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Tag: film/tv

Real Boys and Xenomorphs

Alien is my favourite film. It’s horror at its finest: based on suspense and dramatic tension and dark mystique (the latter thanks to H. R. Giger‘s infamous design for the sets and the eponymous alien). The jump-scare is barely present. Like Jaws, the fear comes from not seeing the monster, only knowing it’s hiding somewhere just out of sight.

Image credit: Digital Spy

Five sequels have appeared since (not counting the Alien vs Predator crossovers). Following the fate of most sequels, they don’t approach the success of the original — with the exception of the first sequel, creatively titled Aliens, which is more of a science-fiction action adventure. But they each develop the mythos of the predatory aliens, known in the films as Xenomorphs.

I’ve recently rewatched the most recent, and perhaps the most vilified, instalments in the series: Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Both are prequels to the original film, and the thirty year gap necessitated some stylistic changes.

These two films at first appear to sell themselves on the promise of exploring a prominent mystery from the original Alien: what is the Space Jockey, why was it carrying the Xenomorph eggs? The Space Jockey is found by the crew of the Nostromo after they pick up a distress call. They find an ancient crashed spaceship housing a giant, fossilised pilot: the Jockey. In the cargo hold they find thousands of eggs, one of which becomes the Xenomorph antagonist of the film.

The Space Jockey
Image credit:

Everyone loved the Space Jockey. There is huge mystique around it. Giger’s elephantine design, the strangely organic design of the chamber, the sheer scale of it (see the humans in the photo).

But ultimately the films are quite the disappointment in exploring the Space Jockey mythos. They turn out to be a race of super intelligent psychopaths who seeded the Earth with life millions of years ago, and since then somehow decided to kill all life with deadly bioweapons (the Xenomorphs). A mixture of bad story decisions, and probably some editorial interference from the studio, meant that the films simply didn’t live up to the hype.

I don’t think they could have possibly succeeded anyway, as the imagination always trumps reality. That is the primary reason the original film was so effective. The Jockey storyline was doomed to failure.

David the Android
Image credit: Den of Geek

But I still love both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, for another reason entirely. I think that the heart of these films is the android David. Throughout the films he has his own quiet, sinister subplot: he murders various people in pursuit of discovering more about the creation of life, the Jockeys, and the Xenomorphs. In the course of two films, he overthrows his tyrannical ‘father’ (who delights in telling David that he created him, but is bitterly jealous of his immortality) and becomes a cross between a philosophising monk and mad scientist.

David is Pinocchio’s dark side.

Committing genocide against the Xenomorphs’ creators, experimenting on humans, crafting the Xenomorph form in pursuit of the “perfect organism”, David spends both films pursuing the power of God, the power to create life. In doing so, he is looking for a way to become a real boy.

This aspect of both films is often overlooked, and on repeated viewing it is the standout storyline — the one that delivers. Michael Fassbender‘s performance brings it all together, and I find David to be the most believable and interesting quietly-mad character in modern film.

If there’s another Alien film in the pipeline, I’d rather see a David spin-off than anything else. Take a watch of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant if you haven’t already, and take note of David. I’m convinced it’s a masterclass in character creation.

Lots of Love for B-Movies

I have a special love for certain kinds of films. Not because of how technically great they are, but rather because of how they manage to be unself-consciously outrageous.

They tend to be action-packed and feature monsters. Like the recent Monsterverse films, e.g. Godzilla or Kong: Skull Island — or, even better, this year’s Godzilla vs. Kong. Another example is Pacific Rim.

There’s a recent film about a Megalodon (giant prehistoric shark) called The Meg. It’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

Early in the film, the giant shark destroys a nuclear submarine by smashing into it with its face. At the end of the film, Jason Statham kills the shark by stabbing it in the neck with a knife. The disregard for physics or even consistency of the viewer’s expected suspension of disbelief is just… *Chef’s kiss*.

Image caption: IMDB

It might not be fair or accurate to call these films B-movies, because some of them have big budgets, well-known casts and have a lot of commercial success. I’m using that label because of how they are perceived by critics and the public.

These films are usually sneered or laughed at, and are generally considered to be lacking in quality or artistic merit, on a tier lower than the standard action flick.

They’re essentially films that people love to laugh at.

I love them. I love them because, in my opinion, they are about as close as you can find to untainted acts of creation in cinema. I don’t accept the premise that “artsy” films are intrinsically more creative or “worthy”, because I think there’s a certain amount of self-awareness and pretension that creep into those circles, which pollutes the end product.

These action-based B-movies are made by people who know that they’re going to be laughed at for what they create, and they absolutely do not care. They go ahead and create with genuine passion and often end up with over-the-top and raw results. There’s freedom and beauty in that. An echo of the child who plays with abandon in the corner of the room, ignoring everything else around them. That’s creation, and it goes back to the old Bradbury quote I’ve thrown out before:

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

But let’s also acknowledge that I often just want to watch a giant lizard fight a giant monkey, and that’s okay too.