I have a weakness for Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, partially due to its ominous vision, but mostly because the original was so well made, everything from characters and plot to music and foley. The franchise has struggled with the basics ever since, but none as tremendously as Alien Covenant. If there was one good thing to say, it would be the revelation that the alien is, indirectly, our own creation. However even this is tainted, as the cyborg responsible only did it as revenge for having been forced to serve tea to his creator.The film is a gratuitous, gruesome mess. Lowlights abound – a floating head, aliens bursting from mouths and spines, alien eggs kept in the basement – but most depressing of all is the self-plagiarism from Ridley Scott’s other franchise, Blade Runner, stealing Roy Batty’s line, “That’s the spirit!” in the midst of yet another bland and deadly tussle. Sadly, there is no spirit here, just horror cliches and a cgi crew big enough to colonize another planet. Which they should not do.
The idea behind Ridley Scott’s The Martian could be intriguing: What if someone were to be stranded alone on a distant planet? As unoriginal as the premise is – a sci-fi staple often used countless Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits episodes – it still has the potential of the vast unknown. However that potential is quickly wasted in The Martian as it can never rise above a tedious salute to American ingenuity, what eventually becomes a mind-numbingly extended episode of MacGyver.
The script is an abomination, the Chief of NASA actually saying “…if nothing goes wrong” right before…something goes wrong. Character development is non-existent, and not a single word is invested into the psychology of being abandoned in space, excepting the long zoom-ins of everyone becoming more empathetic. It’s astounding that $108 million can be dumped into such a meaningless and vacuous project, and then go on to earn close to $600 million; Ridley Scott hoodwinked us again. Which makes me wonder when his Alien/Blade Runner credentials will finally run out.
When I presented my first novel, The Sacred Whore, to my mother, she grimaced. “Where am I in there?”
My family is certainly a grow-op of raw material but it lacks the dynamics needed for a good story. One of my earliest, and clunkiest attempts – Fashion for the Apocalypse – an awkward thing that must stay buried in the backyard, is exhaustive in meandering ruminations and presents family in a tedious and pointless light.
“How’s your dinner?” My mother peered over at me. “I made two extra vegetables for you. We’re having chicken.”
I looked at my broccoli, beans, tomatoes and potatoes on my plate. “It”s delicious.”
While I’ve stuck with writing what I know, I’ve learned to tighten and hone. From Black Ice:
My mother grabbed the arm of my shirt. “What happened? What were you thinking of?”
“I didn’t do anything! He just stopped breathing.”
“How, Cameron?” My father was across the room, holding my dead brother’s jacket. “How did he stop breathing?”
“I don’t know. He just…stopped.”
“You suffocated him!?” My mother wrenched my arm up. “Did you suffocate him?!”
My father rolled the jacket under his arm. “Michelle…”
I was surprised how calm he was, how slowly he took my mother’s arm and pulled her back.
“We have to stay calm.”
It’s a balancing act, finding those moments, making them into something that is true, just not too true, because that can be really boring.
I have always been a sucker – like a Christmas Tree – for Science Fiction films. I was insanely hyped for Prometheus (2012), Sunshine (2007) and Event Horizon (1997) and, 15 minutes after the opening credits, let down by a predictably dull and stupid story. And I expect Oblivion (2013) will be the same. However every once in a while, there are films that follow through past the set-up, that actually have a thought-out story with characters who are interesting and a plot that intrigues to the end. Here are my Top Five:
5. Planet of the Apes (1968) The costumes and sets might be dated, but the concept and characters work very well. The relationship between Taylor and Zira challenges us to this day. 4 Alien (1979) This film has everything in it, from the typical military conspiracy to grumbling union guys and, of course, the alien’s retractable punching bag jaw. Signourney Weaver’s Ripley is one of the great female leads in science fiction. 3. The Road Warrior (1981) Mad Max is a great ant-hero, and the villains have ever since been used as prototypes for the post-apocalyptic films that followed. Max’s dog provides the tragedy.2. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) The human – and alien – aspect is developed beautifully with some unsettling moments of alien sexuality. It is a contemplative film that makes great demands of the audience.1. Blade Runner (1982) This is at the top of many lists not only because it is a well-constructed film with a strong setting, story and cast of characters, but also because of its fidelity to the tenets of the Film Noir genre.
I’ve given up on Battlestar Galactica. I lasted through six episodes and lost interest. Not only did the story get boring – how many hyper-jumps can you make in one episode? – but the characters were just wooden and silly…which of course leads to the disappointment of the highly touted sexy Cylon, Number Six:The red dress is something, but she isn’t. The truth is that she is exhausting in her incessant nymphomaniac demands and in the end makes sex seem dull. There is no subtlety, no mystery. Number Six offers no more than a Westworld Medieval robotor the amusingly named Gigolo Jane from A.I.The problem is that Number Six doesn’t have the substance of a major character; there’s only the one look and the one demand. While she might look great in her red dress, she remains light years behind her predecessors, Maria from MetropolisTerminatrix from Terminator 3or Pris from Blade Runner.Being a sexy robot isn’t easy. You can’t just stroke and pose like Galaxina. You have to come through with something else, an out-of-this-galaxy sort of appeal. A name would be good too.