Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Furst To Last

Last week I was saddened to hear of the death of actor Stephen Furst, who died at the much too young age of 63.

First was probably best known as Pinto in National Lampoon's Animal House.

He also played Vir in the 1990s sci-fi series Babylon 5, and is just one of the inordinate number of actors from that show who all died at a relatively young age. I can't think of any other relatively recent show that's lost so many cast members as B5:

Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin) died at 44
Michael O'Hare (Commander Jeffrey Sinclair) died at 60
Jeff Conaway (Sgt. Zack Allan) died at 60
Andread Katsulas (Ambassador G'Kar) died at 59
Jerry Doyle (Chief Michael Garabaldi) died at 60
Tim Choate (Zathras) died at 49

Seven actors from the same show, all dead by age sixty! For the sake of comparison, Star Trek aired in the late 1960s, and four of its seven main cast members are still around. 

So what the heck was going on in that Babylon 5 studio? Asbestos in the air vents? Radiation in the ground soil? Was the soundstage built on an Indian burial ground?

I did some morbid googling, and their causes of death are all over the place, ranging from heart problems to diabetes, and in one case a traffic accident.

So that torpedoes my "cursed studio" theory. I guess there's no sinister reason for the inordinate number of Babylon 5 cast deaths after all. It's just plain old coincidence and a case of some really, really bad luck.

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 10: The Eaters Of Light

This week on Doctor Who, we get a history lesson (in more ways than one) as the season barrels to an all-too soon close. Only two episodes left!

The final two episodes of the season will likely tell a two part story, which means The Eaters Of Light is the last ever standalone episode of Peter Capaldi's run on the show. How fitting that the whole thing takes place in Capaldi's native Scotland!

The Eaters Of Light of light was written by Rona Munro, who also wrote the 1989 episode Survival, starring the Seventh Doctor. Survival is notable as the FINAL episode of the Classic Series, as Doctor Who was canceled shortly after it aired. Gulp! 

Happily I don't think Munro will kill off the series this time. In fact she's probably elated that with this script, she no longer has the "Woman Who Ended Doctor Who" label hanging around her neck.

The Eaters Of Light feels like another old-school episode, which has become something of a theme this season. In fact I could easily see it starring the Seventh, or even the Fourth Doctor. Unfortunately it's also virtually identical to last week's Empress Of Mars. It's too bad the two episodes were scheduled so closely together, as their proximity to one another only emphasized the similarities. Why the hell would they air them one after the other like this?


The Plot:
In present day Aberdeen (that's in Scotland), a girl runs up a hill behind her neighborhood to a site filled with ancient stone cairns. He older brother follows, telling her she'd better come back home now. The girl refuses, saying she wants to hear "the music" (Plot Point!). The boy tries to scare her with tales of ghosts and monsters haunting the area, which, on this show, could be more than just an idle threat. As the two of them run off, we see a crow land on one of the cairns. It crows something that sounds suspiciously like "Doc-tor!" over and over. We see the cairns are carved with primitive figures and symbols, one of which looks suspiciously like a blue box...

Cut to Aberdeen in the 2nd Century. The TARDIS appears and the Doctor, Bill and Nardole exit. The Doctor and Bill are arguing over the fate of the famed Ninth Legion of Rome, which disappeared without a trace here sometime around 120 AD. Bill says she read "the book" on them (?), and that they disappeared without a trace. The Doctor disagrees, saying they were annihilated in battle. Bill says if that's true, then where's the giant pile of dead bodies?

Bill's sure she'll find the soldiers near the river, while the Doctor says there's got to be a battlefield nearby. He says they should split up and investigate their respective theories and meet back at the TARDIS later, which sounds like a perfectly safe and wonderful idea. And that's just what they do. Bill goes off BY HERSELF IN THE 2ND CENTURY, while the Doctor and Nardole head off in the opposite direction.

Bill wanders into a forest, where she stumbles upon a Pict warrior woman named Kar. When she sees Bill she immediately screams and runs toward her, intent on murder. Terrified, Bill runs through the woods and falls into a deep pit— just like she did last week in Empress of Mars.

Meanwhile, the Doctor finds his battlefield full of dead Roman soldiers. They're not just normal dead bodies though— all their bones have been completely disintegrated. The Doctor says the only thing that could cause that is "a complete and total absence of any kind of sunlight (?)." He says such a things should take decades, but it looks like it just happened.

Just then a crow lands on a nearby rock and says, "Dark" over and over, which surprises Nardole. The Doctor tells him it's a known fact that all crows can talk. Unfortunately humans stopped having intelligent conversations with them long ago, so they stopped talking.

The Doctor spots a cairn up on a hill (Gosh, I wonder if it's the same one from the prologue?), but just then he and Nardole are surrounded by Picts (not jpegs-- HAW!) who hold them at spear point. They tell the Doctor their leader Kar, Guardian Of The Gate, will arrive soon and deal with him.

Bill's surprised to find she's sharing her pit with a Roman soldier. She's even more surprised to find they can both understand one another, as he's apparently speaking modern English, and he hears her speaking ancient Latin. Bill correctly surmises that the TARDIS is "auto translating" for her.

Bill asks the soldier what happened to the Ninth Legion. He says they were all wiped out by a monster, and he and several others deserted and holed up in a cave. He went out foraging and fell in this Pictish trap. With the soldier's help, Bill climbs out of the pit, then helps him escape. Bill and the soldier then head for the cave hideout.

Suddenly a monster with glowing tentacles appears. They run, but the monster grabs Bil, wounding her. The soldier attacks it, and it grabs him instead and drags him off. Bill runs to the cave, where the other Romans see her and bring her inside. She passes out from her wound.

Back at the bottom of the hill, the Picts are still holding the Doctor and Nardole hostage. Kar finally arrives and the Doctor's surprised to see she's just a teen. She claims she single-handedly destroyed the Ninth Legion, which the Doctor doesn't believe for a second. He uses a bag of popcorn to create a diversion (don't ask) and he and Nardole escape.

They run to the top of the hill, and the Doctor enters the cairn while Nardole holds back. The Picts believe the cairns are gateways to other worlds, and the Doctor wonders if they might be right. As the sun rises, it shines into the cairn and on the back wall. The wall opens up, revealing a dark void. The Doctor takes a step into the void, and sees a swarm of flying creatures feeding on the light of a star. One notices him, and flies toward the doorway. The Doctor steps back and the portal closes, becoming a wall again.

Outside the cairn, Nardole and the Picts are surprised to see him. Despite the fact that he was only inside the void for a few seconds, two days passed for the rest of the world. Kar explains that once every generation, Picts picks a Pict warrior to enter the void and battle the Eaters Of Light (Houston, we have a title!). She's her generation's chosen warrior. Unfortunately, she accidentally let one of the creatures through.

Back in the cave, Bill comes to. A Roman soldier named Lucius feeds her and tells her to sit in a beam of sunlight, as it helps cure a Light Eater wound. He flirts with Bill, until she tells him she plays for a different team. Back at the Pict camp, the Doctor finds a victim of the Light Eater, and says it's getting stronger. Kar admits this is all her fault. She deliberately let the Light Eater out of the portal, hoping it would kill the Ninth Legion (which it did), but that they'd kill it before they all died (which they didn't). The Doctor tells her she doomed the entire world to save one little hillside.

