Alien movies: “Alien: Covenant”

Is Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant a true return to sci-fi horror form or just another philosophical tale about the creation of mankind?

Alien: Covenant
(USA/UK 2017, director: Ridley Scott)

The colonization spaceship Covenant tracks down a rogue transmission from a planet off-course and finds the android Walter who somehow survived the disaster of the Prometheus mission, while an alien lifeform starts evolving and killing the crew members.

Ridley Scott doesn’t seem to know what he wants with his new interpretation of the Alien movies. While he tries something new with an android/humankind creation story and mixes it with the alien creatures, the whole setup of a crew landing on an unknown planet is obviously as old as his original version and what happened in Prometheus. However, unlike in Alien and especially Aliens where Lieutenant Ripley becomes an icon of the series and a personality one can easily relate to, the new heroine Daniels portrayed by Katherine Waterston is such an annoying crybaby that one actually wants her to be killed by the alien ASAP. It doesn’t happen very often that one finds a character who cries in almost every scene and then only in the final 20 minutes becomes the gun-wielding tough gal. The rest of the crew isn’t much to write home about, either, with even more stupid actions and dialogues that only serve as fillers rather than making them emotionally interesting or memorable.

Of course the biggest concern is that this is rather a story about androids and their relationship to man, with the alien only making very short and rather unspectacular appearances thanks to a new creature design that looks unintentionally cute and ridiculous in their first stages, except for the finale when one finally gets to see a much nastier evolution. If only the philosophical blabbering would be kept down to a minimum and didn’t have such an impact on the slow pacing of the plot development, then one could actually enjoy the dark atmosphere. But unfortunately the pretentious dialogue between two Michael Fassbenders as the identical-looking David/Walter models is enough to wish that they’d get their own Star Trek episode and let the alien do what it does best: chasing its prey and killing. Granted, there are some uncomfortable body horror scenes and the finale is quite explosive, but this isn’t anything one hasn’t seen before. These segments always feel as if Scott would have much rather done a philosophical sci-fi movie without bothering about the whole facehugger/xenomorph ideas, but then he realized people were expecting this, so the sequences were just thrown in to please fans, which they obviously fail to do, as one never cares about the characters and simply wishes that another director would finally take the Alien franchise and bring it back on track. Even taking it as a standalone sci-fi movie without the Alien title attached to it, it leaves the audience unsatisfied, as the whole android origin story has been done to death in sci-fi and isn’t resolved in any particularly interesting way.

Score: 4/10

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Alien movies: “Prometheus (2012)”

Even if there’s no Alien in the title, does Ridley Scott’s sci-fi movie do the quadrilogy justice or is it something completely different?

Prometheus (2012)
(USA 2012, director: Ridley Scott)

The spaceship Prometheus and its crew find a planet where alien creators of humanity might come from and are soon confronted with something much more sinister to kill them.

Telling prequel stories comes with its problems, as one expects things to make sense for what follows and what one already knows. While Prometheus does a good job of creating a mysterious sci-fi atmosphere with an epic soundtrack and impressive cinematography, it loses itself in philosophical and religious discussions that have never been part of the Alien mythology, as it doesn’t need them. Characters one doesn’t care about and who do some truly stupid and unintentionally funny things don’t make matters any better, either. The biggest issue is that Scott tries to explain how the alien race of which only remnants were discovered in the first Alien movie have a bigger purpose for humanity without providing satisfying answers. The lore still remains as cryptic as before with the alien lifeform the series is known for only partly shown at the end, but in a different version. So despite a 2 hour run-time, the movie builds up to a climax that is only the beginning of something that isn’t resolved and that doesn’t quite fit with what Scott did in the first place. Then again it seems that the director’s intention to make a prequel ended up to be a reboot of the series, which is obviously a nice way of saying he can do whatever he wants without thinking about narrative consistency… or logic.

However, what Ridley Scott achieves is to give the audience a sense of classic sci-fi exploration and body horror that had been lost in the fourth installment. Even if the main actress is a poor Ripley replacement, as she’s just too whiny and uninteresting, the ordeals she’s put through come close to the original vision of fighting for survival. A surprising amount of gore and well-done action set-pieces after an unspectacular and dialogue-heavy beginning save this from becoming a forgettable experience. It might not be a good Alien movie, but it’s certainly entertaining enough, even if it isn’t nearly as clever and deep as the director makes it out to be.

