Review – Alien: Covenant

Not an outright disaster for a franchise that has been much maligned since Alien 3, but still frustrating. Here’s the Sunday Indo review…

***

Alien: Covenant
Cert: 16

THE mechanical shark in Jaws was so shoddy that Spielberg left it out wherever he could. Less very much proved to be more, with the unseen, implied threat freezing viewers’ blood that summer in 1975. Alien, Ridley Scott’s space-slasher classic, did a similar trick three years later by minimising the screentime of the man in the monster suit.

These days, it’s cheaper to just CGI in the horror rather than pay costume designers and make-up artists, so the imagination takes a back seat. This return to the spirit of Scott’s original thus can’t compare to the abject terror that audiences – and uninformed fellow cast members – felt in 1979 when the late John Hurt suffered one of science-fiction’s nastiest stomach cramps.

With Alien: Covenant, Scott looks to make amends for the bloated, muddled anti-climax that was Prometheus and get these much-discussed prequels back on track. In this, he largely succeeds. Elsewhere – character development, suspense, the element of surprise – less so.

The old “a ship, a crew, a signal” recipe is used for the umpteenth time. En route to start a colony on a distant planet, Billy Crudup’s proxy captain diverts to investigate a signal from a much closer and seemingly ideal planet. His deputy (Katherine Waterston) thinks it’s too good to be true, and, lo and behold, she’s right. Obligatory ship’s android Walter (a show-stealing Michael Fassbender) and the others ignore her and naturally pay for it.

A strong first half that reaches an appropriate level of crawling menace and presents a couple of impressive scenarios eventually succumbs to what is ultimately a safe and by-numbers bow at the Alien alter that takes the more-is-more attitude to the monster.

Oh well. Still, beats Prometheus.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent

Blake’s bigger boat

In which I wept for the noble Great White Shark while Blake Lively and a giant smartphone screen strolled around somewhere much more beautiful than where I now sit etc etc… 

***

The Shallows
Cert: 12A

SPARE a thought for the poor Great White Shark. Ever since Jaws (1975), this proud creature has been treated in a manner akin to a fishy Nazi, always on hand when a mindless monster is required to do the murderous dirty work.

Take the gilled tormentor in this lush 85-minute ditty from Catalonian director Jaume Collet-Serra. Despite feeding off a dead whale, this crazed monster wants nothing more than to wash down its blubbery banquet with skinny Blake Lively.

In fact, the svelte form of Lively presents such a tantalisingly delicious prospect to the fish that a full feature film is gleaned from the flimsy “surfer v shark” premise. But look to Collet-Serra’s back catalogue – Liam Neeson vehicles Unknown, Non-stop and Run All Night) – as well as luxurious, glistening shots of Lively togging-out and slipping through crystalline waves and you get the sense this could all be an overly elaborate showreel to launch the former Gossip Girl star as an action lead.

She’s not quite there yet, but Lively does put her back into portraying Nancy, a US student on a surfing pilgrimage to a mysterious and idyllic Mexican cove. Beside cheesy shots of our heroine riding waves there are more major lapses in taste, like huge floating phone screens in the shot.

None of this matters because very soon Lovely Lively has become Lonely Lively, stapling a bite to her leg closed and trying to figure out a way off a rock 200 yards from shore with the huge psychotic CGI shark circling. She grits her teeth. Jaws grits back. Only a fool would fancy the shark’s chances.

It’s unintentionally hilarious in parts, and any courting of class and credibility is jettisoned by the time the ludicrous denouement is sold to us. And this is the problem with The Shallows – it’s not quite bad enough. Had it embraced its shlocky B-movie undertow more wholly, a cult classic could have been the result.

3/5

First published in the Sunday Independent