Bill talks the Romans into leaving the cave and helping her find the Doctor. They exit their protected cavern and run through a series of underground tunnels until they come to a ladder. They climb the ladder and just happen to come up through a hatch in the floor of the Pict camp. The Light Eater tries to burst through, but they force it back into the tunnel and block the hatch.

Bill's happy to be reunited with the Doctor, and gloats as she says she found the Ninth Legion. Or some of them, anyway. Unfortunately when the Picts and Romans see one another, they try to kill one another.The Doctor tells them to knock it off, as there's no time for old arguments. He says the Light Eater's getting stronger, and if they can't get it back into the void, more of its kind will escape (?). The monsters then consume the sun, and eventually every star in the universe until the whole thing's dark. (Big deal! Wouldn't that take a trillion years?). The two sides reluctantly call a truce, and the Doctor explains his plan.

That night the Picts play loud music inside the cairn to attract the monster. It works, as the dinosaur-like creature hears and soon gallops up the hill. Inside the cairn, the Doctor and the others use special red crystals (don't ask) that magnify the torch light and weaken the beast. They manage to hold it in place until the sun rises, causing the back wall to open again. Working together, they jab and stab at it, forcing it back into the void.

The Doctor says the portal will stay open as long as the sun hits it, allowing the creature, and more like it, to escape again. He says someone needs to enter the void and stay inside, fighting off the creatures for eternity. He says humans are too short-lived to serve as effective guards, but with his extented Time Lord life span, he can guard the portal virtually forever.

Bill and the others refuse to let him sacrifice himself. One of the Picts hits him in the head with a rock (!) to keep him from entering the portal. Kar, Lucius and several others from both sides volunteer to guard the gate. They walk into the portal together, weapons drawn, as a couple play music for some reason. The cairn begins trembling, and everyone runs out just before it collapses.

Back at the TARDIS, the surviving Picts and Romans say goodbye to the Doctor & Co. One of the Ninth Legion soldiers tells a crow that Kar is defending the gate for all time. The crow flies off, shouting, "Kar, Kar!" This is supposed to indicate that crows didn't stop talking to us after all, but are honoring Kar with their call. I guess screw Lucius and the others who went in with her then?

Inside the TARDIS, Nardole insists the Doctor goes back home to guard Missy in the vault. He's shocked to see Missy sitting inside the TARDIS, apparently free. The Doctor explains that he's giving her a bit of freedom in exchange for some basic TARDIS maintenance.

Later the Doctor and Missy share a moment, as she somehow listens to the haunting music of the guardians inside the portal. A tear runs down her cheek. The Doctor says he still doesn't know if her redemption is part of a devious plan, or it's real and time for them to be friends again.

Back in the present, the little girl runs up to the cairn again, presses her head against a stone and and smiles as she hears the music still being played by the Guardians Of The Gate...

• There's actually a good bit of actual history in this episode, not counting the light-eating monsters.

As you've probably already guessed, the Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman Army was a real thing. It existed from the 1st Century BC to around 120 AD. The Ninth Legion fought in various provinces and was stationed in Britain following the Roman invasion there in 43 AD. Sometime around 120 AD, the Legion disappeared. To this day, no one's quite sure what happened to the five thousand men.

One theory is that they were wiped out after marching into Caledonia (aka modern day Scotland) in 108 AD, a view which was popularized by the 1954 novel The Eagle (which was made into a movie in 2011). 

Other scholars have found evidence that the Legion, or a part of it, was active in the Netherlands in 120 AD. We'll probably never know where or why they disappeared.

The cairns seen in this episode were totally a thing too, especially in ancient Scotland.

The Eaters Of Light also features black Roman centurions, something I was sure was shoehorned into the episode in the name of forced diversity. But then I looked it up and black centurions were apparently a thing, so... good on the writer, I guess.

• Overall, The Eaters Of Light is a decent story, but as I said in the intro, it's too bad it's so incredibly similar to the previous episode.

In Empress Of Mars, Bill wanders off by herself and falls into a deep pit, which gets the plot started. In Eaters Of Light, Bill wanders off by herself and— you guessed it— falls into a deep pit, which gets the plot started.

Both episodes featured Bill becoming separated from the Doctor, characters who were cowards but later found their courage and two sides that started out as enemies, but learned to work together. The only real differences were the sets and the monsters.

• Overall this is a decent episode, with one major exception: The Doctor actually suggests that he and Bill split up to look for the Ninth Legion. Seriously? Sending a young woman from 2017 off by herself in 2nd Century Aberdeen? What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?
Look, I get it. They only have forty five minutes to play with, and they've got to get the plot moving quickly. But sending Bill off by herself just so she can get into trouble and be saved by the Doctor is the most blatant, ridiculous and hackneyed trope the writer could have possibly used.

At the very least the Doctor could have sent Nardole along with her for safety.

• Speaking of Nardole, what the hell is he wearing in this episode? I'm assuming this is supposed to be a "wacky" example of him not understanding human fashion, but it looks for all the world like actor Matt Lucas rolled out of bed about thirty seconds before shooting started and refused to change clothes. 

• While watching this episode, something suddenly became glaringly obvious to me: why doesn't the Doctor or his companions have any way of communicating with one another outside the TARDIS? 

It happens over and over in the series. The Doctor gets separated from his companion, then has to search for them while simultaneously trying to resolve the plot. Often he's not even sure if his friends are still alive.

Gosh, it's too bad this highly advanced humanoid alien, who owns a freakin' time machine and a magic wand, doesn't have some kind of COMMUNICATION DEVICE. Something like, oh, I dunno... a CELL PHONE, maybe? A set of cheap two-way radios, at the very least?

Of course if Team TARDIS could talk to one another, then most episodes would end up being about ten minutes long, so I get why the producers don't allow the characters to do so. And why they hope this issue never occurs to us.

• After completely forgetting about it in the previous episode, this week Nardole finally remembers the Doctor's supposed to be guarding the Vault, and asks him when he's gonna get back to it.

• This episode features a perfect example of what I like to call "Implied Visual Acuity." 

What the heck does that mean, you ask? It happens whenever a TV show or movie features a monster that's supposed to have vision that's superior to that of humans. But whenever we actually see a shot from the creature's point of view, it inevitably looks radically inferior to our vision. 

The monster's point of view is usually tinted a bizarre color, uses some weird, distorted fisheye lens, and is often blurred at the edges. And yet we're supposed to believe this sub-par way of seeing is somehow much better than our own.

• Bill stumbles onto a Roman soldier, and is amazed they can understand one another. She comes to the conclusion that the TARDIS is somehow psychically translating for her (even when she's not actually inside it). Bill's right of course, but... why the hell is she just NOW figuring this out? Did she really think the Blue People, Monks and Martians she's encountered all season were speaking the Queen's English?

As near as I can tell, the idea that the TARDIS translates for its passengers was first brought up in the revived series, when Rose Tyler noticed it.

Bill's statement that the TARDIS also lip-synchs its translations might be a dig at Star Trek's Universal Translator. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it was revealed that the characters all had translators implanted in their ears so they could understand what the various alien crewmembers were saying. Not a bad workaround, but it didn't explain why the alien characters' lips always moved in perfect synch with their translated words!

