|Sketchley's Translations Main Index
|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)
|Ver 1.10 2023.10.04
Despite being set in the Alien universe and described as a prequel, Prometheus has almost nothing to do with the Xenomorphs that appeared in the films released earlier in the series. While a Xenomorph-like creature appears in the film's epilogue, the sequence is arguably completely extraneous. The film is focused on and about much greater things, and due to that it is a thought-provoking film. For those expecting more of the same, this film may be frustrating, but it hits a lot of the same story beats and tropes in the Alien films, introduces us to new variations on the body horror theme, and is a strikingly thoughtful meditation on faith.
Where the film gets most interesting is in its parallel stories of how the human crew treat the artificial android David, and their quest to meet humankind's creators. While the film doesn't explicitly say it, we can infer a lot on how the Engineers would receive, respond to, and treat humankind from the way the human crew does the same to David. In turn, how he responds to that treatment and subtly or overtly undermines them is equally telling. Apparently some scenes with dialogue key to unlocking the film were cut from it, ostensibly for religious regions. However, the more nebulous film that we are left with is in some ways a stronger film, as it forces us to think and infer what the film doesn't explicitly say. However, the ultimate key to unravelling the film is the Prometheus myth itself.
Nevertheless, despite all the tragic things that happen in the film, it ends on a positive note as its coda rounds out the film's theme of faith, and leaves us intrigued at what the film's protagonists will discover and unearth next. It's just too bad that the Alien: Covenant sequel took this film's dangling story threads in a completely different direction as it incorporated more of the familiar Alien tropes.
As both the sequel to2012's Prometheus and ostensibly the prequel to 1979's Alien, Alien: Covenant had some pretty big shoes to fill. In short, it doesn't. While it does an an admirable job of laying the foundation for as-yet unfilmed events that lead to what was depicted in Alien, it drops the ball when it comes to Prometheus's story. While it kind of continues that story, it isn't the parts asking or probing the great questions that Prometheus was starting to look at. Instead, it doubles down on how the Xenomorph was created. Disappointingly, the Engineers (or a sub-species of them) barely make any appearance in this film. Instead, the film is almost like a 'greatest hits' of the Alien franchise, replete with music emulating that of the first film. That's not to say that it is a bad film, just that it doesn't really add anything to the franchise other than rounding out some of the details in the progression to the Xenomorph as well as answering some of the questions about the "back goo" weapon introduced in Prometheus. The ending of the film, on the other hand, does have an unexpected twist, and hints at a great sequel. However, after 20th Century Fox was sold to Disney in 2019 and with a new stand-alone film due to be released a year from now (at the time of writing), it doesn't look like Dir. Scott will be given the opportunity to complete his vision for the prequel series.
That said, what the film gets right are the characters and word-building. The film is populated by finely skilled actors, and they are all given plenty of characterization to tell them apart from one another—unlike some of the other films in the Alien franchise—further helped as some of the actors are well-known outside the franchise. By and large, there aren't any false emotions, and what we see feels genuine. The highlight is Michael Fassbender, who plays double duty as both David and Walter. He gives one an American accent to help us differentiate with the British accent of the other, which in itself is remarkable. The virtuoso sequence where Fassbender's characters kiss is depicted so smoothly without any jarring cuts or janky CG effects, it is as much a showcase of the actor's abilities as it is the film's production values. While the film ultimately only shows a small sample of 'Planet 4', it does a wonderful job depicting it. Unlike most films, it delves pretty deep into the flora and fauna, showcased in David's horrific Frankenstein's laboratory. The sequences shot in that lab are truly the most alarming and stay with the viewer long after the film is over. Ultimately, the film may be a bit disappointing after seeing Prometheus or for those intimately familiar with the Alien franchise, but it does provide a collection of the best story beats in the franchise, filmed at a level better than we've ever seen them before by an auteur who fills in not only the scenery, but the very atmosphere itself.
I have a complaint, however, about how the Xenomorphs are being depicted—and it's not specifically aimed at this film, but the Aliens franchise itself. Ever since 1997's Alien Resurrection, the speed in which they evolve has been accelerated to the point that it has become absurd. While I concede that they are movie monsters in what amounts to be a nightmare, because it was either depicted or implied that significant time passes between impregnation, birth, and maturation to adult-size in the first three films, the accelerated speed in the latter ones is all the more jarring. While the speed from impregnation to birth is justified in the prequel films due to the Engineer's 'black goo' (though the most realistic depiction of what would happen is the rapid corruption and decomposition of the Engineer sub-species on 'Planet 4'), both the speed at which the Neomorphs and Xenomorphs in the last 4 films* evolved from chestburster to juvenile to adult size is ridiculous. What are they using to grow? Are they converting elements out of the air into their bodies? Again, I appreciate that they are set in a nightmare, but part of the fun of these films is the suspense, not the action. Paraphrasing Hitchcock, suspense is knowing that there is a time-bomb that could explode at any time, action is the explosion. The horror in the Aliens franchise has its roots in and ought to be the former, not the latter.
