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ALIEN: COVENANT And the Joy of Prequels

May 27, 2017 Leave a comment

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I have always found prequels to be more fascinating than sequels. Primarily because of the fact that they give a better glimpse into a writer/director’s mind than a sequel does. And prequels, I feel, are a bigger testament to a filmmaker’s vision and his/her film making prowess. Its harder to trace the origins of a story and tie the origins seamlessly into what we have come to love over the years, than to take a story further from where you left off the last time we talked about it.

Both have seen their fair share of successes and failures over the years. STAR WARS Episodes 1-3 are a classic case of prequels that went strangely wrong (Only in my humble opinion, Force Fans!) while the recent sequels of the same have shown considerable strength. Similarly, BATMAN BEGINS, CASINO ROYALE and MONSTERS UNIVERSITY did an exemplary job with helping us see where some of our beloved characters came from. SPIDERMAN 2, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY, BEFORE SUNSET and their likes, on the other hand, not only enhanced the original stories but added further nuance to the characters.

When director Ridley Scott mentioned a few years ago then he was planning on a series of prequels for his horror masterpiece, ALIEN, I was skeptical. Did I really care about the origin of the Xenomorph? Was I really curious about what really brought the crew member of the spacecraft Nostromo to the planetoid LV-426 and where those mysterious transmissions they received came from? I knew that Ripley was dead and the last attempt to “resurrect” her onscreen in ALIEN: RESURRECTION had resulted in something that was nothing short of a catastrophe!

Hell, I didn’t even clearly remember the original ALIEN movie, which came out back in 1979 when I was a small kid. I did have faint memories of jumping up in my theater seat, while watching James Cameron’s sequel ALIENS years ago, without understanding the cultural impact the Alien films would end up having on moviegoers in the decades to come. I am among the very few people who actually admired the third movie in the series – ALIEN3, due to its frenetic style of film making and started liking it even more when I found out that it was directed by the masterful David Fincher (who incidentally doesn’t want to ever talk about it!).

So when Ridley Scott unleashed PROMETHEUS on us in 2012, I was zapped! It fascinated me, it scared me, it left me bewildered, breathless and desperately clamoring for more. (Check out my post on Prometheus that I wrote after watching the film five years ago.)

ALIEN: COVENANT is the next installment in the Alien saga, directed again by Ridley Scott, which carries the story of PROMETHEUS further and closer to where the original ALIEN started. This is a smart, clever prequel which is a must-watch for all ALIEN fans…young and old…new and existing….horror-lovers and thrill seekers alike. The film is a wonderful example of how you use the DNA of something that the audience has come to love over generations and embellish it with something that once again gets fans talking and thinking.

The movie has plenty of R-rated gore, as the trailers clearly suggested, but the linkage from PROMETHEUS is so seamless that one can’t help admire the devious mind of Ridley Scott. Of course there are hiccups and there are questions that remain unanswered. The critics and audience have been understandingly frustrated and have hence been split on their verdict. But what I personally found worthy of my time and money, apart from those breathtaking visuals, the monumental artwork and the sizzling special effects, was Michael Fassbender’s superb acting and the way Scott and his writing team chose to carefully but assuredly expand on what they started with PROMETHEUS and lay it upon the audience in just the right amount of dosage.

Sure, there are hiccups galore. The story of the crew follows a familiar trajectory (Come on, it’s an ALIEN movie after all…so no surprises there!). People continue to act stupid, take unwise decisions and make mistakes that we have all come to treat as part of the package for all movies in this genre. And Katherine Waterston’s DANIELS is probably no match for Sigourney Weaver’s RIPLEY or maybe even Noomi Rapace’s ELIZABETH SHAW.

But is it even fair to compare Daniels or Shaw to Ripley? I strongly don’t believe so. Ripley’s strength as a character grew from film to film, in the face of an increasingly familiar threat. Whilst for both Shaw and Daniels, this is completely new and unchartered territory. The big and fearful unknown.  And given how the importance of their characters gets diminished along the way, compared to Fassbender’s synthetic DAVID, both characters (and actresses) just about deliver(ed) what is expected of them.

ALIEN: COVENANT is a film that is meant to be seen on the big screen and may not appeal to a lot of viewers in its first seeing. But this is a film that one is surely to start admiring upon second (and possibly even further repeated) viewings. As mentioned earlier, there are things that are left unaddressed and characters who are not dealt with. Ridley Scott has said that he has material for at least two more films before he is finally able to connect things to ALIEN. But my fear is that, given the tepid response to the two prequels, 20TH Century Fox (or some other studio) may either not want to agree to finance another installment, or Scott may decide not to direct it and it may end up in the hands of an unaccomplished director.

If any of that happens, if the questions remain unanswered, if the connection remains broken, then the vision of yet another master storyteller, director and the Alien “ENGINEER” will remain unfulfilled. And that will be something that neither a synthetic like DAVID or a human like myself would be able to come to terms with.

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Categories: Hollywood, Movies