• Did Lucius the Ninth Legion soldier look familiar to you? He should. He was in one of the biggest movies of all time a couple years ago.

Lucius, aka actor Brian Vernel, had a small role as Bala-Tik in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He was a member of the Guavian Death Gang, who boarded Han Solo's ship, demanding to be paid. Bala-Tik also inexplicably had a thick Space Scottish Brogue, saying, "That Beh-Beh yoonit. Tha Ferhst Dord-der is lookin' fer one jus' lake ut!"

This of course confirms my theory that there are only about twenty five or thirty actors in the UK, and they appear over and over in every TV show and movie filmed there.

• CGI creatures are expensive. So how do you film an episode with a monster when there's not enough money in the budget to properly show it?

Why, you give it big glowy tentacles on the front of its head, that's what you do. Then you only have to show the relatively cheap tentacles flailing around every now and then, and don't have to spring for rendering the entire monster.

We finally get one decent look at the monster near the end of the episode, as the characters herd it back into the portal. It's an extremely short, blink-and-you'll-miss-it look though, lasting just a few expensive frames.

Once that brief scene's over though, we're treated to numerous shots of the Eater Of Light's back, as it bucks in the foreground like a bronco. Pret-tie sneaky, sis!

• I don't understand the Doctor's reasoning that he's the perfect person to guard the portal and keep the Eaters Of Light from getting through. He says due to his Time Lord lifespan, he could protect the Earth from the monsters virtually forever.

This is no doubt true, but did he forget about the portal's time dilation effect? Early in the episode, he steps into the void, sees the monsters inside and pops back out. He was only inside the void for a few seconds, but fifty six hours passed back on Earth (Two days, eight hours and five minutes, according to Nardole).

The portal's timey-whimey effect would allow even a short-lived human like Kar to guard it for millennia. In fact if my math is right, if she guarded the gate for fifty years, that'd work out to about 168,000 years on Earth! The Doctor even confirms this, saying, "
One Pict in there, fighting it off for a few minutes, that adds up to 60 or 70 years out here."

So why does he think he's the only candidate for the Guardian job?

• This Week's Best Lines:
The Doctor: "There is so much that you don't understand about Roman Britain."
Bill: "I got an A star."
The Doctor: (dismissively) "Got an A star. I've lived in Roman Britain. Governed. Farmed. Juggled. And speaking as a former vestal virgin, second class, I can assure you—"
Bill: "I bet you there's a Roman legion down there."
Nardole: "Hang on. Second class?"

(I wonder if this little exchange is a reference to the fact that back in 2008, Peter Capaldi guest-starred as Caecilius in the episode The Fires Of Pompeii?)

The Doctor: "Eyes peeled. They must have left some kind of mark on the landscape. Burning huts, slaughtered locals, sweetie wrappers."

Crow: Dark! Dark!"
Nardole: "Doctor..."
Crow: "Dark!"
Nardole: "Doctor!"
The Doctor: "Look, a stone cairn Pictish civilisation."
Nardole: "The bird!"
The Doctor: "What about it?"
Nardole: "It said 'dark."
The Doctor: "Yes, well that's why we're hurrying, because there's not much light at this time of day."
Nardole: "But it talked!"
The Doctor: "Well, of course it did. It's a crow. All crows talk."
Nardole: "They don't talk in the future."
The Doctor: "Course they do. Human beings just stopped having intelligent conversations with them. And they all took a bit of a huff."
Nardole: "Crows in the future are all in a huff?"
The Doctor: "Course they are. Haven't you noticed that noise they make? It's like a mass sulk."

The Doctor: "What do you always find near churches?"
Nardole: "Women in hats?"
The Doctor: "Exactly."
(for an alien, Nardole seems to know an awful lot about Earth and its customs)

Bill: "A Roman soldier! I wish I'd studied Latin so you could understand me."

Soldier: "I understand you."
Bill: "Sorry, what?"
Soldier: "I understand you."
Bill: "But you're You're speaking English."
Soldier: "What's English?"
Bill: "Er, what you're speaking in."
Soldier: "You're speaking Latin."
Bill: "I'm not."
Soldier: "That's Latin. You just said that in Latin."
Bill: "Ah! It's the Doctor! Or the TARDIS, or both. Something, a telepathic link. Auto-translate. That's why everyone in space speaks English."
Soldier: "What on earth are you talking about?"
Bill: "Oh, my God, it even does lip-sync!"
(Due to the nature of the fantastic situation she's in, I'll give Bill a pass for her atrocious "Er, what you're speaking in" line)

The Doctor: (examining a dead Roman soldier) "It's as if his bones have disintegrated."

Nardole: "But what could do that?"
The Doctor: "A complete and total absence of any kind of sunlight."
Nardole: "Death by Scotland."

The Doctor: (to his Pictish captors) "Oh, for heaven's sake. How long are you going to keep us here? Couldn't we have seats? What about the wi-fi code, how about that?"
(I'm pretty sure this is at least the second time the Doctor's mentioned wi-fi this season)

Nardole: (to Picts) "Yeah, would you like some popcorn? Won't take me a jiffy to make."
(that had to be a Jiffy Pop joke, right?)

The Doctor: "What are you doing?"
Nardole: "I'm ingratiating myself."
The Doctor: "Stop it. It's nauseating."
Nardole: "It's called charm."
The Doctor: "I'm against it. I'm against charm."
Nardole: "Yeah, we all know that."

The Doctor: (discussing his time inside the portal) "I was in there for seconds."
Nardole: "Two days."
The Doctor: "It's an inter-dimensional temporal rift. A second in there equates to days of time on this side. I was in there for two days?"
Nardole: "And eight hours, five minutes, and..."
(From Nardole's Spock-like declaration, I'm assuming he must have some kind of internal chronometer? He is part robot, right?)

The Doctor: (to Kar) "You got a Roman legion slaughtered and you made the deadliest creature on this planet very, very cross indeed. To protect a muddy little hillside, you doomed your whole world."

The Doctor: "Are you sulking?"
Kar: "I'm remembering the dead."
The Doctor: "Oh, right. Well, save that for old age."
Kar: "They're dead because of me."
The Doctor: "You know, every moment you waste wallowing about in that happy thought means more of the living are going to join them. When you want to win a war, remember this it's not about you. Believe me. I know. Time to grow up, Kar. Time to fight your fight."

Bill: "So now that we all understand each other, how do we all sound?"
Lucius: "You sound like children."
Kar: "You sound like children, too."
The Doctor: "You all do."
Bill: "Is this what happens? When you understand what everyone in the universe is saying, everybody just sounds like children?"
The Doctor: "There are exceptions."
Nardole: "Thank you very much."
The Doctor: "Not you. OK, kids, pay attention."
(I love this conversation, as it's something I never thought about before. At this point the Doctor's thousands of years old. Everyone WOULD sound like children to him!)

