FILM REVIEW: ALIEN COVENANT

By Nick Durham

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE IS FULL OF SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YET, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.

Ridley Scott’s follow up to 2012’s mostly maligned Alien prequel Prometheus has finally been unleashed in the form of Alien: Covenant, and goddamn it I finally got around to seeing it. Before I get to my thoughts on the film, I just want to express that it feels good to finally see the Xenomorphs back on the big screen slaughtering people after 20 years since the last real installment of the franchise (no, I don’t count the Alien VS Predator abortions), so no matter how the film would end up turning out, at least I had that little nugget to tide myself over with. With that in mind, let’s dive right in and see if Ridley Scott made a gem of a film here, or if he pissed all over his own legacy, which I was very fearful of him doing in the past.

Alien: Covenant picks up about a decade or so after Prometheus ended with a ship called Covenant that features a terraforming crew and colonists aboard. We’re introduced to a synthetic named Walter (Michael Fassbender with an American accent), and after a tragic accident befalls the ship, we’re introduced to the surviving crew, including Daniels (Katherine Waterston), pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), religious acting captain Christopher (Billy Crudup), and more. On their way to a habitable planet to begin new lives, the crew comes to realize that there is a never-before known planet in closer proximity that appears to be able to sustain human life. Upon investigating it they find unhinged synthetic David (Fassbender again), the only survivor of the Prometheus. As Daniels and co. begin to discover what horrific secrets lay in wait in this world, they also discover that David has been quite busy with some experiments; namely creating the Xenomorphs.

That revelation in itself is probably what my own personal biggest problem is with Alien: Covenant. The fact that the Xenomorphs aren’t an evolutionary step of a parasitic alien being, but rather are a race of creatures that through trial and error are engineered by David. If you’ve heard of people complaining that this is how Ridley Scott messes with the lore of the series, this is what they’re mainly talking about. This revelation raises so many questions about what we’ve been led to believe that it’s honestly kind of hard to digest. It’s something that I myself have wavered with trying not to make a big deal about, but part of me wants to shit all over this movie just because of that alone. Looking back on it, I honestly try not to think too much about this revelation, and instead focus on the rest of the film, which is actually pretty good.

First and foremost, Alien: Covenant is much more enjoyable than Prometheus was. The characters here are written better, even if a few of them suffer from the syndrome of being really smart yet do some really stupid things that lead to their gory deaths. And speaking of which, there are some balls-to-the-wall gore-drenched moments that will make any fan of the franchise stand up and cheer. The Xenomorphs, what little we see of them, are brilliant looking; even when CGI effects take over for them. The other creature effects are pretty good too, and are designed well enough that it would probably make H.R. Giger proud.

From a technical standpoint, Alien: Covenant is gorgeously shot, as it should be since this is a Ridley Scott film. Even with his worst directorial efforts, Scott’s films are sights to behold, and this film is no different. There’s a great deal of suspense and tension and dread permeating throughout the film, which is a massive plus and evokes the original film in terms of this as well. The acting is pretty good as well, and Fassbender is absolutely fucking dynamite in his dual role. The only saving grace for David being responsible for the creation of the Xenomorphs is that this practically guarantees Fassbender will be around for a while, and I’m very, very okay with that. Katherine Waterston is good as well as the heroic Daniels, although the Ripley-esque haircut is a little much. Danny McBride does pretty well being cast against type as our cowboy-hat wearing pilot, and the rest of the cast is alright as well. The ending stinger though you will see coming a mile away, which is fairly disappointing, meaning the whole film kind of ends on a bit of a whimper.

In closing, Alien: Covenant is a better film than Prometheus, and probably the best Alien film in the franchise since Aliens. Granted that isn’t saying too much when compared to Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, but you get the point. If for some reason you haven’t seen the film yet and continued to read this after the spoiler warning, I still recommend seeing it to form your own opinion, and judge for yourself if Ridley Scott redeemed himself for Prometheus or continued to piss on his own legacy. Either way, it looks like we’re getting more films in the series one way or another, so maybe the best (or the worst) is yet to come.

Rating: 3.5/5

HORROR GAME VAULT: ALIEN: RESURRECTION

By Nick Durham

 Alien: Resurrection is the fourth installment in the beloved Alien franchise, and often becomes the subject of debate with fans whether it’s the worst installment of the series. Released in 1997, the film manages to have its share of fans, despite the fact that it’s an awful mess. Alien: Resurrection the video game, released in 2000 after being stuck in video game development hell for three years, more or less follows the formula of the film: it’s an absolute mess, but has its share of fans regardless. 

Like Alien Trilogy before it, Alien: Resurrection is a first person shooter with some minor survival horror elements thrown in. A majority of the game takes place on the USM Augria which is overrun with Xenomorphs, and you play as Ripley once again (albeit a cloned Ripley with some very minor implementations of Xeno-powers). There are times in the gameplay when you’ll get to play as other characters such as Call (Winona Ryder’s character in the film), Christie, or DiStephano; and there’s an assortment of different weapons and equipment at your disposal. You’ll face off against the usual assortment of Xenomorph warriors, as well as facehuggers (that can actually implant you and give you a limited amount of time to find a device to remove the embryo before it births and kills you) and even enemy human soldiers as well. 