Score: 7/10

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Alien movies: “Alien 1-4”

With the newest Ridley Scott Alien movie released this year, it’s about time to go back to where it all started and how different directors used H.R. Giger’s frightening creature design in the original quadrilogy.

Alien
(USA 1979, director: Ridley Scott)

After receiving a distress call from an unknown planet and investigating, the crew of the merchant ship Nostromo is soon confronted with an evolving alien lifeform that is out to kill them in space.

Calling the original Alien a masterpiece would be too easy and lame, but it seems that cinema lovers across the world prefer to dwell in the past and choose this classic over all its sequels. I’s true that the creature design is still frightening, the atmosphere is dark and claustrophobic, and there are some very intense and memorable scenes, especially towards the end. But like any Ridley Scott movie, it’s very slow-paced. Some might argue this is to build tension, and in a way that’s true. But if characters are introduced that aren’t really that deep (including Ripley) with too much time spent on talking, one should consider asking the question if the movie isn’t a bit overrated.

The screen time of the alien itself isn’t as long as one would imagine, but just like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Ridley Scott’s movie is more effective in playing with people’s fears and expectations than showing it all the time. Fortunately, unlike the underwater horror flick, when the creature is shown, it’s not in the least disappointing. Special effects aren’t dated, either, which mostly has to do with that they’re not overused. There is some overacting with unintentionally funny scenes, but as it stands, the soundtrack is timeless and the movie is still very watchable despite its rather long run-time after all these years.

Score: 8/10

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Aliens
(USA 1983, director: James Cameron)

57 years later, the alien planet is colonized but soon contact is lost, and it’s up to Lieutenant Ripley of the Nostromo and a group of marines to see what happened.

The plural form title sums up the whole movie pretty well: more aliens, more suspense, more action, more Ripley. Even if it takes a third of the playtime until the fighting starts, it never gets boring, with enough emotional scenes that give Ripley more depth (even more so in the Special Edition which mentions her daughter that would become especially important for the game Alien: Isolation), and entertaining marine talk scenes.

It all seems very militaristic, but the presentation fits the general tone of the movie that sets itself apart from the first one by having one memorable action set-piece following another, and with the sheer number of aliens attacking, it’s only reasonable to counter it with more firepower. Some of the special effects like the flight sequences might feel a bit dated, but the pacing is perfect and again shows that Cameron knows how to make things explode and deliver intense action sequences, accompanied by a great score from James Horner. Considering how family-friendly and boring Avatar would later become, it’s an amazing experience to return to this sequel time and again and be just as thrilled today as when it was released.

Score: 9/10

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Alien 3
(USA 1992, director: David Fincher)

Ripley crash-lands on the maximum security prison planet Fiorina 161, only to find out that the alien terror followed her and starts decimating the inmates.

The Alien series has always been about body horror in some way or another. This isn’t more true than here, although religion and morality is another big topic, and it’s here where the movie goes in a wrong direction. While the idea of having a group of inmates who try to make the best of their lives on a planet that society and technology has forgotten is great, there is simply too much talk between characters one really doesn’t feel any compassion for. The biggest problem is the pacing, though. Despite presenting an environment with all kinds of corridors and ventilation shafts where the alien can hide, the infrequent attacks never feel as terrifying as in the original movie. The less said about the bad CGI creature scenes, the better.

This is too bad, because the decrepit setting is quite fitting, and what happens at the beginning and at the end of the movie is of a darker subject matter than any Alien movie has delivered so far. But suspense is lacking, and only when the chase sequences and lots of blood shedding in addition to plenty of gore start, does the movie finally redeem itself as a true sequel and also as a final act. David Fincher has certainly done some great movies like Fight Club, S7ven or Zodiac, but this isn’t really his best work, only picking up the scraps left behind by former writers and fired directors.

Score: 7/10

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Alien Resurrection
(USA 1997, director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Ripley is revived after 200 years, and together with a group of space pirates, she has to prevent a military ship with aliens running loose to reach Earth.

After a rather lackluster third instalment that had atmosphere but no real suspense, this is a completely different Alien movie in both tone and presentation. This doesn’t come as a surprise, though, considering that director Jean-Pierre Jeunet did Amélie or Delicatessen, French movies that were weird comedies, but that weren’t really horror (although it’s debatable with the last one). So there’s quite a lot of humor here, some that works, and some that doesn’t. The biggest problem is that there are very touching and horrible moments that are mixed with one-liners and action set-pieces with an unprecedented amount of gore, with some genetic manipulation critique thrown in.