The Doctor: "The gate has to be guarded, there's no other way. The trouble is, human life spans, they're tiny. They're hilarious. You get used up too quickly."
Bill: "So what's the answer?"
The Doctor: "Go on, figure it out. The answer is me. I go on for ages. I don't even really die, I regenerate. I can hold that gate till the sun goes out."
(This isn't the first time the Twelfth Doctor's described a human trait as "hilarious." Back in Season 8's Listen, he said, "Have you seen the size of human brains? They're hilarious!")

Nardole: "Sir, I must to protest in the strongest, most upset terms possible. Don't make me go squeaky voiced!"

Missy: "I don't even know why I'm crying. Why do I keep doing that now?"
The Doctor: "I don't know. Maybe you're trying to impress me."
Missy: "Yes, probably some devious plan. That sounds about right."
The Doctor: "The alternative would be much worse."
Missy: "Really?"
The Doctor: "The alternative is that this is for real. And it's time for us to become friends again."
Missy: "Do you think so?"
The Doctor: "I don't know. That's the trouble with hope. It's hard to resist."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Use The Threat Of Legal Action, Luke!

Last month in an interview with Vanity Fair, actor Mark Hamill discussed the upcoming Star Wars sequel, The Last Jedi.

During the interview, Hamill made a troubling comment concerning Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and his plans for the iconic character of Luke Skywalker. Said Hamill:
“I at one point had to say to Rian, ‘I pretty much fundamentally disagree with every choice you’ve made for this character. Now, having said that, I have gotten it off my chest, and my job now is to take what you’ve created and do my best to realize your vision.”
Yikes! OK, it's impossible to know at this point just what plans Johnson has for the character. Plus it's normal for actors to quibble over a line or a scene. But for an actor to say they fundamentally disagree with every choice the director's made for their character is troubling, to say the least.

This week Hamill was interviewed again, and attempted to "clarify" his earlier statement. This time Hamill said:
"I got into trouble because… I was quoted as saying to Rian that 'I fundamentally disagree with everything you decided about Luke,' and it was inartfully phrased. What I was, was surprised at how he saw Luke. And it took me a while to get around to his way of thinking, but once I was there it was a thrilling experience."
Well. That's quite a piece of MarketSpeak® there, Hamill! Let's try running it through our handy "PR-to-English" translator, shall we? Here's what Mark Hamill's second statement REALLY meant:
“After careful consideration, and after Disney's vast cadre of attorney's threatened to tear me a new poodoo hole, is that I absolutely LOVE everything Rian Johnson has planned for my character! He's an exciting director with a singular vision and a compelling new take on the material, and I couldn't be more thrilled to be working for him! Be sure and see Disney's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, folks! Coming to a theater near you on December 15, 2017!"

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Hail To The Chief?

It's been a while since I've posted anything about our Glorious Leader. In fact I've not said a peep about him since my embarrassingly profane (but admittedly cathartic) outburst back when he pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

The fact is the Nimrod-In-Chief has finally broken me. It's frankly exhausting even reading about him anymore, much less writing about his antics. So I've been taking a self-imposed break from even mentioning him. But I couldn't let this recent bizarre incident pass unnoticed...

This past Monday, Glorious Leader Trump held his first ever (?) cabinet meeting, in which he praised himself (of course). Said Trump of himself and his fantastic accomplishments:
"Never has there been a president, with few exceptions— case of FDR, he had a major depression to handle— who has passed more legislation and who has done more things than what we’ve done. We’ve been about as active as you can possibly be and at a just about record pace.”
Oy gevalt. Nice jab at FDR there too, by the way. Too bad he had that pesky Great Depression to deal with, else he too could have been as amazing as Trump.
Oddly enough, Trumpenstein then invited (read: demanded) his cabinet members also heap kudos on him. 

That's right, the grown-ass man who's somehow our president went around the table and asked each and every member of his staff to say something nice about him. 

Jesus wept.

Vice president Pencebot-3000 kicked off the love-in, saying:
“It is the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president. The president is keeping his word to the American people."
Tom Price, Secretary of Health And Human Services poured it on even thicker, stating:
“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privilege that you’ve given me, and the leadership you’ve shown.”
But it was Chief Of Staff and Slytherin House member Reince Priebus who really shoveled it deep, saying:
“On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people, and we’re continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals"
Amazingly, no one said Trump's birth was birth was foretold by a swallow and heralded by a glorious double rainbow and the appearance of a new star.

Stay down, lunch... you can do it. Just. Stay. Down.

The whole thing reminds me a lot of this. "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"

So what the hell is going on here? Is this laughable exercise just a sad old man's flailing attempt at trying to regain control of his administration? Or does it represent something more sinister?

The answer's "sinister." You probably already guessed that, didn't you?

This "Ring Of Accolades" was a tactic of the late Roy Cohn, who was Trump's mentor before he died of AIDS in 1986. 

Cohn was a controversial attorney who was Joseph McCarthy's right hand man during the Red Scare of the 1950s. He was also instrumental in convicting the Rosenbergs of espionage, and helped Nixon become president.

Cohn's clientele reads like a list of "Famous Trials Of The Century," as he represented Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, Claus von Bulow and even George Steinbrenner.

He also introduced Donald J. Trump to New York society and the world of politics. Cohn was famous, or I guess infamous, for believing that if you said something loudly and often enough, people would eventually believe it to be the truth.

Sound familiar?

Cohn would also host annual parties (at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida!), in which he'd go around the table and demand his guests fawn and kowtow to him.

Again, sound familiar?

Trump was absolutely smitten with Cohn, calling him up to five times a day and taking his every nugget of advice to heart. Cohn often told anyone who'd listen, "I made Trump successful." Cohn was also disbarred from the legal profession for being "unethical and unprofessional," and "for particularly reprehensible conduct."

Yep! That all sounds mighty familiar!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: ALIEN: Covenant

ALIEN: Covenant was written by John Logan and Dante Harper, with "story by" credit by Jack Paglen and Michael Green. It was directed by Ridley Scott.

Logan is a VERY uneven screenwriter, who previously wrote Bats, Any Given Sunday, Gladiator, The Time Machine, Star Trek: Nemesis, Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas, The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, Rango, Coriolanus, Hugo, Skyfall, Spectre and Genius. Whew!

Harper has worked extensively in Hollywood as a production manager, and has exactly one writing credit under his belt— this one!

Paglen previously wrote Transcendence, and that's about it. Green has worked mostly in TV, but also wrote Green Lantern and Logan. Talk about a checkered career!

Ridley Scott is of course a prolific and VERY esoteric director, who previously helmed The Duelists, ALIEN, Blade Runner, Legend, Someone To Watch Over Me, Black Rain, Thelma & Louise, 1482: Conquest Of Paradise, White Squall, G.I. Jane, Gladiator, Hannibal, Black Hawk Down, Matchstick Men, Kingdom Of Heaven, A Good Year, American Gangster, Body Of Lies, Robin Hood, Prometheus, The Counselor, Exodus: Gods And Kings and The Martian.

ALIEN: Covenant is of course a sequel to Prometheus, and yet another prequel to the ALIEN Quadrology.

I have an odd love/hate relationship with this franchise. I like ALIEN a lot, and I absolutely love ALIENS. It's one of my all-time favorite movies, and I've probably seen it fifty times. 

