Do or Do Not: Anthony Bourdain, Star Wars, and Failure — Engen Books

•June 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Like so many, I was deeply saddened by the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. He produced many great TV shows and pretty much created modern food culture with Kitchen Confidential. He was a once in a generation influence. I was watching one of his final interviews where he made a point that I’ve been thinking […]

via Do or Do Not: Anthony Bourdain, Star Wars, and Failure — Engen Books

The MCU Films Ranked

•May 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

 

In October I will be publishing my debut novel, After Dark Vapours, with Engen Books. I’ll have more to say about that in the upcoming months. To introduce myself to Engen’s readers, I listed the MCU films from worst to best. Check it out here:

via MCU Ranked | Dun Dun Dunne — Engen Books

The (Second) Last Jedi: How I would approach the Star Wars sequels pt2

•January 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As I said in my previous post on this topic, I thought The Last Jedi was good, but had serious flaws. Matthew Colville did a pretty great YouTube rant about the movie where he made an apropos reference to Hitchcock’s “refrigerator test”: You enjoyed the movie while you were watching but a couple hours later you’re at home, you go to the fridge and suddenly you realize the movie had a number of issues.

One of Colville’s points that I certainly agree with is that Disney seems to be under the impression that Star Wars isn’t (perhaps even shouldn’t be) about anything. That a Star Wars movie can’t have a theme. So long as they nail a number of stylistic elements (tone in particular) then they’ve done their job. To some extent this is true. Many Marvel movies make no attempt at thematic heavy lifting and they’re still infinitely preferable to Batman V Superman with all its shallow gestures at lofty ideas.

This is surprising because Disney is home to Pixar, which boasts some of the best storytellers in the business. Indeed, some of the best writing principles I have learned have come from interviews with Pixar writers. I love checking out the “making of” featurettes on Pixar movies. I’ve even listened to the director’s commentary tracks multiple times, especially for WALL-E (yes, I’m that much of a fucking nerd). So if Pixar can regularly explore sophisticated themes in kids movies, why can’t Star Wars?

With The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson set up several possible themes, but failed to follow through with any of them. As a result, the movie has too many spines. A solid screenplay picks one main idea and carries that out to its logical conclusion. Let’s take The Empire Strikes Back. For me the central idea of that film is that the Empire is bad because they’re fascist and reduce individuals to indistinguishable pawns, whereas the Rebels are good because they embrace individuality and represent freedom. We see this most explicitly when Vader encases Han Solo in carbonite. The Empire has taken one of the most dynamic and spontaneous of characters and frozen him.

What is the theme of The Last Jedi? Well, as far as I can tell there are several 1) What must be done about the past? Luke and Kylo both want to destroy it in their own ways. Rey wants to preserve it. 2) We must redefine what it means to be heroic. We see this with Poe Dameran’s arc. 3) Cynicism is bad. We see this with DJ, Benicio del Torro’s character. And 4) We must fight for the things we love, not simply destroy what we hate. Rose Tico says this explicitly to Finn.

I think these are all worthy ideas. But we have to pick one. Or at least a coherent synthesis of a few. I’ll try my best: In the fight for the good we must be willing to find new ways of thinking. So what does that mean? Firstly, I think Star Wars entire raison d’etre is to affirm our culture’s most basic mores. It is space opera after all, a modern fair tale. I will try and unpack how this theme/moral argument cashes out in The Last Jedi.

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Much like Empire, Last Jedi can be broken into two plot pathways A) The Jedi and B) The Rebels. Empire divides the story between Luke on Degobah and the Milenium Falcon trying to escape the Empire. Similarly, Rey, Luke, and Kylo have their plot while the First Order and the Resistance have their own. Eventually, they all cross paths in the end.

So let’s start with the Jedi.