One could argue that the new Alien movie manages to bring back the revolting body horror with much faster pacing to create a mix of the first two movies. But the way how transitions are too abrupt and the characters, while weird, are difficult to relate to, make it a ride of spectacle that is often bumpy. Except for Ripley whose comeback is also very questionable in logical terms, one is only presented with stereotypical, one-dimensional, and ultimately forgettable characters. However, if one accepts that this is just a fun sci-fi action flick with many disgusting scenes, then it works, although the aliens (and especially what happens at the end between Ripley and the mother alien) have lost some of their frightening magic in the process.

Score: 7/10

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New additions to the media collection in October 2017

It’s mid-November and before some reviews hit this space, let’s see what October brought to the collecting table.

As always, let’s start with the monthly mags I get, even if I can’t read them all on time, but then again the postal service isn’t really that reliable anyway. At least they seem to be able to deliver them during the month they’re supposed to be in the mailbox.

I don’t know where I’ll put all the LEGO Star Wars sets when they’ll be built, but they sure look cool, and it’s great to have something of the franchise every month, as a good preparation for the upcoming new movie.

Buying games in retail boxes has become rather rare these days, at least new releases, which might be because most are available in digital form. The new King’s Quest is one such case when one only has a Steam code and has to download everything that isn’t on the disc (just including Chapter 1). Oh well, at least it was quite cheap (5 Euros) and beat the online price. I’ve almost forgotten about The Wonderful 101, as it became a difficult Wii U game to find after its limited release. But if one looks long enough in Gamestop shops, one will find it for a reasonable price (15 Euros). Now if there was only time to play it…

After already dipping in during the “Buy for 100 Euros and receive a 50 Euros discount” offer on Amazon in September, I started my 3 for 2 shopping with more Studio Ghibli titles.

It doesn’t happen very often, but I still buy some DVDs if they’re not available on BD, and as I’ve been waiting for ages that the price for Saya Zamurai (a movie I saw at the Nippon Connection 2012 on Day 2) would drop (which it didn’t), this Amazon 3 for 2 counter against Media Markt served me well. The animated Zelda series should be good for a nostalgic laugh, too.

Two mediabooks were also among the 3 for 2 bargains, and while I didn’t find Prison very memorable the first time, I’ll give it another chance. We Need To Talk About Kevin is an entirely different affair, as it should be just as powerful and disturbing as when I watched it at the Fantasy Filmfest Nights 2012 on Day 2.

It’s about time to get a 3D projector and screen with more exciting titles added to the collection. I hadn’t heard about Mojin: The Lost Legend before, but this Chinese movie should deliver some Indiana Jones action, even if I’m a bit concerned about the Asian over-acting and comedy. Having Matt Damon on the front cover doesn’t usually bode well, but then again if there are enough memorable fight scenes and epic music, that’s enough for me. The sequel to Tim Burton’s first Alice in Wonderland adaptation (I still have to get in 3D as well) should be crazy eye-candy.

Speaking of crazy, the 3 for 2 offer made me buy quite a lot of trash movies of varying quality. Sharknado 5 was amazing, 2Lava 2Lantula not really… Still looking forward to the Hercules trashfest (of which I need to watch the first one I bought in its mediabook edition, but haven’t come around checking it out), but there are obviously other more serious (guilty pleasure) affairs like The Purge: Election Year and The Punisher (the first time available uncut after years of being on the German Index). Oh, and let’s not forget about Alien Covenant… but that’s another story for a review coming up soon.

Then there were many 18+ rated movies I always wanted to check out, but didn’t really want to pay much for. I had to pay twice for the Amazon 5 Euros age certification control punishment fee, but all in all this was worth it with the general quality of the movies I managed to watch. Rob Zombie’s new movie is much better than his last lame attempt The Lords of Salem, even if it’s nothing very memorable, while the first Alone in the Dark is entertaining (also worth mentioning the disgusting blood bag case) and the second one abominably bad. Shame about The Hallow which had potential but wasn’t anything special in the creature feature genre, with some annoying main characters. Hell Baby didn’t hit all the right joke notes, but it had a great funny finale, The Night Watchmen was extremely fun and Don’t Kill It (with the very stupid generic German “translation” The Demon Hunter) was quite gory and original in its premise that if one kills a possessed person one is possessed next. If you want to experience some awesomely bad voice acting in German, you have to check out Raining Blood (again a strange German “translation”, as it’s originally known as Live), and I mean this in a positive way. Just as in the good old 70ies Rainer Brand translations, characters would swear and talk about something completely irrelevant to what was on screen. It was very entertaining and I can’t remember having had so much fun with a trash movie for a while. It might not be the next Helldriver (seen at the Nippon Connection 2012 on Day 4), as it wasn’t that bloody or original, but for entertainment alone, this comes highly recommended.