* I'm including both Aliens vs. Predator films, but not the Deacon from Prometheus, as that appears to have emerged fully grown.
It should come as no surprise that this is a great movie, seeing that it spawned the Alien franchise! What the film gets right is the less-is-more approach when it comes to the title creature, and presenting a group of people going about their regular jobs—replete with all the "office politics" that come with it—being interrupted by an encounter with an unknown, and extremely hostile organism. Perhaps the best thing is that the title works on multiple levels: the alien(ated) relationships between the coworkers, the alien environment on the ship and the moon, and of course, the alien creature. What's most compelling about this film is the intellectual curiosity exhibited by the crew, largely by Kane and Ash, and the aloof attitude toward the job exhibited by Dallas, Parker and Brett. The former merely wanting to quickly finish his assignment and get back home, and the latter pair wanting a larger cut of the profits. Due to that, one feels that a version of the film without the Xenomorph may be just as intriguing, as Dir. Scott has done such a wonderful job at world-building and investing such great characterization into the people in his film.
However, the highlight of the film is the Xenomorph: ranging from its unknown life cycle, its unclear origins, and the inhumane corporate instructions to acquire a specimen at any cost! The film presents many enigmas, and is all the more scary because it doesn't give any hints or suggestions to unlock them or otherwise answer the film's many mysteries. The film is also laden with important details hidden in apparently banal throwaway lines. Take, for example, the crew's response to the discovery of an alien spaceship and its long-dead alien pilot. While they don't directly say it, their response implies that this is not the first intelligent alien species that humans have encountered as they spread into the galaxy. Another example is what's on Ash's computer screens when Ripley talks to him in his lab. Is that an embryo? Ash quickly changes the topic and deactivates the screens, as we learn the real reason why Ripley came to talk to him: he intruded into her fiefdom in the company hierarchy! The best part of the film—and what ratchets the film's suspense and horror up to sublime heights—is that not only does the Xenomorph's bio-mechanical body seamlessly blend into the mechanical walls of the ship, it is constantly evolving and changing its shape. Perhaps this film's greatest feat is never giving the audience a clear view of the creature, even in the film's final moments when it is in full view and fully-lit by bright-white rocket exhaust!
Aliens is one of, if not the best sequel ever. In many ways, it is superior to the original. However, due to its composition, some parts of it are weaker, as the film spends far less time dabbling in the enigmas inherent to the Aliens franchise, such as where the Xenomorph originally came from, let alone why it was ostensibly being transported in great number in the belly of the derelict (1979's Alien). That said, the film is an evolution. While it hits a lot of the same story beats—e.g. dubious company orders, and a double-crossing character—it reshuffles the order, and turns many of them on their head. Where Alien was more suspense-horror that employed a constantly evolving creature that blended perfectly into the bowls of the ship, Aliens is more action-suspense, with a lot of the horror stemming from the sheer number of Xenomorphs, and the almost complete ineffectiveness of the marine's tactics and firepower. The best thing about Aliens, however, is the wonderful characterization it imbues in its cast. It invests in its characters so well that we fully understand why Ripley, for example, would ever choose to face the Xenomorph again, let alone willingly choose to head deep into their nest all by herself!
This film has held up surprisingly well over the decades. It has that good old movie magic in spades, and is all the more impressive for being made before the era of CG—with one occasionally wondering how they filmed some of the visual effects sequences practically! While the use of grainy and unclear video footage is initially jarring, the lack of crisp detail works in the films favour. This is most apparent in the marines initial foray into the Xenomorph's nest, but is also effective at enhancing the overall believability of the numerous miniatures used throughout the film. I also liked the subtle details, such as the upturned suit collar jackets in the inquiry sequence. The additional scenes restored in the "Special Edition" are wonderful additions for fans of the movie (my favourite has the nostalgia-inducing mid-80's plastic tricycle riding down the corridors of the colony, complete with Weyland-Yutani stickers on it!)—though I can see the merits in cutting them to improve the pacing, suspension and tension in the film. It is also hilarious seeing Mac McDonald as the leader of the colonists, particularly because I'm used to seeing him as the bumbling and clumsy Captain Hollister in the Red Dwarf TV show! Which brings up the highlight of the film: it is stuffed full of instantly memorable quotes and one liners, many of which are used to defuse the film's extraordinary tension. Aliens is infinitely quotable, and is well worth a viewing just for that. However, it's so much more. A must see!
