Alien Territory Part 5

Film

Five parts is enough for any blog article, so let’s put this baby to bed.

With nowhere to go except Earth (something only audiences expressed a desire to see) the Alien franchise now did what it always did – it shifted gear into an unexpected direction. For the fifth film, out went Sigourney Weaver and her storyline, now as tangled and tortuous as that of the ‘Saw’ franchise, and back came director Ridley Scott, shooting in 3D and exploring the long-gestating ideas behind the first story. It had been recognised that the Alien films were no longer frightening – but perhaps instead they could still be good science fiction. What emerged was so different that it became a separate parallel sequence expanding the original concept.

Prometheus

Ridley Scott was becoming more philosophical in his approach to filmmaking. ‘Blade Runner 2049’ was pretty much an arthouse movie, with a storyline about self-awareness that might have belonged in a Bergman film. As to where the director was going next, the clue’s in the title. We’re in at the start, the origin of the species, as the DNA of new life is tossed into an immense waterfall (actually Gullfoss in Iceland – I stood at that spot when it was frozen solid, a humbling experience).

In the 21st century an expedition is funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce), the ancient CEO of Weyland Corporation, to find the Engineers – the ‘Space Jockey’ of the first film – on their home planet. They’re the source, the starting point for everything that has gone before. They hold the secrets of life that Weyland, Elon Musk-like, wants for himself, there presumably being nothing else he conceivably needs except eternal life.

The god-like beings are sought by the first solid cast in an age, Michael Fassbender as the too-perfect new android David, the disappointingly blank Noomi Rapace as Shaw the archeologist, Charles Theron as the sinister Weyland employee who you know will do something awful, and Idris Elba. The invasion and destruction of the human crew is more complex, messy and insidious than usual as it becomes clear that the Engineers were creating a lethal viral bioweapon. Where once interaction with the local fauna was lethal, now invisible spores in the air bring death, and nowhere is safe.

Rapace has the film’s most wince-making moment when she performs auto-surgery to remove an alien being from her body. The scene feels unbelievable in a film striving to present a serious argument, and the balancing act of action and thoughtfulness is almost lost.

The crew learn that life givers are also life takers, as the Engineers sought to replace earlier races with their own and now threaten Earth but honestly, don’t beat me up in the Comments section if I’ve got this wrong. The scale of storytelling is more largely writ, a cinema of ideas at least attempted here, as the Titans defy their gods. Indeed, humanity’s relationship with their creators and the danger of defying them is the plot motor; Rapace will be punished for her religious beliefs, and all are made to suffer for their hubris. Ridley Scott is known to have been interested in creation myths about gods who create man in their own image by sacrificing a piece of themselves.

Knowing that the franchise had been dealt a series of lethal blows by over-exposing its central monster, the story now ran on a different path without the presence of the creature – nor is it missed. Scott tried to avoid the kind of digital effects that date films more badly than actors’ hairstyles, and produced the most iconic scenes in camera. The effort pays off, for there’s a grandeur that suggests we puny humans really are the mental and physical pygmies the crew of the Betty showed themselves to be in ‘Alien Resurrection’.

The film ends with its questions unresolved, but it was a critical and financial hit, so Scott’s ideas about gods and humans could be given full flow in the immediate sequel. 

Alien Covenant

The philosophical ideas deferred from ‘Prometheus’ were explored more fully in the follow-up, which feels as if it has now bisected the Blade Runner universe – no bad thing in my book. Clearly the middle section of a new trilogy, ‘Alien Covenant’ starts with an oblique conversation between android David and his creator, Peter Weyland, ending on a disturbing note that suggests AI has already started to replace humanity. The first part follows an established pattern – landing on a new planet (unusually not a hellhole but ‘too perfect’ for colonisation) and unexpected infection brought back to the ship.