88 Films is known for their classic 80/90ies video nasty releases on BD, and even if the quality of the individual movies varies, one has to applaud them for the reversible cover art and generally good video quality (depending on the original master). I still remember watching the Toxie Troma flicks and they were intentionally bad, so we’ll see how they hold up today.

The problem of great cover artwork is that most of the time the actual movies aren’t really that exciting to watch. While I only gave Splatter University and Lurking Fear a try, they weren’t what you’d call fun, with too many boring parts getting in the way. Well, at least the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired one had more action and gore. The slasher “classic” was a tedious example of how not to do a movie. Maybe the bonus flick on the BD will be better… Oh well, as these titles will probably never see the light of Netflix, this is the only way to experience them, and who knows? Maybe they can be unintentionally funny or even disturbing as the taglines make them out to be.

It wasn’t all in front of the big or small screen where the action happened last month, as board games took a big part in the collection as well. In preparation for the SPIEL ’17, the big international game fair in Essen, my girlfriend contributed with these two Game of the Year titles. We only played Stone Age Junior that was made by the Settlers of Catan inventor, offering a short but fun kids strategy game with memory card elements (I’m always bad at, to be honest).

At the venue itself, there were so many board games to choose from, and even if I didn’t buy any, thanks to my girlfriend, even more titles found their way in our collection. We’ve tried out a few, with Guju Guju being a pretty fun quick-reflexes grab-the-appropriate-fruits game, Tides of Time being a unique game involving constant changing of cards on the players’ hands, and Pinata Loca being an easy-to-learn but very cool get-candy-for-positive-points-and-trash-for-negative-points stacking card game.

I’m not sure if I’ll find the time to write an article about the whole SPIEL ’17 event, as there are so many other things in my to-do list, but who knows…only time will tell.

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PC game “StarCraft II” now free (to play)

Since yesterday, November 14 2017, Blizzard Entertainment‘s real-time strategy game StarCraft II can now be enjoyed for free, at least parts of it.

I’ve always been a fan of Blizzard’s games and played the original StarCraft together with its add-on for countless hours, although only in a few multiplayer sessions. The whole competitive pro-gaming aspect wasn’t really my thing, with the epic storytelling and great sci-fi presentation being more important to me than winning all sorts of online or LAN battles. I remember buying the sequel and its first add-on during Gamescom last year, but only finished the first mission or so, as too many review copies had to be taken care of. Now after what seems like ages, it’s possible for everyone to experience StarCraft II partly for free.

What this means is that the story campaign Wings of Liberty can be played in its entirety without any restrictions, which was the reason for me to buy the boxed game in the first place. If one purchased Wings of Liberty before October 31, 2017 (like me), one will receive the add-on Heart of the Swarm for free as a limited time offer from November 8 to December 8… if one doesn’t already own it (like me).

Multiplayer is also relatively free with competing on the ranked ladder with all the units from the base game and its two add-ons. In order to unlock it permanently one has to earn 10 First Wins of the Day in Unranked or Versus A.I. play.

In co-op missions it’s possible to play for free with current and upcoming co-op commanders, although they can only reach level five. However, the co-op commanders Raynor, Kerrigan, and Artanis (all three well-established in the game’s expansive mythology) will remain free without any level cap.

The game can be downloaded after creating an account on the StarCraft II website. If you’re interested in the first game and its expansion pack, then you can also check out the Blizzard download page where you can get both for free. The reason for this is that a new remastered version of the game has been released, something that has passed me by completely.

So all in all, despite not being a big fan of free-to-play titles, so far I don’t see much of a problem of getting the first StarCraft II for free if one only wants to experience the story and do some multiplayer sessions, especially in co-op. Of course Blizzard is no charity shop, as they want people to stay with the company and buy their future games. As the retail games are bound to an online account like on Steam, I don’t see much of a problem with the concept here, to be honest, especially for people who simply want to try out the game and see what all the pro-gaming fuss is about. Be prepared to see detailed environments and character models, high-quality cinematic cut-scenes, hear great music and voice acting, and simply have a great RTS time.

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