet and decide to investigate.

Bad decision.

Straight of Galaxy Quest ('Is there air???') the crew step out on the surface without space helmets or breathing gear and are promptly infected. Proto-aliens start popping out and wreaking havoc and their lander blows up.

A mysterious figure (David, naturally) shows up and drives off the little alien critters, then leads the surviving crew to his Necropolis. The planet, it seems, was once inhabited, and David lives in the city of its dead inhabitants. They're corpses strewn all over the place, like plaster casts from Pompeii, only scorched black. All contorted in positions of agony.

David claims they died thanks to an accidental release of a toxic payload, which then caused their ship to crash, killing Shaw.

Everything he says is naturally a lie, but as an android servant everyone believes him.

Fassbender gets some interesting scenes with himself, as David plays against Walter, the colony ship's newer version synthetic. David spends a couple minutes of screen time teaching Walter how to play the flute, and this scene is more interesting than anything involving Giger's monster.

Walter's just like David, only incapable of creation. And he has an American accent. Seems humans found David too unnerving, too human, and put restrictions on subsequent models. A wise decision, as David reveals to his brother android that he not only wiped out the alien civilization on the planet deliberately, but murdered Shaw, whom he professed to love.

Hey, it's Data versus Lore! Haven't seen that before.

There's a nice call out to Arnold Bocklin's Isle of the Dead, which is almost exactly duplicated in the dead city's garden. Oddly enough, there's a Giger based version of the original painting, too.

Giger does Bocklin
David reveals to the hapless colony ship captain his genetic experiments, which he reassures the captain are totally harmless: alien eggs.

Harmless my ass.

'What are they waiting for?' asks the captain. 'Mother,' replies David. Yeah, there's the sexual subtext of the Alien franchise spelled out for ya in a spot of on the nose dialogue. The faithful captain's immediately impregnated, and before you can say 'boo' a tiny alien bursts out of his chest and starts hunting down his fellow colonists. It grows on air, apparently, because five minutes later this thing is six feet tall.

We are then treated to a nightmarish romp through Frankenstein's castle, as crew members succumb one after another to Giger's black-boned terror.

The ship in orbit sends down their cargo lifter to rescue the survivors, who try and escape from David's clutches.

One of them has, of course, also been impregnated with an alien egg.

So why's David doing this? Seems he's eager to create the ultimate life form, but he needs subjects for his experiments. When he learns there are 2000 frozen colonists and 1000 embryos in orbit, he practically squeals with glee.

Walter, the android who can't create, tries to stop David. They have a super powered android on android fight, and the end is left unseen. Why? So we don't know who won.

Because you just know it isn't Walter. David cuts off his hand (Walter loses his earlier, saving the movie's heroine, Daniels) to trick the crew into believing he's the good android.

Daniels, the requisite Alien franchise kick ass female hero, is mostly a blank. She doesn't get developed much beyond being competent and wanting to build a log cabin, and that point is only there so she can have the horrific realization as she's put to sleep in her cryotube that it's David standing before her and not Walter (who knew her cabin story). But this isn't a surprise. You can see this 'twist' coming a mile away, which eliminates any real suspense.

In fact, the only people the movie really fleshes out are not people. The android David is the anti-hero, and Walter is pale, dutiful reflection.

The ending is extremely bleak, with the doomed crew in cryosleep, heading off to their original destination, only this time as fodder for David's twisted medical experiments.

None of them will survive. But they're all idiots, so you can't feel too bad about it. As the best and brightest mankind has to offer, you expect a bit more from them than the franchise will allow. In fact, the lesser Alien movies all depend on stupid characters for the plot to move ahead.

The reveal that David is behind the xenomorph, while interesting, takes away from the grand, terrifying scale of the universe. Everything winds up being about us, created by us, or influenced by us, whether directly or indirectly. It's like Star Wars, a galaxy where everyone is related.

Complaining about David's antics, however, is pointless as it is at the core of the film. It's the theme Ridley Scott is most interested in: the betrayal of humanity by our own creations. And David von Frankenstein is the most interesting character. All the Alien stuff, all the humans, are just a distraction from what Scott's really interested in: androids. The children of our minds. The rest? Just there to satisfy the requirements of the franchise and the studio and the box office.

I'd prefer it if Ridley Scott went completely off the plantation and abandoned the whole xenomorph thing. It's just not interesting anymore. There's so much more they could do with this universe. Prometheus took some incoherent stabs at it. It'd be great if they let some of the top sci-fi writers today throw out ideas to expand upon the premise of horror in space.

The black goo is 'revealed' as a kind of schizoid bioweapon that either disintegrates outright or alters DNA and converts the infected organism into a killing machine. We knew that already but here they spell it out.

Why David would see these killing machines as the ultimate form of life is beyond me. The alien in the film seems to have little in the way of curiosity or personality, so what about it does he find fascinating? It's just a parasite.

What an awesome shot. Ridley Scott has visual flair, as always.
David states flat out he wants to stop humanity, but the black goop is damn good at doing just that. Dropping one cargo load of it wiped out a far more advanced civilization, so why not just dump a few payloads on earth? Why do you even need to refine it? And if the engineers have this weapon, why don't they have any defenses against it? Are they so hive minded they've never had to worry about rogue lunatics using it against them?

And since the engineer's world had a ton of black goo dropped on it, you'd think there'd be plenty of bioweapon altered critters running around. Only there are none, just a few eggs that David developed, and he needs hosts for them. What kind of perfect life form is so hobbled? If they are so wondrous, why are they so dependent on human hosts?

Why are all the bioweapon created creatures all dead and gone? If they simply die off after their target (and food source?) is destroyed, how are they superior? They're not only utterly dependent, they're too stupid to know that completely eliminating their food source will spell their own destruction.

Some superior form of life. They're even more short sighted than humanity.

And what happened to the engineers? Why do they have, seemingly, Stone Age technology, when they're piloting star ships? Why hasn't the planet been visited since by more engineers?

Who know? Who cares?

The dead alien world was fascinating. The Necropolis was cool. The Bocklin garden eerie. But I'm not really invested in the film beyond that. The human characters are bland and forgettable, except for the cowboy hat. That cowboy hat can really act. It had personality!

 I wonder who wore it?

What if Shaw's story had continued, and she found that the civilization of the engineers long dead? Why did the engineers need a bioweapon, anyway? Who, or what, were they fighting?

Colony ship blues. From Spacewrecks by Alistair Crowley
The whole thing reminds me of picture book Spacewrecks.

That was fun.

This film? Mostly an uneven if generally gorgeous Alien rehash.

Take it or leave it.







Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hanging My Petite Bourgeois Revolution


My Petite Bourgeois Revolution at Northern Contemporary Gallery. The show's coming together amazingly well. Almost 40 artists from all over the world.

Opens tomorrow.

Drop by and say hi!