Luke and Rey were both my favourite aspect of the movie and the greatest disappointment. There was the groundwork here to do something really interesting with the Jedi Order and enrich our understanding of the Force. But the movie misses this opportunity. They touch on something the original movies do quite well: showing how the student must move beyond the teacher. In the originals, Luke is right when he disagrees with Yoda and Obi-Wan. Ultimately, Vader does still have good in him. In The Last Jedi, it’s unclear what Rey learns from Luke or how she moves beyond him.

Firstly, I loved Mark Hamill’s performance. It was probably his best in the entire series. He steals the show. I like Johnson’s direction with his character, too. But his motives are kinda muddled. I would still have Luke be grumpy etc. but his motive to destroy the Jedi are more legitimate. I mean, why did he bother discovering the first Jedi temple anyway? What I was hoping to see was that Luke had discovered a new way to interpret the Force. That instead of succumbing the binary of the Light vs. the Dark, he’d found a third way, which subverted the conflict. And this is what he teaches Rey.

So, Rey arrives on the planet, hands Luke the lightsabre and he tosses it. She tries to convince him to re-join the battle against the First Order. He’s uninterested. Like he says in the movie, “You think I’m going to show up and single handedly take on the First Order?” (A line that telegraphs the finale nicely.) Then R2 comes along and shows him that hologram of Leia. (This was such a great moment in the film). Luke says to Rey, “OK, I won’t fight, but I’ll teach you what I know about the Force–and why the Jedi must come to an end.”

Luke explains that what he’s learned here is that there is no Light or Dark sides of the Force, there is only the Force. It is a force of nature and is therefore neither inherently good nor evil; it just is. (Yeah, we’re getting a little Nietzsche up in here). The problem comes when we try to use the Force towards political goals. The Sith are obviously evil because they use the Force for personal power. However, the Jedi aren’t much better because they impose all kinds of limitations on the Force. The Jedi are too cloistered, too righteous, that’s why at the height of their strength they were taken apart by Palpatine. (Colville makes another interesting point about the prequels that is somewhat along the lines of what I’m getting at.)

So when the “Dark Side” is encouraging Rey to go down that hole, it’s Luke who encourages her to follow where her intuition is leading her. “There is conflict inside you, there is an anger, a confusion. The Force is trying to help you understand it, to reconcile it. Don’t be afraid.” As such, Rey goes down into the hole and has a vision about her parents. They were lowlifes who’d sold her for booze money. She can no longer resist that deep down in her heart she knows this to be true.

After this breakthrough, she’s visited by Kylo. He’s trying to seduce her to his side. She tells him that Luke is training her. He tells her about what happened when Luke tried to kill him. She confronts Luke about this and he admits it is the truth. He explains that for a moment he wanted to kill his nephew because he thought it would be for the greater good, that he could avoid a great deal of suffering if he prevented the new Darth Vader. But then he realized this was wrong, only too late.

Luke explains that it was this failure that led him to realize that he needed to understand the Dark Side better. He came to the first Jedi temple because needed a deeper knowledge of the Force. He learned that had he been more open to what the Force was trying to tell him about his Dark impulses, then he could’ve helped Ben, he could’ve seen the error of his own ways. He thought the Dark Side was something to be resisted, to be fought, but no it is something to be understood.

Rey says that she sees the conflict in Kylo, much the way Luke saw the conflict in Vader. She believes that if she can go to him, she can convince him to turn against the First Order. Luke refuses. This is all part of the problem, he says. Rebels/Empire, Resistance/First Order, Light/Dark. Free yourself from these conflicts. Rey’s like, that’s all well and good if you want to be a hermit, but my friends are dying. She says refusing to fight for the good only helps oppressors.

Colville makes a great point again when he says that Rey and Kylo need to have a moment where they almost come to an alliance but can’t reconcile that one last important ideological difference. So, let’s keep the throne room scene and at the end Kylo says “Join me, Rey. I can end this war. Your friends don’t have to die. Join me and we can build a better, more just universe.” And she says “With the Republic.” But that’s where they stop. Kylo doesn’t believe in democracy and the Republic.

