21 May 2017

Elites, Grunts, and Xenomorphs: Alien: Ark of the Covenant

Usually this is a Friday thing, you know, as to be relevant, but I'll be honest, this was a bit of a ludicrous week for me. I did not get to that shit. Nevertheless, we got another Alien movie coming out this week, which is a big deal. There have only been eight of them, and two are universally accepted as pretty good, so that's something to get really excited about. We've got Alien: Covenant (2017) today, which I don't totally care about, but if it's creepy scary good filmmaking we may have something worth talking about here. Let's get into the preview for a film that came out two days ago:
Get away from her you bitch!

The Alien Franchise has existed in this realm that straddles a lot of different genres and expectations. It's not totally weird for a horror film to have a dozen crappy sequels that excel in camp over artistic merit, but Alien is at least as much action as it is horror. Aliens (1986) was actually the first major blockbuster sequel to just trade up genres, and it did it in a brilliant simplistic way that's still worthy of emulation today, even if we've never really seen another franchise pull it off.

Really, though, this thing goes back to 1979, which is actually kind of an amazing longevity. No film in the series has really been great since Aliens, though. David Fincher's Alien 3 (1992) has its moments for sure, it's never really caught on as iconic as any other film in the series. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection (1997) is actually a pretty fun grimy flick, but is by no means what I'd call a good movie. Still, there's Ron Pearlman, Winona Ryder, that weird basketball scene, and of course the super creepy white alien / human hybrid whatever. It's got some stuff.

In the 2000s all we got were AVP films, and while the first one is kind of cool in that same Resurrection way of campy ridiculousness that more or less delivers, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) has next to no positive features of any kind. That's actually despite being the only one of eight films that's set in the present day within the confines of the United States. That's clearly the issue here. Despite all this, there has actually been a decent continuity in terms of the Weyland-Yutani's history and all that crap.

Then there's Prometheus (2012). Listen, sitting in the theater I liked Prometheus a lot. I wrote more about Prometheus at the time than I had about any other film in Norwegian Morning Wood history. Five years gone I think a lot of that love has evaporated, but culturally the film did actually make a sizable impact, even if it was ultimately negative. I had a lot of rationale for it at the time, but after five years of intense thought and deliberation, fuck that, this movie made no sense, no motivation or interaction lands with conviction, and the inconsistencies and unfulfilled mysteries are too grand to ignore. After some close examination that's more Damon Lindelof than Ridley Scott's direction, which is pretty great. The production, cast, and general themes all land pretty hard and I wouldn't call it a terrible waste.

Then we get to the present day. Ridley Scott, somehow at age 79 is coming back to a more Alien (1979) level of thrills rather than Prometheus level of bullshit. That's just the issue, though - by all means this looks like an exact retread of Alien rather than anything interesting. That's the Star Wars Prequels - Disney sequels argument - as bad as the prequels were, they were new and different. The sequels may be better as films by adhering to what made the originals great, but that's still somehow not satisfying. Scott is also a notoriously finicky director who cuts and re-cuts his films all the time, and whose recent work has ranged from pretty awesome to pretty shit. It's hard to have any real exceptions about Covenant at all.

One thing that is cool is the cast, which is pretty sweet. Billy Crudup, Demian Bichir, and especially the bizarre casting of Danny McBride and James Franco in a horror movie (even if the latter apparently isn't around for too long) is intriguing. Above all, though, is Katherine Waterston, who I've been cheering for getting a big mainstream role since Inherent Vice (2014). Sure she's got Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) too now, I guess, but that's a bunch of bullshit and you know it. She's got a Ripley haircut here, what more do you need.

There's also Mike Fassbender, but as a different android? Or maybe David's head shows up again? I don't know. I'm also unsure if Noomi Rapace shows up again, I think I read she does, but if it's a minor or cameo part, that's also a kind of thumb in the ass for the genuine Prometheus fans, right? Like, it sucked, but that was because it ended and promised all the answers to its horse shit in its sequel. Covenant seems to be like, nah, that sucked, we're doing some different shit now. That's fine and could make for a more satisfying cinematic experience, but it's also getting rid of a reason why we might have retro-actively liked Prometheus. It all goes to show that Lindelof really didn't have any fucking idea what he was doing or secretly cool underlying mystery here. Maybe there will be some kind of pay-off. Who knows.
At least it brushes its teeth.

Typically the point of this post is to present the impending culturally, critical, and commercial potential of upcoming big blockbuster films. We've already seen the commercial impact, and it did pretty decent in the sense that it ousted Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), but that's no huge feat in its third week of release. Critically it seems to have done okay, and there is some cultural impact with advancing the Alien narrative and that shot of the buggy on the roof is creepy and iconic. Good enough, right? I would have suggested it does just fine, and probably better than I thought it might have after seeing the first trailer a few months ago, which was all sorts of whatever. It'll at least be good enough until Baywatch (2017) drops, which I really think will take over Memorial Day and kick off summer.

What do you think? What's the best Alien movie? Is Covenant's shirking of Prometheus a positive leap forward or a cheap shot against those who wanted a delayed payoff? Sound off below.

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