After that things take a turn for the worse. I've never watched ALIEN 3 and never will, due to the shoddy way it disposed of Newt, Hicks and Bishop. I strongly feel the characters deserved a better fate than to be killed— offscreen and in their sleep, yet— before the movie even began. I wasn't thrilled with ALIEN: Resurrection either, and absolutely hated Prometheus (even though I gave it a B in my review of it several years ago— I'm working toward being harder on mediocre movies). Sadly, ALIEN: Covenant hasn't changed my attitude toward the series. In my mind the first ALIEN and ALIENS are the only two films in the franchise. All the other movies are nothing more than elaborate, non-canon fan fiction.

Despite the fact that I didn't care for Prometheus, I recently rewatched it to refresh my memory before seeing the new film. Oddly enough I didn't hate it quite as much on second viewing. I still don't particularly like it, but I kind of see what Scott was going for, and I appreciate the fact that he at least tried something different with the film instead of simply rehashing ALIEN for a fourth time.

Unfortunately, that "trying something different" is what made Prometheus so divisive among fans. Half of them liked the bold new direction, while the other half loudly complained that it didn't look and feel like an ALIEN movie. Both camps had a point!

If Scott had simply made a brand new sci-fi story about the extraterrestrial Engineers and the origins of man that had no ties to the ALIEN universe, Prometheus would have been much more successful, and viewers wouldn't have sat there complaining, "Yeah, yeah, this is all very interesting, but when are we gonna see some xenomorphs?"

I'm convinced that Scott took all the Prometheus criticism to heart and attempted a course correction with ALIEN: Covenant. Heck, all you have to do is look at the title for proof of that! Gone are the lofty questions about the origins of man, the nature of life and the search for answers, replaced instead with safe, familiar tropes like deadly aliens and lots of running through dark spaceship corridors.

This dumbed-down, rehashed approach is the most annoying and infuriating thing about Covenant, as it renders Prometheus completely moot. Seriously, there's now absolutely no point in ever watching Prometheus again!

OK, to recap for those of you who've forgotten or never seen the film, Prometheus tells us that millions of years ago, a race of giant blue aliens called Engineers came to Earth and jumpstarted all life here.

Cut to the near future, where Dr. Elizabeth Shaw discovers cave paintings featuring a map to the an Engineer planet, which she sees as an invitation to come pay them a visit when we're able.

Shaw convinces trillionaire Peter Weyland to mount an expedition to the planet, called LV-223. There they find a large structure filled with containers full of black goo. This goo infects several crew members, causing deadly lifeforms to erupt from their bodies. 

Shaw and David the android discover an Engineer who's still alive, who plans to take a ship full of goo back to Earth to wipe out humanity. Fortunately she and David are able to stop him and save the day. At the end of the film, the two of them take off in search of the Engineer Homeworld, to personally ask them why they created and then tried to kill us.

Thanks to Covenant, that "Search For Answers" plotline in Prometheus is now a dead end, which will never explored or resolved. Even worse, Elizabeth Shaw was apparently killed offscreen prior to the new film. So we all sat through Prometheus for absolutely nothing. Thanks, Ridley Scott!
Structurally, Covenant is a mess. It shares the same problem as all prequels— there's no reason for it to exist (other than money), as it over-explains things that didn't need explaining, and de-mystifies the mythology. The xenomorph in ALIEN was legitimately terrifying. Unfortunately the The more we find out about them and their backstory, the less frightening they are. It's called fear of the unknown.

Apart from the android twins David and Walter, 
there's not a single interesting or compelling character in the film. The only one that comes close to standing out at all is Daniels, who comes off as a Ripley 2.0 (or I guess 1.0, since this is a prequel). But even in her case, we find out precious little about her, other than that she's a badass.

The rest of the cast are completely forgettable ciphers, existing only so they can be killed. In fact I wonder why the screenwriters bothered to give them names. They might as well be called Victim #1, Meatbag #3 and so on.

Covenant is not a movie so much as it's a highlight reel of the previous films. It's ALIEN'S Greatest Hits. It freely and shamelessly borrows the best bits from all over the franchise, cobbling them together into a Franken-film. It even liberally borrows elements from Jerry Goldsmith's iconic score from ALIEN! I'm not making that up either, as it's confirmed in the end credits.

Unfortunately it seems (for now) to step on previously established continuity, and raises more questions than it answers. This is just going to end up pissing off fans of the earlier films, like myself.

Please, for the love of god, somebody stop Ridley Scott before he directs again. He's flushing the ALIEN franchise right down the crapper, with no end in sight. In fact, earlier this year in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Scott claims he has ideas for SIX more ALIEN prequels after this one! SIX! That would put the total number of prequels to the original film at eight! That's insane.

This situation reminds me of "the talk" that all adult children eventually have to have with their elderly parents. You know, the one in which they have to take away their car keys and tell them they can no longer drive. Ridley Scott's kids need to take his director's megaphone away from him, and tell him it's time to stop ruining the ALIEN movies.

So far the film's underperforming here in the States, grossing just $71 million against its $97 million budget. It's done a bit better overseas, where it's raked in $110 million, for a total of $181 million. That's about the break even point, but I honestly don't see it making much more than that, especially with a dozen more summer blockbusters waiting in the wings.


The Plot:
We begin with a pre-Prometheus prologue, in which Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce), trillionaire founder of the Weyland/Yutani Corporation, activates the newly created android David (played by Michael Fassbender). This is the same David that will eventually wreak havoc in Prometheus, the previous film. Weyland says that one day he and David will search the stars to find mankind's creator. David wonders why he has to defer to puny humans, since he's immortal and they're not (uh-oh). He begins thinking he should serve whoever or whatever created mankind. Weyland angrily tries to shut down this dangerous line of thinking.

Years later in 2104, the USCSS Covenant is heading for the planet Origae-6 to start a colony there. The ship has a crew of fifteen, all of whom are in hypersleep. Also on board are two thousand frozen colonists, along with several thousand freeze-dried embryos which will be grown once they reach their destination. They're all cared for by Walter, an android of the same series as David, who looks exactly like him (Plot Point!).

Walter quietly tends to the ship and dormant crew for seven years, with the help of MU.TH.UR., aka "MOTHER," the ship's computer. Suddenly the Convenant's hit by a violent neutrino burst from a nearby star, causing major damage. Walter wakes the crew from hypersleep to help deal with the crisis. Unfortunately Captain Branson's cryotube is damaged and bursts into flames. He roasts alive inside the tube (!), much to the horror of his wife and second in command, Daniels (played by Katherine Waterston). The crew gets the ship back under control, but are saddened that forty seven of the frozen colonists were killed in the accident.

Command then falls to First Officer Oram (played by Billy Crudup), a highly religious, yet extremely unsure man. The crew has a short funeral for Branson before shooting his body into outer space. This irritates Oram, who for some reason forbid the crew from holding a service. The grieving Daniels confides in Walter, telling him that she and Branson planned to build a log cabin together when they got to Origae-6 (Another Plot Point!). She takes a nail they planned to use to build the cabin and makes a pendant out of it (which makes this Chekov's Nail).

Oram and Tennessee (played by Danny McBride), the ship's pilot, go on a spacewalk to repair the exterior damage. Tennessee picks up a faint distress signal, recognizing it as a human voice singing John Denver's Country Road. They trace the signal to a nearby planet, which scans indicate may be more hospitable than their actual destination (?). 