I would keep the ending pretty much as is. A lot of people are saying Luke had the most anti-climactic death ever. Really? Y’all seem to have forgotten Padme dying of a broken heart. Fuck outta here. I liked that Luke used the Force to project himself across the universe. For me, it goes back to what he said in the beginning. He couldn’t actually take on the First Order by himself. But as an image, as a symbol, he could. As the Wisecrack team explains, Luke’s gambit pays off in the sense that he becomes a legend. Word goes around that he took on all these AT-ATs all by himself. This (we’re lead to believe) rallies people behind the Resistance. Luke’s theatrics is a better recruitment tool than Leia’s call for help. It plants the seeds for the long term battle against the First Order.

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Phew, now we get to the other half of The Last Jedi.

Laura Dern was another big disappointment for me. I think she’s a great actress but her role in this movie made no sense to me. And Rose Tico? It’s terrible the racist bullshit that actress is having to deal with, but sorry girl your character was awful. I didn’t enjoy any of the interactions she had with Finn. Finally, there’s DJ, del Torro’s character. More on him in a bit, but I thought he was criminally underused.

There’s just way too many new characters here. They should’ve used Last Jedi to explore the main characters like Finn, Rey, and Poe more deeply. I really can’t see what Holdo or Tico brought to the table. Why not keep the conflict focused on Poe and Leia? Furthermore, why not send Poe and Finn down to Canto Bight to further develop their friendship.

I couldn’t understand what they were trying to say about heroism with the contrasting of Poe, Holdo, and Finn. Leia admonishes Poe for getting a bunch of bombers killed in the beginning. Then Holdo sacrifces herself to save the Resistance. But when Finn tries to do the same, but then it’s bad? Sloppy storytelling.

By cutting down some of these characters, not only do we get to gain a richer understanding of the characters we’ve already come to love, but also focus on a new character that actually brings something to the table: DJ. He provides an important contrast to our heroes. He’s a cynic, like Han Solo if Luke hadn’t inspired him to join to Rebellion. This is what Rey is fighting against. That nothing matters and you should just get yours. Unfortunately, we don’t get enough screen time with DJ to really explore this concept.

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So now we have some nice foils between our character. At the bottom is DJ, who is totally cynical and only fights for himself. Then there’s Kylo, who believes in something and fights for it, but is on the wrong side. Luke is also hesitant to fight, but it ultimately inspired by Rey. And finally we have our hero Rey, who believes in something and fights on the right side.

Rey embodies the central idea of redefining past institutions in order to continue fighting for the good. She wants to move beyond the past, unlike Kylo who is obsessed with it and wants to destroy it at all costs. Unlike Luke she’s not paralyzed by the past. And finally, unlike DJ, she isn’t a cynic.

Despite the fact that The Last Jedi missed some great storytelling opportunities, I’m content with a movie that passes the refrigerator test. People seem to take for granted nowadays the value of a competently made film, even if it isn’t a gamechanger like its predecessors. Rewatch the prequels and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Cheers,

-b

The Force (Re)Awakens: How I would approach the Star Wars sequels

•December 26, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The Last Jedi is out and people have some feelings. I thought it was alright. There were things I liked and things I didn’t like. But since it’s 2017, nuance is dead and polarization reigns. This can only be the best Star Wars movie ever or the worst. There’s even a petition to have the film removed from canon. And there’s the typical losers who are all butthurt over the presence of minorities and women, but the less said about those people the better.

I could parse through The Last Jedi and delineate what I thought worked (Rey, Luke, and Kylo) vs what didn’t (pretty much everything on Canto Bight), but I think that would be pretty much useless. My issues with The Last Jedi, and also The Force Awakens, go a lot deeper than a few plot choices here and there. I have an issue with how this new series has been established and the groundwork it is being built upon. Therefore, I thought it would be a better exercise to show how I would approach the new series from the ground up, starting with Force Awakens.

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Artist:  Grzegorz Domaradzki (aka Gabz)

One of the major criticisms of the prequels (and there are many) was that there was too much politics. And this is certainly fair. Lucas gives the audience a lot of bullshit about trade disputes and partisanship among senators, when we’re just sitting there like, “so…who’s the Trade Federation again?”