While the game’s concepts and gameplay sound good on paper, actually playing it is a mess. Alien: Resurrection looked like shit back in 2000, and it doesn’t look much better these days. 32-bit 3D graphics never tend to age well, and the game looks like a flat out muddy and blocky mess. Despite that though there manages to be some pretty good atmosphere, and the ship’s stages are fairly well designed. It should also be noted that many consider this game to be the first to properly utilize analog sticks for console first person shooters. The left and right sticks are used exclusively for movement, which in the years since has become the standard control scheme for every single console FPS. That alone really helps Alien: Resurrection preserve a legacy on its own, but it doesn’t make it any better of a game in my eyes at least.

What’s really most interesting about Alien: Resurrection is that the game spent practically three years stuck in video game development hell. The game was originally fashioned to be a third-person survival horror game in the realm of the original Resident Evil; featuring multiple playable characters and more standard survival horror-esque gameplay. Originally planned to be released on the Playstation, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64; developer Argonaut Games scrapped what they’d been working on after the film was released in theaters, and started over from the ground up, eventually creating this FPS. In October of 2000, the game was finally released on the Playstation to negative reviews and sales, which led to ports on the Sega Dreamcast and PC being cancelled. Despite its negative feedback, the game managed to find an audience and still has fans to this day surprisingly.

All in all, Alien: Resurrection is a disappointing game in the sea of Alien-centric games, though for its control innovations of the time, it deserves some kind of praise. If you’ve never played it before, I suggest playing the previous Alien Trilogy first before diving into this. Despite its flaws though, there’s still some stuff here to admire that makes it worth checking out if you’ve never played it before though, so at least there’s that.

HORROR GAME VAULT: ALIEN TRILOGY

By Nick Durham

Besides a whole film franchise, the Alien series has spawned a whole multimedia brand that includes numerous comic books, toys, and naturally video games as well. All together, there are a fuck-ton of Alien-themed video games, ranging from side-scrolling action/platformers, stealth-based adventures, arcade beat ’em ups, and first person shooters as well. There’s good games and bad games alike, but I want to take a look at one of my personal favorite games that the franchise birthed. Published by Acclaim Entertainment (who released a slew of licensed video games in the 90s) and developed by Probe, the game was released in 1996 for the original Playstation, Sega Saturn, and even DOS (yes, fucking DOS). Alien Trilogy is a first person shooter that despite not aging all that well over the decades, is still a lot of fun, and manages to do a number of things quite well that do justice to the franchise. 

Even though the title implies Alien Trilogy encompasses the events of the first three films, what it really does is feature is the locations based on the films instead. The story of the game is more like the universe of Alien in an alternate reality almost, as you play as Ellen Ripley (who is somehow a Colonial Marine here) and travel to LV426 to find out why contact was lost with the colony there. This leads you through the infested colony, prison facilities, and eventually the actual crashed Space-Jockey ship as well (I don’t care if they’re called Engineers now, they’ll always be Space-Jockey’s to me). There are about 30 levels that feature the usual assortment of facehuggers, chestbursters, Xenomorph warriors, dog Xenomorphs, and a handful of Queens thrown in as well that serve as the game’s bosses. 

Gameplay-wise, Alien Trilogy appears to be a basic mid-90s Doom clone. It features all of the usual FPS elements of the time such as strafing and a multitude of weapons at your disposal, including the Pulse Rifle from Aliens and a flamethrower. There’s even a shoulder lamp and motion tracker to use as well, so the game actually manages to utilize these elements well. The game’s environments are creepy and almost claustrophobic, and the various monstrous enemies you’ll encounter are well designed and animated for their time. There’s CGI cut scenes peppered throughout the game, which are kind of funny to watch here because the characters almost look kind of like marionettes in motion.

The graphics during gameplay can be fairly blurry, but that’s mostly because playing this game on an HD TV today isn’t exactly ideal. Not to mention the fact that for being a console FPS game from the mid-90s, the controls haven’t aged well either. Modern console FPS gamers don’t know how lucky they are to be able to play first person shooters with controllers that have two analog sticks. Back in 1996 when this was released, we had a D-pad and face buttons, and had to make the most out of them in terms of moving around smoothly (Jesus fucking Christ I sound old). The game boasts some super eerie sound effects and has a pretty good atmosphere as well, so it still delivers the goods in terms of action and fright elements.

All in all, if you can find Alien Trilogy for cheap (which is more than likely, the PS1 version is fairly common), it’s definitely worth picking up. For a mid-90s Doom clone, it does things pretty well and captures enough elements of the Alien films to make fans happy. If you remember playing this 20 years ago and enjoyed it, I’d recommend going back to it if possible. If you never got to experience it back then, I say check it out. You can do a lot worse with first person shooters based on the Alien franchise, such as the next game we’ll focus on in the next installment of the Horror Game Vault…Alien: Resurrection.