Against all logic and reason, Oram makes the incredibly reckess decision to divert the colony ship from its predetermined route and investigate the planet. Daniels protests (and rightly so), but is overruled, as no one wants to get back in the cryochambers and risk getting fried like Branson (!).

The ship arrives at the uncharted planet a few weeks later. Tennessee, Ricks and Upworth (don't bother trying to remember the names of these barely introduced characters) stay in orbit on the Covenant while the rest of the crew takes the one and only dropship down to the planet. They stupidly waltz off the ship without any protective gear whatsoever. As they walk through a lush field, they notice it's filled with wheat plants from Earth, and wonder how such a thing's possible. Daniel's points out that the planet's eerily quiet, as there are no animal or insect lifeforms to be found anywhere.

As they continue exploring, Ledward, a member of the security team, steps on a cluster of mushroom-like plants, causing alien spores to spew into the air. They fly around like cartoon bees and zoom right into his ear, infecting him. He stays behind to guard Oram's wife Karine, who takes samples of the local flora.

The crew then spots a crashed, horseshoe-shaped Engineer spaceship at the top of a mountain. They climb up to the ship and enter through a hole punched in the hull. As they wander around the interior of the ship, Daniels finds a set of dog tags labelled Dr. E. Shaw (the heroine of Prometheus). They also find her automatic distress signal and shut it off. Hallet is infected by additional spores that fly up his nose. Too bad these people didn't have some kind of... oh, I dunno... spacesuits to protect them from this sort of thing.

Ledward becomes violently ill from his spore infection, and Karine rushes him back to the dropship. She takes him to the medbay (that is one well-equipped dropship) for treatment. He becomes increasingly worse, until utimately a neomorph bursts from his back. Faris sees this and immediately seals the medbay, locking Karine inside with the creature. Karine pleads with Faris to let her out, but she refuses. The neomorph attacks Karine, and she fights it off for a while before it overpowers and kills her.

The neomorph easily breaks out of the medbay and starts scuttling all over the ship. Faris grabs a gun and shoots at it, accidentally hitting a rack of flammable tanks. The tanks explode, killing her and completely destroying the dropship (!). Somehow the neomorph escapes. The rest of the crew return just in time to see their ride go up in flames. Suddenly another neomorph explodes from Hallet's throat and disappears into the brush.

The two neomorphs grow up fast, and begin attacking the surviving crew. Ankor is killed, and Walter saves Daniels by jamming his left hand down a neomorph's throat. Unfortunately its acid blood burns off his left hand. The crew manages to kill one of the neomorphs, while the other's scared away by Obi-Wan Kenobi, er, I mean a mysterious, hooded figure. Gosh, I wonder who it could be?

Having no other choice— since amazingly there was only one dropship on the Convenant— the survivors follow the hooded figure. He leads them through a ruined city littered with hundreds of Engineer corpses. They enter a temple and the figure removes its hood. To absolutely no one's surprise, it turns out to be David, whose head was apparently reattached to his body sometime after the events of Prometheus. He assures them they're safe inside the temple.

Daniels asks David what happened to the city. He explains that he and Elizabeth Shaw arrived on the planet ten years ago in their borrowed Engineer horseshoe ship. Unfortunately the ship's cargo of black goo was somehow "accidentally" released over the city, destroying the populace. For some reason, the ship then crashed on the mountaintop, killing Shaw and leaving David the only inhabitant of the planet. Sure, sounds believable to me.

Daniels radios the Covenant, but they can't land the ship due to a massive and intense storm in the area (which we inexplicably never see on the surface). In the temple, David chats with Walter, who's sort of his descendent. David's surprised and upset that Walter isn't programmed with an imagination. Walter says that humans were freaked out by the David series' capacity for creative thought and removed it in subsequent models like himself. David then tries to teach Walter to play the flute, which isn't the least bit sexually suggestive at all.

Rosenthal is separated from the group and decapitated by the surviving neomorph. David discovers her body, and tries communicating with the alien. Oram walks in, sees what's going on and kills the neomorph, angering David. Oram demands to know what's really going on, and David reveals that for the past ten years he's been experimenting with the black goo, attempting to genetically engineer a perfect new species— the xenomorphs.

He takes Oram down to an underground chamber, filled with the familiar eggs from ALIEN. One of the eggs opens, and Oram stupidly sticks his head right over it, as a facehugger flies out and implants an embryo in him. A chestburster erupts from his body a few minutes later.

David tries to turn Walter to his side, telling them that humanity is an inferior species that should be wiped out. When Walter disagrees, David violently stabs him in the neck with his flute, causing him to spew milky white fluid from his wound, which, once again isn't the least bit sexually suggestive at all. Walter seemingly "dies," and David leaves. A closeup reveals Walter's neck wound slowly healing itself...

The security team comes to investigate Oram's disappearance, and Lope is attacked by another facehugger. Cole cuts it off him, but its acid blood severely burns Lope's face in the process. Cole's killed by a now full-sized xenomorph (that apparently grew to adulthood in a matter of two minutes), as Lope limps the hell out of there.

Meanwhile, Tennessee's wringing his hands back the Covenant, worried about his wife Faris (who he doesn't know is dead) and the rest of the crew. He overrides MOTHER's safety protocols and takes the ship down into the storm in an effort to reestablish communications.

Daniels wanders into David's chamber of horrors, and sees drawings he made of Shaw's disemboweled body. She realizes Shaw didn't die in the crash after all, and David killed her. She confronts him, and he admits he experimented on Shaw's body. David attacks Daniels, who stabs him in the throat with her nail pendant. David shrugs off the injury and pulls out the nail. He attacks Daniels again, but she's saved by the timely appearance of Walter, who, being a more advanced model of android, managed to heal himself.

Walter and David have a brutal battle, as Daniels flees the temple. She and the injured Lope manage to contact the Covenant, which is being buffeted by the dangerous storm (that we still can't see on the surface). Tennessee doesn't dare lower the ship any farther, but Daniels suggests flying the sturdy cargo sled down to the surface.

Daniels and Lope rush out to the landing area to wait for rescue. They're joined by Walter, who apparently "killed" David while we weren't looking. Never mind that no director with an ounce of sanity would ever allow a villain to be killed offscreen— this is really Walter! He's missing his left hand and everything!

Tennessee flies the sled down to the surface, and the three leap onto it. As it's about to take off, a xenomoprh climbs on as well. It tries to smash its head through the sled's cockpit to get to Tennessee, but Daniels manages to grab it with the claws of a crane (cough power loader cough), perfectly recreating the "Get away from her you BITCH" moment from ALIENS. She manages to crush the xenomorph and fling it into the air, as the sled rockets back into space.

Back on the Covenant, the survivors recover and prepare to resume course to Origae-6. Unfortunately they find Lope's been killed by a chestburster, meaning there's now an adult xenomorph on board. The creature kills Ricks and Upworth while they're in the shower, as the movie decides to try and remake ALIEN in its final fifteen minutes. Daniels and Tennessee lure it into the terraforming bay. Daniels locks it inside a large utility vehicle, which she then jettisons out the airlock (Wow, blasting a xenomorph into space? Never seen that before!).