However, I would say that the sequels don’t have enough politics. Part of the reason I was so excited about the new movies was that they would show what happened following the events of Return of the Jedi. Like, what happened in the vacuum following the destruction of the Empire and the death of Palpatine and Vader. And the answer is…not much. The Force Awakens picks up like episodes 4-6 didn’t really matter.

I understand that what they’re trying to say is that Star Wars is like the mythological journey; it’s a cycle. We reach the end and start again at the beginning. OK, yeah I get that. But what we’re getting is lazy storytelling. It feels like they’re using this as a thematic way to justify fan service, intertextuality, and nostalgia-bating.  Thematically, things can be cyclical, yes. Perhaps characters in the Star Wars universe will always be battling the dichotomy of the light and dark sides of the force. However, that doesn’t mean the plot need stay the same. Say what you will about the prequels, but at least they tried to give us a different look at how the Star Wars universe may work.

Instead, I would stage the sequels in a kind of civil war setting. After the events of RotJ there were forces that joined the Rebellion to try and recreate a democratic republic. Conversely, there were still forces that remained loyal to the Empire. The First Order and the Resistance are battling it out over control of the galaxy as equal forces.

All that being said, the first act of Force Awakens works really well. They do a great job showing the audience Rey’s character in particular. For me, the movie starts to fall flat in act two, for several reasons. First is when we see yet again another Death Star. Seriously? A third one? Like I said, yeah myths are cyclical but you don’t gotta be so literal about it. Also, when the First Order destroys all the planets of the Republic, the audience feels nothing. Like who are these people? What’s the significance of this destruction? Compare this to A New Hope when Grand Moff Tarkin destroys Alderaan. It feels monumental. In Force Awakens, it’s like, “Oh, OK, that happened.” The First Order’s destruction of Takodana was enough to demonstrate their ruthlessness. Also, the audience got a chance to actually spend time there so it feels more personal.

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Secondly, Rey’s “refusal of the call” feels contrived. Han offers her to join him but she declines because she wants to return to Jakku. And when she touches Luke’s lightsaber, she runs from it. Why? The audience feels no empathy for her in this moment. There’s nothing back on Jakku. It’s obvious. Rey believes her family is coming for her, but the audience has seen no convincing reason to believe this.

(Also, what’s the point of Jakku? Why not just make it Tatooine? It’s exactly the same. It would also help establish the legend of Luke Skywalker, etc.)

Contrast this to Luke’s refusal in A New Hope. Obi-Wan asks him to join, but Luke refuses because he feels like he needs to stay and help Uncle Owen. This is a great moment because the audience empathises with Luke’s inner conflict. We know he wants to leave and join the Rebellion but we also see that Luke is dutiful to his uncle.

I think we should have learned in the first act of Force Awakens that Rey was sold by her family. Her stubborn belief that her family is returning is the lie she chooses to believe. This way the audience would feel empathy for Rey. We could better understand her inner conflict, what’s holding her back. Why not set up the contrast between Rey and Kylo as early as possible. He has “royal” blood whereas she’s a nobody. This is a missed opportunity that swells into an implosion. We’re given this deliberately misleading bait and switch, hinting that maybe her parentage is significant. When the reveal comes in The Last Jedi, it falls flat. This has JJ Abrams’ fingerprints all over it, based on all the red herrings we had to endure in Lost. To me, it’s cheap storytelling.

Ultimately, Rey is a weak protagonist. She’s too passive. Things happen to her. A strong protagonist wants things. They have desire and they drive the plot by chasing after what they want. Take Luke for example. When we first meet him he’s a farm boy who desperately wants to get out of town and become a pilot for the rebellion. When the Falcon gets captured by the Death Star, it’s Luke who convinces Han to help him save Leia.