EDITORIAL: REAL THOUGHTS ON ALIEN: COVENANT

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By Nick Durham

Ridley Scott is a visionary director, there’s no bullshitting about that. Look through that filmography of his: Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, etc. Oh yeah…and Alien. A while back there was news buzzing about that revealed that District 9 director Neill Blomkamp was possibly going to be helming his own entry into the Alien franchise that would ignore Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, and instead be a direct sequel to Aliens.

That’s right: we’d get Ripley, Hicks, Newt, and Bishop back, and pretend that the last two Alien movies never fucking happened. This was awesome news when first revealed months ago to go along with Blomkamp’s concept art. Needless to say, even though it was probably against our better judgment, we were pretty much looking forward to it. Not to mention the fact Ridley Scott was going to be gracing us with a sequel to Prometheus as well…for some odd reason. Yes, seemed like a good time to be a fan of the Alien franchise.

Then Blomkamp’s film got thrown in the shitter because Scott and 20th Century Fox decided his film was more of a priority, and so would be all the future sequels it would birth.

Now here’s the thing: if it was any other franchise I really wouldn’t care in all honesty about any of these kind of developments. That being said, Alien is something that is near and dear to me and always will be, and I remember all the hype and hoopla surrounding Prometheus in 2012. Scott had claimed this really wasn’t a prequel to Alien, but something that takes place in the same universe rather. Well, after middling box office and reception, I guess either Scott or 20th Century Fox decided let’s get on the prequel series train right the fuck right now, hence why Prometheus 2 is now known as the fairly generic sounding Alien: Covenant.

What we have here is in my opinion Ridley Scott pissing all over his own legacy. The original Alien, as we all know, is a classic of science fiction and horror cinema. It put Scott on the map as a visionary director, and marked the beginning of one of the most beloved horror/sci-fi franchises in cinema history. The beauty of it all was that the original film is just so simple when you think about it: it’s basically a slasher movie on a spaceship with a few clever surprises and original ideas thrown in along with brilliant acting and set design. These new films, while no doubt will more than likely be sights to behold (Scott’s films are marvels of cinematography and just have a feeling of large-scale epicness) are little more than studio-pushed cash-grabs, and the fact that Scott will be in the director’s chair for them is just massively disappointing.

So yeah…can you tell I’m not looking forward to it?

If you don’t agree with anything I’ve said above, that’s fine. We’re all entitled to our own opinions. That being said, if you don’t think Ridley Scott is pissing all over his own legacy, remember one other thing: he’s also behind the unwanted, upcoming sequel to fucking Blade Runner too. Maybe we’ll get a sequel to Thelma & Louise down the road where both of them come back from the dead and try to resurrect Michael Madsen’s career.

Bollocks.

BLU-RAY REVIEW: ALIENS 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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By Nick Durham

What can you say about Aliens that hasn’t been said a million times already? It’s one of the best science fiction/horror sequels in movie history, even though it exchanges the claustrophobic sense of dread of Alien for a much more action-oriented atmosphere. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Aliens, and because Fox never knows when to stop beating a dead horse, we’ve gotten yet another Blu-ray release of the film to celebrate said anniversary. Is it worth picking up if you already own one of the other dozen releases of Aliens on DVD and Blu-ray over the years? Well, not really honestly.

 

There isn’t much to say about the story of Aliens, mostly because we all know it by heart, but I’ll talk about a tad here anyway. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakens from a much longer than expected sleep to find that the planet where her crew initially encountered the Xenomorph is now populated, and contact has been lost with the colony there. Now Ripley, along with a crew of Colonial Maries (including Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and many others) are dispatched to the planet, and of course, some nasty shit happens. There’s much more to Aliens than that though, with Sigourney Weaver giving much more depth to Ripley here than she ever got to in Alien, and the film is packed with unforgettable scenes and action sequences, and one of the best showdowns in sci-fi/horror history.

 

Now here’s the thing with his 30th Anniversary Aliens Blu-ray: it features nothing you haven’t seen before on any previous release of the film. You get both the theatrical cut, and the longer director’s cut from 1991. There’s commentary from director James Cameron and various members of the film’s cast and crew, along with an introduction from Cameron as well. The film’s isolated score from James Horner is featured here as well, and there’s a handful of deleted and extended scenes too. Just about all of these features have been on previous DVD and Blu-ray releases over the years, so there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before. What is new is the film’s kind of cool case box, as well as a handful of collectable art cards and a mini-book featuring art and comic book covers from various Alien-related mini-series’ published by Dark Horse Comics over the years. Legendary comic book artists like Bernie Wrightson and Mike Mignola are featured here, which is kind of cool.

 

So yeah, Aliens is a classic film of the genre to be sure, but this 30th Anniversary Blu-ray release doesn’t feature anything that hasn’t been released before. If you already own the film on Blu-ray either by itself or as part of the franchise set, there’s no reason to pick this up. If you don’t own the film at all on Blu-ray but you have an old DVD release, this may be worth upgrading to because it does look and sound great in HD. In the end, it’s up to you whether or not this is worth your money.

 

Rating: 5/5 (if you don’t already own Aliens in Blu-ray form, if you do own it already though, knock this rating down a few points)