The crisis averted, Daniels and Tennessee (the only surviving members of the crew) climb into their cryochambers. As Walter's tucking Daniels in, she mentions the cabin she and her late husband planned to build on Origae-6. Walter doesn't know what she's talking about, and Daniels realizes he's actually David, in the LEAST surprising plot twist of all time. She's horrified when she realizes what David will do to the two thousand frozen colonists on board, and begins shrieking and pounding on the cryochamber lid before it puts her back to sleep.

David goes to the hypersleep bay and observes his new frozen test subjects. He vomits up two facehugger embryos (?) and places them into cold storage. He (as Walter) makes a log entry, noting that all crew members except Daniels and Tennessee were killed in the neutrino blast (??).

• As long-time readers of Bob Canada's BlogWorld all know by now, I hate it 
when a "futuristic" movie is filled with all sorts of high-tech gadgetry and is set in a society radically different from out own— and then takes place in the far off year of 2030.

ALIEN: Covenant is one to these films, as it's set just eighty seven short years from now. I ABSOLUTELY GUARANTEE you there's no way in hell we'll have terraforming, colony ships, warp drives or androids indistinguishable from humans by that point. Hell, even if they started today, it would take NASA twenty years or more to send a manned ship back to our own Moon. And a Mars mission is even farther away.

Would it have killed them to have set the story three or four hundred years from now?

• James Franco has an uncredited role as Captain Branson, who dies in a horrific fire inside a cryotube within the first five minutes of the film. Actually it's impossible to tell it's Franco or anyone else during the death scene.

He shows up briefly again a bit later, as Daniels watches a video of him mountain climbing.

So why would the producers go to the trouble of casting a recognizable actor for such a short and distracting cameo? Welp, it's because Franco's role was originally a bit bigger, but was cut for time. You can see more of him in an online-only "prologue" called Last Supper.

By the way, when Daniels watches the video of Branson mountain climbing, it's impossible not to think of Franco in 124 Hours.

• Speaking of the cryotubes, why is it even possible to be incinerated inside one? Aren't they supposed to freeze you? Why's there anything incendiary in there?

• The movie goes out of its way to point out that Oram is an "extremely religious" man, implying this is a rarity in the future. Yet when the crew wants to hold a short memorial service for Captain Branson, Oram forbids it, saying there are more important duties to perform.

If he's so damned religious, why would he object to a funeral service? You'd think he'd have been the first one to suggest it, so he could get out his Bible and start thumping it!

• As everyone knows by now, every movie in the ALIEN franchise tells the exact same story over and over— people find aliens, aliens kill people, lady kills alien and survives. In an effort to lessen this repetition a bit, each film has featured a different group of victims, er, I mean characters.

ALIEN: Space Truckers

ALIENS: Space Marines
ALIEN 3: Prisoners
ALIEN Resurrection: Mercenaries
Prometheus: Scientists
ALIEN: Covenant: Colonists

Not a nitpick, just an observation.

• It's kind of disheartening to see people smoking in this movie. Surely by 2104 humanity will have wised up and kicked that filthy habit? On the other hand, smoking was still rampant in ALIENS as well, which was set in 2179. I guess people never learn.

• The crew picks up Shaw's automated distress signal, and discovers it's coming from a relatively nearby planet. After scanning the planet, Oram says it looks more promising than their destination of Origae-6, and wants to divert the ship there.

No. NO! Absolutely not! Bad movie! BAD! Go to your room, Ridley Scott, and don't come out until you're ready to direct something that's not so stupid.

The Covenant's mission is not something that was slapped together overnight. It no doubt required years of planning and research. Scientists studied hundreds, maybe thousands of planets, and designated Origae-6 as the best possible candidate for colonization. A crew was then chosen and trained for months, maybe years to prepare them for the conditions they'd encounter on that particular planet. Equipment was selected and loaded, based on the conditions they'd encounter on their new world. Then there's the fuel situation. We don't know exactly what powers the Covenant, but it's entirely possible it has just enough fuel to make it to Origae-6 and no farther.

And then Oram casually throws all that careful planning out the window by saying, "Hey guys, let's check out that completely unknown planet over there!"

This is something that would NEVER, EVER happen on any kind of expedition, and it was so monumentally stupid it actually made me angry there in my theater seat. Daniels should have declared him unfit for duty and assumed command right then and there.

• Why the hell is there only one dropship on the Covenant? That just seems like poor planning. They're millions of light years from Earth. If something happens to it, as it does here, they don't have a backup and there ain't anywhere to go for a replacement.

• I pointed this out several times in the plot, but it bears repeating. Over and over during the movie, we're told that the Covenant can't land on the planet's surface because there's a violent storm blanketing the area.

Yet whenever we cut to the surface of the planet, there's absolutely NO evidence of this. No wind, no thunder or lighting, no ominous clouds. Not even a single drop of rain. Chalk it up to bizarre alien weather that's invisible from the ground, I guess.

• Everyone and their dog has already pointed this out, but it bears repeating— after the dropship lands, the colonists all stupidly walk out and casually stroll around the planet with absolutely NO protective gear whatsoever. Not even so much as a cotton face mask. Wait, wait, strike that. They DO wear fetching little hats with a protective flap in back, so there you go. Safety first!

No one thinks to run any checks for hostile lifeforms, dangerous bacteria or harmful radiation. Naturally it isn't long before one of the crew members becomes infected by alien spores.

The crew in Prometheus acted like idiots as well, trying to pet alien cobra things and bringing potentially harmful organisms onboard their ship. Even so, they look like geniuses next to the Covenant staff.

To make matters even worse, we see they have a little wheeled drone that trundles down the ramp AFTER everyone's already disembarked. They could have easily sent this drone out in advance to have it test the air and see if protective gear was necessary or not. The thing's right there on the ship— why not use it?

Look, I get it. If they'd have used the drone, it would have detected the spores, they'd have said, "Let's get the hell out of here" and then the movie would have been over (if only). But surely there was a less clumsy and obvious way to jumpstart the plot.

• When Ledward steps on the extraterrestrial puffball, he releases a swarm of spores that form various geometric shapes as they fly through the air, before making a beeline for his nearest open orifice.

As they do so, it's impossible not to think of old cartoons featuring swarms of bees that form weapons and such.

• After Ledward's infected, an alien creature bursts from his back, rather than his chest, as is traditional in this films. SEE, GUYS? This movie's COMPLETELY different from ALIEN! It's got backbursters!

• How are the xenomorphs growing to adulthood so fast in this movie? Granted, the previous films have never given us a timetable for their life cycle, but it seems like it took a few hours at least to go from facehugger to chestburster to adult. In Covenant it seems like they're growing to full size in literally minutes.

• Credit where credits's due, ALIEN: Covenant looks amazing, as all of Ridley Scott's films do. The David/Walter "twin" effects in particular were very well done. I just wish Scott put as much time into the story as he does his effects.

• David brags that he has the ability to imagine and create, which is something Walter doesn't have the capability to do. Walter explains that androids from the David series were a little too human, and made people uncomfortable. So the Walter series was deliberately designed to be more robot-like to avoid the "uncanny valley" effect.