But what does Rey want? I mean, I guess she wants her family back. But the storytellers shroud her only desire in mystery, thus leaving her motives unclear to the audience. Consequently, Finn comes across as a much stronger, more interesting character. He has a clear motive. He wants to escape from the First Order. They forced him to do reprehensible acts and he’s running away. This makes him act like a coward at one point, which is an interesting character choice. The audience empathizes with this choice.

I mean, why does Rey help BB-8? Luke helped R2D2 because he represented for him the opportunity for adventure. Luke wanted to join the rebellion at this point. Rey has no interest in the Resistance when BB-8 appears. Wouldn’t it make more sense that she would use him as a bargaining chip to ingratiate with Unkar Plutt, who based on the cut scene seemed to have a role in the transaction for Rey and her parents. This would be a more effective refusal of the call. BB-8 tells her about the Resistance and that he has a map to Luke Skywalker, etc. But Rey doesn’t want any part of all that. She’s looking for her parents.

So Rey sells BB-8 believing that Plutt will provide information on her parents. Plutt wants BB-8 because he’s an agent of the First Order. He’s part of a junta that rules over Jakku on behalf of the First Order. He tells Rey that her parents sold her to him to be used for indentured servitude. That’s why she goes around scavenging parts for him, etc. She refuses to believe Plutt and think he’s lying. Her anger extends to the First Order. She hates what they’ve done to the people of Jakku. They’re violent thugs who enslave people like her.

She then encounters Finn, who is trying to recover the droid out of duty to Poe. When Rey learns this, she resolves to help them. Later, when Rey has her vision on Takodana , it makes more sense to the audience. We get a stronger sense that she’s lying to herself about her parents and this is why she resists the call to adventure. When Kylo captures her, he feels that she’s sensitive to the force. He tries to seduce her by appealing to her anger towards her parents. He promises that together they’ll make them pay and build a better, more just universe. But she resists this narrative and resolves to resist the dark side.

I think that battle of will she has with Kylo is enough of a representation of her strength with the force. When she faces off with Kylo, I would make it more obvious that he’s injured and unfocused due to his encounter with Han. In addition, I would make it more of a team effort between Rey and Finn to take him down.

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Now, let’s talk about Kylo Ren. In my opinion, Ben Solo is a poorly written character that has been saved by Adam Driver’s excellent performance. We’re given no good reason that he should’ve been seduced by the dark side. Much like a great hero, audiences must empathize with the villain. Vader became a classic villain when we learned about his inner conflict between the thirst for power and the love for his son.

I would take a more radical approach with Ben’s backstory: Han and Leia were bad parents. After the Rebellion, Leia became consumed with politics; fighting the First Order at every turn, straining to keep the fledgling Republic together as best she could. This left her with no time to care for her son. Likewise, Han struggled with domestic life. He missed the adventure of his days as a smuggler and rebel. He had no stomach for politics and patience for life at home. He begins to fall back into his old life and becomes a deadbeat dad. All the while, little Ben struggles to fill this void. He’s strong with the force but has no one to guide him. Luke offers to take him in at his new academy. However, Ben feels the pressure of his family’s legacy. He’s ambitious and wants to live up to his name. Yet he also feels unresolved anger towards his family for abandoning him. He begins to look up to someone else; his grandfather. This drives him towards the dark side. I think this is probably a better motive for having murderous rage towards his parents and uncle.

This also gives Han an arc for this movie. He’s driven by guilt and a desire for redemption, which Rey stokes by encouraging him to resume his fight against the First Order. We get a better reason for why he’s so downtrodden when we first meet him.

Kylo has rejected the Jedi and is obsessed with the metaphysics and lore of the Sith. That’s why he wears the mask. He’s trying to revive them. That’s what his Order of Ren represents. Therefore, there is no Snoke. I mean, what a shitty, useless character. He’s just a stand-in for Palpatine. If Kylo needs a superior, just make Hux older. Have a similar dynamic as Vader and Tarkin.