On paper, Alien 3 sounds great. However, the theatrical version is disappointing. The movie has hardly any Alien tropes or story beats. For example, there's no sequence building up to the release of a facehugger and the horror of seeing it latch onto someone—or something as it does in this film. Which leads into another problem: there doesn't seem to be much horror, or gradually building and sustained tension in this film. There are a bunch of jump scares, but overall there are very few moments of genuine chills. I appreciate that they were trying to do something new with this film, but oddly it doesn't work, and there's no feeling of novelty to it. Perhaps setting it in a dark and badly lit, sprawling facility wasn't the best choice, and something much more claustrophobic like a space tug (Alien) or the barricaded command centre of a colony (Aliens) better suits these films?
The film is also full of questionable aesthetic choices. While I liked the wide-open spaces in the foundry—a technological cathedral in certain respects—there is clearly not enough visual differentiation between the various characters. Only Ripley, the warden, his assistant, the spiritual leader, and the doctor are clearly defined. Everyone else just blends together. This is not like Alien with a lean cast of 7, or Aliens with an expansive cast in which everyone is given unique characteristics and visual designs. Oddly, despite being made 6 years after Aliens, the special effects seem to have taken a step backwards, and a lot of the shots of the Xenomorph appear fake due to bad compositing. I get that they were trying to depict the Xenomorph with more in-human movements, but Dir. Cameron achieved that spectacularly well all in-frame with only gymnasts and choice camera angles.
One thing that this film gets right is the alarming actions of the Weyland-Yutani company. However, the film only reenvisions the extents the company will go to, rather than delving further into its motivations or how the staff justify their inhumane choices. Apparently the film was a bit better in the Assembly Cut. Apparently it even had a stronger religious theme and some pointed things to say about that. From just the visuals of the alternative facehugger that was used in it, it is much creepier, too. Alas, the theatrical version wasn't very good, and the prime adjectives to describe it would be confusing and repetitive—not just of what was seen in the preceding movies, but also the overlong chase sequences that populate the climax of this film. Perhaps setting the film in an outer space monastery, as described in one of the earliest drafts, would have been better, or at least more novel and thought provoking than the prison colony Sci-Fi staple?
Alien Resurrection is a return to form after the disastrous Alien3). It has all of the classic Alien tropes, with some turned on their heads to add novelty to the film. For example, the traitor in the protagonist's ranks turns out to be helpful to them, at least in terms of the greater picture. There are facehugger implantations, but when one gets Ripley 8 we see her ripping it to pieces as she rips it off of her face! And the obligatory chest burster sequence is used in an unexpectedly satisfactory karmic revenge. However, despite these moments of greatness, the film doesn't ever really come together. Instead, we get a confused story that's not really about anything—it barely holds up as a clothesline to string these memorably sequences together. Well, it seems to be trying to make a point about cloning, but that gets lost in the process of emphasizing the horror of cloning errors and the greater Xenomorph menace.
The Xenomorphs in this film look great, and filming them practically and in-frame really gives them a sense of plausibility (there are no stick models and bad compositing in this film). However, they are often covered in too much slime. It is practically gushing out of their mouths, and makes one wonder where the Xenomorphs are acquiring and storing so much liquid, as they drool constantly and excessively. The Xenomorphs themselves don't look too different from what we've seen before. Their nest-like structures, however, are depicted totally differently from what we saw in Alien (in the director's cut) and Aliens. The genius of the film though, is that these changes are plausibly due to a muddying of the Xenomorph DNA with human DNA due to the cloning process.
The best thing about the film—and the reason to see it —is Sigourney Weaver's performance as the human–Xenomorph hybrid Ripley 8. There are some scenes where her movements are downright creepy, and for large parts of the film, it's not clear how trustworthy she is, let alone where her loyalties lie. This film has many things going for it: character, setting, Xenomorph VFX budget; it's just a shame that the theatrical film's overall story is a letdown.
Predator is a master class in action and building suspense. In retrospect, the story isn't very complex and isn't really about anything substantial. However, the plotting throws in enough misdirection and red herrings that we aren't really sure who the main antagonist is until it is all but too late for the military rescue team. When the true antagonist is fully revealed, it is equally breathtaking as it is shocking—dwarfing the film's star, for starters.