But from here it veers away from formula into new territory, and the jigsaw pieces start to fit. We’re on the planet that Elisabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) died on, and AI in the form of Weyland’s David androids is planning to displace unworthy humans with a perfect species. Interspersed with nicely unsettling action beats, the film’s philosophy matches that of ‘Frankenstein’ as this very modern Prometheus takes a more vengeful route to the cleansing of the world. Add in some frankly offbeat scenes -it takes some directorial clout to pull off a lengthy scene with the two Davids learning to play the recorder – and you have a satisfying viewing experience that becomes much sharper the second time you see it.

Clearly the film hadn’t all gone to plan – new footage of Rapace was scrapped and she does not appear, and 22 minutes of unused footage made it to the Blu-Ray edition. But the stage has been set for the oldest question of all – Why are we here? – to be answered. Weyland wants a further lease of life from the Engineers, David is rolling out his new vision for a perfect world and humans are the by-products getting in the way of reshaping the universe.

The film’s box office take was ‘disappointing’ according to Fox, who still came out in profit and green-lit the last part. One of their biggest headaches is not enticing women into theatres – the films are seen as highly male-skewed, although I have no idea why. Perhaps someone here will enlighten?

Big themes, big SF, the only spanner in the works being Sigourney Weaver’s mooted return to the other series, the timeline of which cannot be disturbed if it is to match up with the final part of the Prometheus trilogy, which must leave us at the outset of the very first film. Quite how this high-wire act will work is anyone’s guess, but if they pull it off we’ll be left with an admittedly flawed but satisfying cycle of movies about the origins of life in the universe. It’s a good story, which is why it’s here on a writer’s blog.

10 comments on “Alien Territory Part 5”

  1. admin says:

    Hang on, chaps….

    A WordPress glitch decided to eliminate the comments in this section, not to mention cloning the article all over the place, so I had to reinstall it. Which means I’ve lost your comments, and as you’re likely to have hurled them from the top of your heads rather than saving them (no names, Snowy) they may be lost in the aether forever…

  2. snowy says:

    Let’s hope nobody finds a cache anywhere! Or they will be able to read them.

    Comment on Alien Territory Part 5 by Adam
    Comments
    1 hour ago

    Does anyone know why cast Guy Pearce, and then make him wear old-man prosthetics? I can only assume that there were unfilmed/cut scenes of a younger Weyland.

    Prometheus worked really well on the big screen, with a great, dissonant score that enhanced the feeling of unease.

    Comment on Alien Territory Part 5 by snowy
    Comments
    1 hour ago

    They are not bad, just not very interesting.

    ‘Prometheus’ seems to be a re-run of ‘Alien’ with a bigger budget. Confusing start, characters that aren’t particularly likeable. Crew go to planet, discover someone has been there before, meet some unfriendly fauna, do things no sensible person would do, things don’t end well.

    ‘Covenant’ a crew are awakened unexpectedly and decide to investigate a transmission coming from a planet. Have we heard this before? Then it goes a bit ‘Apocalypse Now’, but this time ‘Kurtz’ isn’t worn out and longing for an end – he wants to go further…

    The trouble with having a story arc that spans 3 films, it only fills a third of each film leaving great yawning gaps that have to be filled up with something.

    Why the make-up?

    “Writer Jon Spaihts says his drafts involved a meeting in Weyland’s office — which at various times was either on a space station, or actually on the surface of Mars, right in the middle of the terraforming project. “Terraforming was much more Mr. Weyland’s burning dream in my drafts,” says Spaihts.

    Oh, and as for why Weyland is played by Guy Pearce in old-man makeup, Spaihts says Damon Lindelof’s script showed the android David going inside Weyland’s dreams while he was in hypersleep — and in his dreams, Weyland is a young man, on a yacht surrounded by beautiful women. These dream conversations got cut, but Pearce’s casting was already locked in. Scott had originally wanted to cast Max von Sydow as Peter Weyland. (In Spaiht’s script versions, Weyland isn’t aboard the Prometheus at all — instead, there’s a hidden squad of company soldiers.).”

    Comment on Alien Territory Part 5 by Stuart W
    Comments
    35 minutes ago

    Ridley Scott may have had a Producer role of some kind on Blade Runner 2049, but it was directed by Denis Villeneuve.