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cool story, bro

A lot of this is obviously writing from the inside out, not actual plotting. But I think it sets a better groundwork for these characters. We get a nice four-corner character dynamic between Rey, Finn, Han, and Kylo. Finn and Han are both running from their pasts. Kylo is angry and his rage pushes him to do horrible things. Whereas Rey embodies the thematic idea of the film: To rise above past trauma and strive to do the right thing. This better establishes what seems to be a nice meta-theme for the sequels: How do we reconcile the past so we can move forward? This will be picked up in my take on The Last Jedi.

Cheers

-b

The Kids Are Alright: Participation Trophies

•August 6, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Participation trophies have become the hobby horse of choice for armchair sociologists nowadays. Seems like every pseudo-intellectual craving attention (I’m looking at you Simon Sinek) is hand-wringing about how participation trophies are destroying society as we know it and all our kids will grow up to join al qaeda because they don’t have that mamba mentality.

Whenever someone brings participation trophies, my immediate reaction is “Trophies? How much money this kids’ league got?” Those things are expensive, bruh. When I was a competitive swimmer we didn’t even get trophies for coming first; we got ribbons. When I was awarded MVP of my high school rugby team I got a shitty little plaque. How much are these little leagues hitting up parents for anyway??

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How to feel better about yourself: Disparage everyone born the decade after you

What surprises me most about this discussion is that these people seem to be directing their anger at the kids. HURRDURR THIS IS WUTS WRONG WIT MILENNIALS. And I’m thinking, the kids didn’t ask for this. They know the difference. They know these participation trophies–or whatever the fuck they’re getting–are bullshit. Half of them would probably rather be home playing video games or at the skate park (funny how we don’t seem to value competition in these areas as much as organized sports). It’s for the parents. Y’know, those needy, psychotic parents who pick fights with other parents and coaches while their ten-year olds kick around a soccer ball. They’re the ones who need to be validated. And that’s what drives me insane about this debate over participation trophies. It’s all, “milennials are awful b/c they got participation trophies,” when it should be “what is it about boomers and gen x’ers that feel the need to constantly have their poor parenting skills rewarded.”

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I bet whoever made this is a real cool dude

But for the sake of argument, let’s say this thing is as bad as your annoying uncle on Facebook says it is. Is athletic success as a kid really that great an indicator for later success in life? Did all those hot shit jocks you grow up with go on to make the cover of Fortune 500? I’m guessing not. The great young athlete who grows up to be a loser obsessed with the Glory Days is a well-earned stereotype. In fact, I’m pretty sure Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it…

Then again, Donald Trump, who claims to have been the best baseball player in New York, is now president, so I guess there’s always exceptions. I wonder if it was difficult to play with all those bone spurs?

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that pitch had yuuuge velocity!

With people screaming “if you ain’t first yer last” like Ricky Bobby, you’d think we didn’t value anything in sports beyond who’s the winner and who’s the loser. But that’s not true at all. Look at the backlash guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant faced when they went to better teams to win championships. Or how much people resent Tom Brady and the Pats for perceived cheating.

Yes, that’s right, there’s more to sports than winning and we all know it.

When I think back on playing sports as a kid, I rarely think about whatever games we won or lost, I think about having fun with my friends and all that other corny shit. All this controversy with participation trophies is just more micro-managing bullshit adults fuss over their kids. Even worse, it’s sad pathetic people who feel the need to self-mythologize by putting down the younger generation.

I bet way back in the day, cavemen were standing around like “Ugh this younger generation is so entitled. When we were kids we didn’t have fire or the wheel. All we had were sharp sticks and that’s the way we liked it!”

Cheers,

-b

Paradise Lost: the failure of the new Alien franchise

•May 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

*spoiler warnings for Covenant and Prometheus*

Alien is one of all-time favourite movies, a perfect 10/10. It is the standard by which all other sci-fi horrors are judged. And what’s amazing is that Aliens, the sequel, is nearly just as good. It is another genre standard, this type taking a slight lateral step into sci-fi action/adventure. Every military sci-fi flick borrows something from these movies.