This is the exact same plotline that was featured in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Datalore. In that episode, Data the android finds out he has an"older brother" named Lore, who acts much more naturally and can even experience emotions. Lore made the humans around him uncomfortable, so he was deactivated and the less-realistic Data was created as a substitute.

There's no doubt in my mind that Covenant stole this idea from Star Trek. It's so blatant it's actually shocking.

• After finding out that Walter isn't programmed with creativity, David attempts to teach him how to play the flute. As the lesson progresses, David slowly moves in closer and closer, gently guiding Walter's hand over the holes in the flute. Subtle!

This had to be the most obvious and downright WEIRD sex scene in cinema history. Flagrant doesn't even begin to describe it. If you've ever wanted to see Michael Fassbender shamelessly flirt with himself, this is the movie for you.

• At one point David takes Oram into his xenomorph birthing room, and shows him an alien egg. The top of the egg opens up, and Oram literally sticks his head down into it to get himself a better look at what's inside. Naturally a second later a facehugger springs out and wraps itself around his head (though it didn't have very far to spring).

This may have been the stupidest and most laughable scene in the entire franchise. I hope actor Billy Crudup was embarrassed at having to film it.

• At the end of the film, it's revealed that David actually switched places with Walter, in one of the most telegraphed "plot twists" I've ever seen.

Seriously, is there anyone who DIDN'T see this switch coming? The second that Walter got his hand burned off, I knew that would become a plot point, as it was an obvious way of identifying the identical androids from one another. Why hobble a character that way unless it was going to pay off somehow later on?

Later on David and Walter have an epic android on android battle. The movie turns its attention away from them for a bit, and then suddenly Walter appears, saying he "killed" David offscreen. It seems odd for a major character to die offscreen, but it must be true, as this is definitely Walter. After, all, he's missing his left hand! Eh? EH?

Then at the very end we find out that Walter is really David after all. To absolutely no one's surprise, he apparently burned off his own hand to imitate Walter so he could infiltrate the Convenant and continue his weirdo xenomorph experiments.

It was all so obvious. The movie has two identical characters, one good and one evil. Suddenly one disappears, and we're told he died offscreen. No movie would EVER do that, unless it was trying to set up a twist ending. It's Screenwriting 101. The most frustrating thing about it was how long it went on, to the point where the audience was practically yelling at the screen for the movie to reveal the twist already.

• By the way, it's established earlier in the film that David can't heal injuries, but Walter, being a later and more advanced model, can. Unless his hand gets burned off. I guess that's too big an injury for him to heal.

When David attacks Daniels, she stabs him in the chin with a nail. Later on when he's impersonating Walter, the chin wound is inexplicably gone.  Did David fill in the hole with putty?

• As I said earlier, ALIEN: Covenant plays out like the Greatest Hits of the franchise, borrowing elements from almost all the previous films. Amazingly, it even cribs a few things from Blade Runner, which was also directed by Ridley Scott.

The first third of the film, in which the crew lands on the planet, finds an alien ship and explores it, is practically a scene for scene remake of Prometheus.

The final fifteen or twenty minutes of the film are a condensed version of ALIEN, as a xenomorph gets loose on the ship. It kills several crew members before it's herded into a cargo bay and blasted into space.

The galley and dimly-lit corridors of the Covenant look amazingly like those of the Nostromo in ALIEN.

When the cargo sled lands, Daniels, Lope and Walter jump onto it. Unfortunately, so does a xenomorph. Daniels uses an industrial crane attached to the sled to fight the alien, ultimately grabbing it with a giant mechanical claw. This entire scene is lifted wholesale from the end of ALIENS.

This movie contains a scene where a toy bird drinking water is visable. In the opening scene of the original Alien (1979) there is another toy bird shown.

We see the xenomorph's point of view here, getting a glimpse of how they somehow see the world even though they don't have any visible eyes. This Alien POV is something that first appeared in ALIEN 3.

David tells Oram that the xenomorphs are the "perfect organism." This is exactly what the evil android Ash said about them in ALIEN.

David gives Walter a gentle kiss right before he stabs him. Roy Batty does the exact same thing to his creator Dr. Tyrell, right before he crushes his head in Blade Runner.

When David attacks Daniels, she stabs him in the throat with a large nail. David shrugs off the injury and says, "That's the spirit!" to her. This is the same line Roy Batty said during his fight with Deckard in Blade Runner.

• Sadly, ALIEN: Covenant raises far more questions than it bothers to answer. It's unclear at this point whether Ridley Scott just doesn't know the answers, or if he's saving them for the next film. Here are a few of the questions that came to mind while watching:

David arrives on the Engineer planet in his stolen horseshoe-shaped ship. For some reason, he then releases canisters of black goo onto the capitol (and only?) city, which kills the entire population of Engineers. Why does he kill them? Your guess is as good as mine.

Supposedly David is the one who single-handedly created the xenomorph species we all know and love by experimenting and cross-breeding the neomorphs. Just one question— where'd he get his test subjects? The species reproduces by infecting a host, much like a giant virus. David killed all the Engineers, so there were no hosts left. Did he somehow cross the neomorphs with each other?

Where does the xenomorph queen fit into all this? In ALIENS we saw that the queen is the one who lays the eggs. In Covenant, David somehow has an entire room full of eggs, but there's no queen to be seen anywhere. The queen wasn't in the original ALIEN, which was directed by Ridley Scott— she was invented for ALIENS by James Cameron and Stan Winston. Is Scott deliberately ignoring the queen?

One would assume the Covenant has various access codes and other security measures onboard. How's David gonna deal with those when he's impersonating Walter? Did he somehow upload Walter's codes before he killed him?

Back on board the Covenant, David puts Daniels and Tennessee into their cyrochambers. This makes sense, as he no doubt wants to use them as test subjects in his xenomorph experiments. But then he makes a log entry (as Walter) saying everyone but Daniels and Tennessee was killed in the neutrino blast. Why not say ALL the crew was killed? Does he think it would look suspicious if he said they all died? Plus, Daniels knows that David isn't really Walter now, so I can't imagine he'd let her live.

At the end of the film, David regurgitates two tiny facehugger embryos and places them in a freeze chamber for later experiments. Um... don't the facehuggers hatch from eggs? Did he break open a couple of eggs & swallow what was inside?

Since this is a prequel, the events of ALIEN haven't yet happened. Despite the fact that we just saw David seemingly wipe out the Engineer race, at some point in the future one of them HAS to crash a ship full of xenomorph eggs on LV-426, for the crew of the Nostromo to find. But if David is the one who created the eggs, where does the Engineer get a cargo hold full of them?

I'm told that the novelization and online articles clear up some of these nagging questions. I don't care. I shouldn't have to do homework in order to understand a goddamned movie. If the answers can't be found on the screen, then the director failed at his job.

ALIEN: Covenant is yet another of Ridley Scott's seemingly interminable prequels to the ALIEN franchise. Unfortunately, it completely torpedoes the lofty questions raised by its predecessor Prometheus, as it forgoes intellectualism for action. It's less a movie as it is a Greatest Hits reel of the entire series, and raises far more questions than it answers. Skip it and watch ALIEN or ALIENS instead. I give it a C+.

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