    Comment on Alien Territory Part 5 by snowy
    Comments
    20 minutes ago

    “…the films are seen as highly male-skewed, although I have no idea why.”

    Me neither…. if I did, I’d be so immensely rich I really could afford a home built of gold and steel, a diamond car, with the per-latinum wheels.

    [But… it doesn’t mean it is completely impossible to get an idea if the data exists in some form…. Thinks…..? ……? ……!]

    Comment on Alien Territory Part 5 by admin
    Comments
    18 minutes ago

    Yet it doesn’t particularly feel like a Villeneuve film. I always wonder where a producer’s shepherding role becomes more controlling…

  3. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy saves a copy of all the comments?! Ye gods and little fishes!

  4. snowy says:

    [I don’t myself, but the feed reader I added to the browser caches the last 10 comments and displays them as a page.]

  5. Chris Lancaster says:

    No mention of the Alien vs Predator films. Which is probably for the best …

  6. Brian says:

    Mr. Lancaster! Please don’t encourage Admin on this; we have sat through quite enough already.

  7. Jan says:

    I know it’s largely because I am a numpty but I quite liked the first Alien v Predator picture.

    Even though they cleverly confined the action to the Artic (touch of The Thing) at least Alien finally came to the earth and parts of the idea were well executed.

    I liked the original Predator film too. Cos for me it was an original story. Was exciting and clever
    Arnie acting with a group of actors he had worked with before from”Running Man” I have all of a sudden twigged how many actors work within a familiar sort of ongoing ensemble.

  8. Derek J Lewis says:

    Hey Jan.
    i’m with you on Predator. Especially when you get added Shane Black. I think he wrote most of the wiseass badinage too incidentally kiss,kiss,bang,bang is a perfect lockdown film. If you don’t laugh at the pre-credit scene…

  9. Penelope says:

    I find it so serendipitous that Admin chose to review the Alien movies just now, as I have been watching and rewatching Prometheus and Covenant with my partner. Normally I am not a big contemporary movie person. That is, I wouldn’t watch Alien/s (too squelchy). But there is a lot to Prometheus, as you pointed out, and I’d love to bore y’all by adding some thoughts!

    My idea of the perfect sci-fi author is John Wyndham, with a little Asimov thrown in. Some of the difficulties the humans have with David, and Walter if they stopped to think about how they interact with him, are very much the scope of the I, Robot stories. The robot with a screw loose is perfectly acted by Fassbinder. And I’d just like to let people know about the amazing ancillary material on YouTube: the “ads” for David 8, Walter, and Guy Pearce’s amazing “Ted Talk” (which also helps to explain casting a younger actor). It’s humbling to see what happens to a vital man, and it happens to us all if we live long enough. These contemporary touches are smart thinking on someone’s part.

    Also, I think David is a truly wonderful creation. His sly humour and scary agenda, which expands into Covenant so well, is a real masterstroke by Ridley Scott/Fassbinder.

    We loved Noomi; I’m surprised she left you so cold. I think her acting during the C-section scene was awesome. There are a lot of dimwits in the crew, who really don’t add to the film at all, but for me, David and Shaw are a dream team. Did you know she was named after another great British scientist, Liz Shaw, Dr. Who’s extremely capable sidekick?

    Covenant. Well, the whole crew sucks. But I guess we have to wait and see what happens next…

  10. Jan says:

    That’s so interesting Penelope. I am always so busy thinking about the scary .monster and it’s reproductive cycle I feel like I’ve been a total numpty and missed lots of v important stuff. This is very familiar SF territory and I haven’t given enough thought to it and I have not properly considered the implications of David and his predecessors glitches.

    Out of the three only Cameron’s heroic cyborg (!) came good Lance Herikson the guy it could be with the very deep voice whose a big SF actor. If that’s his name my memory is developing glitches of its own.

    A very real factor in the unease and general dysfunction of the crews tackling the Alien menace comes from the inclusion of a non human (subserviant?) member.

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