Few franchises can boast such a one-two punch for their first two instalments. Like Star Wars and Nolan’s Batman. Unfortunately, from there the Alien franchise hits a neck-breaking drop-off. Alien 3 is a colossal failure. All the more because it squandered the efforts of a young David Fincher (Fight Club) through studio meddling. Interestingly, Alien: Resurrection also had a promising team of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) directing and Joss Whedon (literally everything) writing. And while it sorta missed the mark, I actually think it’s criminally underrated. But that’s a whole other post.

Therefore, it was cause for excitement when Ridley Scott, original director of Alien, announced that he was returning to the franchise. Prometheus promised to explore the unanswered question of the mysterious giant “space jockey” from the beginning of Alien. Unfortunately, Prometheus was a deeply flawed film. Others have enumerated the flaws (particularly Red Letter Media), and I wrote a post about the failures of Damon Lindelof, the screenwriter, so I won’t bother to get too much into here.

Promising to address the criticisms, Scott followed up with Alien: Covenant. This time we wouldn’t be subjected to frustrating unanswered questions and we’d see what we all wanted to see: Xenomorphs!

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Alas, Covenant is actually worse than Prometheus. It tries to mash together Prometheus and earlier Alien movies and ends up doing a poor job of both. The thing is, I actually enjoy the first 2/3 of Prometheus. It’s beautifully directed with a great cast and an excellent score. It does a great job imbuing that sense of wonder in space travel. And if you can achieve that in a film, particularly sci-fi, then you’ve won half the battle. I really feel like I wanted to explore this world with the characters and share their excitement (well, some) to discover some cool shit in outer space. There are some pretty terrifying sequences, too. I loved the Cesarean section scene. But then the ending totally screwed the pooch. My biggest problem is an issue I have with so many films today: the obsession with building a universe. They keep teasing us with a movie that never comes. The great franchises went for broke on each movie. Look at Star Wars and Nolan’s Batman. Each movie is a contained story. They’re not making empty promises that are meant to be cashed out in future movies.

Covenant can’t deliver on any of this. The first half, like I said, is a Prometheus-esque film. But it doesn’t have that same sense of wonder. Again, there is beautiful direction, but it doesn’t have the same energy. It feels too similar. These people are supposed to be colonists on a new planet yet they don’t seem very interested in it. They’re like yuppies looking for exotic real estate. “Can you picture yourself living here? I think I can…” At least Prometheus tantalized audiences with space travel. Covenant just feels tedious.

The film then pretty abruptly shifts into an Alien film. The xenomorphs just sorta show up. And yeah they’re kinda different, but not different enough to be interesting. And what’s up with the xeno-pods? That seems like a much more efficient and effective dispersal method than the face-huggers. So in what way are the eggs an evolution? And how did David manage to create the eggs without a queen? I like the idea of him experimenting on Shaw’s womb to create the egg, but it seems way too far fetched, even for this kinda movie.

The classic xenomorph design makes its appearance and it’s sorta momentous but the action sequences felt very blah to me. Mostly because I didn’t give a shit about these characters the way I did about Ripley or the marines from Alien and Aliens.

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I think what’s even more frustrating about this new Alien franchise is that Scott has managed to sabotage two other promising films. In order to make Prometheus, Scott used his considerable influence to veto Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” because Prometheus essentially rips off the premise of the story. That’s truly a shame because we have never truly seen a great adaptation of Lovecraft’s work and I know del Toro would’ve put a lot of love into that film. Secondly, to make Covenant Scott effectively kiboshed Neill Blomkamp’s Alien sequel. Blomkamp (District 9) seemed to have an interesting new take on the franchise and could’ve pushed it into new territory. Now it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to see it.

This is the sorta shit that keeps me up at night. Real talk. I really don’t understand how Scott still enjoys the level of influence he does given the number of failures he’s had lately, namely Robin Hood and Exodus. I guess studios still salivate at the possibility of him recapturing the glory of Alien and Gladiator. And they probably don’t wanna make the same mistake they did with Blade Runner. I will admit, though, that The Martian was pretty great.

Alien Mural

So, what would I do differently?