The film gets so many things right while it hits the action beats. Among others, it gives the characters a large range of easily identifiable features and quirks—largely without extraneous dialogue—making them all easily identifiable. It is also one of the few action films where the star is accurately depicted as a member of a team. The military rescue team's smooth raid on the guerrilla camp is one of the films highlights. However, above all else, the film gets the right tone and atmosphere, and successfully raises the tension to levels rarely seen in other films. A must see!
The sequel to 1987's Predator is jarring, as not only are no characters carried over from the first film, the setting and even the occupations of the human characters are entirely different. In some ways it is disappointing, but in many ways it is refreshingly original. Ultimately, the film builds on the events of Predator while also being able to stand on its own. It is equally memorable, however that is arguably for more gruesome reasons. This is not a film for children, in other words.
While both movies are "science-fiction action films", Predator is the more horrific one, as it adopts some of the tropes of a slasher film—not to mention the slowly dawning realization that an elite special forces team headed by Schwarzenegger is successfully being hunted by someone bigger and more powerful than they are! As Predator 2 is set in the urban jungle, it loses the "alieness" of the unfamiliar tropical jungle, and makes the Predator—even when using optical camouflage—easier to spot. That said, the film is an evolution with Keyes and his team employing tactics to not only track the Predator, but also conceal themselves from it with their own form of "optical camouflage".
The highlight of the film is Danny Glover's Harrigan. Harrigan's job is essentially the same as Sergeant Murtaugh's in the Lethal Weapon series, however Glover has produced characters that are strikingly different. That, though, is not enough to save the film, as the Predator in it is a mishmash of the skilled stalker from the first film and someone who takes unnecessary risks arguably simply to move the plot forward. It's not quite as intelligent as the initial film, in other words. That said, if you are a fan of the series, the film can't be missed, as it evolves and further expands the titular character's race.
This film is about as good as Predator 2, but not as good as the first movie. The two major elements that are missing are a sequence where we see a Predator performing medical aid on themself, and more importantly, the steadily growing sense of horror that pervades the first film. Perhaps this film's greatest flaw is that there wasn't anyone relatable among the main characters—only the Russian soldier comes close. Adrien Brody as the anti-hero was a refreshing change, and he played the opportunistic tendencies of the character just right. However, I especially didn't like the doctor's seemingly out-of-character switch near the end of the movie. It appeared to be totally arbitrary, with few if any warning signs, and begging the question: if he was such an opportunistic monster, why didn't he opportunize on the situation earlier and better? Given how out of place he felt among the other warriors and criminals, I would have found it much more enjoyable and intriguing if it turned out that he was working with the Predators to keep their injured prey alive just a bit longer to maximize the hunt, or something along those lines.
Nevertheless, I liked the basic concept of the movie—very nightmarish—and the second Predator race was a thought provoking addition to the mythology. In its own way it begins to explain why very few of the original Predator race have visited the Earth. That said, unlike Predator 2, this film doesn't evolve the basic premise of the first film or the human response to it. It is truly more of the same, with the humans going through the same motions.
There was some talk of a direct sequel or even a prequel to this film set on the hunting planet. As tempting as that would be, I think a film that explores the Predators who secretly abduct people from the Earth would be much more interesting. How do they get away with it, and how do they overcome their desire to bring back only the skin and bone remains as trophies? Nevertheless, if you liked the first film and want to see more of that, this film will be right up your alley.
When I first heard this film was in production, I hoped that it would a direct adaptation of the 1990's Dark Horse comic of the same name. Alas, it's the polar opposite of that wonderful story. The main thing that this film gets wrong is the setting: not only is it the present day Earth (aliens ought to be set in the distant future, no?), but also Antarctica—I thought the Predators only came to hunt during heat waves and abhor the cold?
That aside, the film is actually pretty good. Well, if you ignore the fact that there is almost no characterization. As for character arcs? They are virtually nonexistent. But those are not necessarily the reason why someone would want to see this movie. They want to see the Aliens and the Predators going at it with each other, and this film goes about that with panache. In some ways, the Aliens are treated better, as they are depicted as fairly intelligent, and outsmart their foes on more than one occasion. The Predators, on the other hand, aren't as menacing and horrifying as they were portrayed in Predator and Predator 2. That may be because they are being set up to turn into allies for the surviving humans, and need to be humanized and portrayed as fallible.
All that said, the best thing about this film is its depiction of the Alien Queen. I don't think we've been treated to such a raw display of fury as this film succeeds in doing. It's just a shame that the film doesn't invest in the characters enough for us to care whether they live or die in the climatic showdown. All in all, the film is utterly forgettable, but in a good way.
The only redeeming thing about the film is that it employed people in the Vancouver film industry.