First, let’s go back to Prometheus. Yes, there are lots of minor scrupples, but what sorta major changes can I make. Firstly, simplify. Get rid of all the Space Jesus, 2001 rip-off bullshit. Instead of clumsily shoehorning in glib teleology and philosophy, let’s just say that the team are scientists who found this weapons research planet and wanted to go explore. From there the story plays out much like it does in the film. They find this crazy spacecraft with dead Engineers. However, instead of black goo, they find the classic xenomorph eggs. That was the weapon. Somehow they made a mistake and they got lose. That’s what the Engineers were running from. I mean that would explain why we see a fucking xenomorph mural.

Let me digress a bit on this black goo. A lot of people have taken issue with it, but I have to get my two cents in because I think it’s such a lazy, shitty bit of writing. I don’t need my sci-fi concepts over-explained to me, but I require some kinda logic to it. This black goo does a million different things, depending on what the plot needs. They never bother trying to establish what it actually is. That’s just unforgivable.

So the team shows up and find the room full of eggs. But because they’re intelligent scientists, they know not to fuck with the eggs, and manage to isolate the face-hugger without getting exposed. They examine it, speculate, etc. Meanwhile, David is like, “I wanna see what this fucking thing can do for real.” Maybe he takes a sample of its vector and that’s how he infects Holloway. Now we still get to see the Ceasarian section scene.

Meanwhile, the team continue to explore the ship. They find the remaining Engineer, and Weyland shows up, etc. They discover that the Engineers had wanted to take the payload to earth to wipe out the human race. Why? An experiment. To amass an army of xenomorphs. Who knows. The point is that they are indifferent to us. That’s Lovecraftian horror, baby.

So, David is like well fuck you too and unleashes a facehugger on the Engineer. It bursts from the chest like we saw in Alien, thus fulfilling the promise of the whole fucking movie. What results is a Xenomorph *King*. Wouldn’t that be nuts? Like befitting of a modern Alien sequel. It’d be something we’d never seen before. The rest of the movie is them battling the giant Xenomorph, etc. Shaw and David escape to go to the Engineers’ home planet, because they’re like, “these people are fucked and are a threat. We gotta stop them.” That sets up Covenant.

Covenant begins with the colonists going to the Engineers’ home planet, not knowing the events of Prometheus. They just think it’s a suitable planet for terra-forming. They arrive and set up shop. This time, they’ve brought livestolk, pigs, cows, etc. The colonization is going well, but they have questions. Why does it have earth-like vegetation but no other animals? Teams are assembled to explore the planet.

They discover ruins, dead Engineers and indigenous animals. That’s when David shows up. From here the plot plays out like the film. He lies and says he and Shaw crashed there, found all the Engineers dead, etc. However, the truth is that David unleashed the eggs on the Engineers much like they had planned to do to us. Eventually the xenomorphs run out of food and die off, too. David, now becoming consumed with his mad desire to experiment, starts deploying the facehuggers on the animals, too. He splices the genes with insects, etc. to see what he can discover. And, like the film, he turns his psychotic gaze on Shaw as well.

The colonists give David new subjects to study. He exposes the animals to the facehuggers. We see xenomorph boars, bulls, horses, dogs, all kinds of wild shit. Again, new stuff we’ve never seen before that would warrant a sequel. This was actually an abandoned idea from the Alien 3 drafting stage that I think has been lamentably unexplored.

Some of the colonists escape. They kill David and his xenomorphs. They alert the Weyland-Yutani corp about what happened. That’s when the company decides to go to the planet from Prometheus, which sets up Alien.

From here the franchise could do some more sequels, or something.

So, what did you you think? Did you enjoy Prometheus and/or Covenant? Lemme know.

Cheers,

-b

Byline update: Canadian Encyclopedia

•May 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I wrote about Bannock for Canadian Encylopedia. I tried to untangle the complex web of its history and role in Canada, from the first European colonialists to modern adaptations in today’s First Nations cultures. Here is the link: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/bannock/