“Alien: Covenant” continues sci-fi prequels


By Shirrel Rhoades
At the Movies

Saturday, May 20, 2017

In 1979 Ridley Scott directed “Alien,” an outer space horror film, described in the writer’s original notes as “ alien hunts crew through a spaceship.” In it, the crew of the starship Nostromo encounters an acid-dripping, double-jawed, toothy xenomorph. All puerile boys did some salivating of their own as warrant officer Ellen Ripley plays hide-and-seek with the alien in her skivvies. The Ripley role turned Sigourney Weaver into a full-fledged action heroine, one of the most significant female protagonists in all of cinema.

A bunch of sequels and one prequel later, Ridley Scott continues the origin stories that started with “Prometheus,” this one titled “Alien: Covenant.” It’s supposedly one of several more leading up to the original “Alien” movie.

The plot: In 2104, the Covenant is carrying 2,000 colonists toward a remote planet known as Origae-6. However, en route a neutrino shockwave awakens the crew. While making repairs, the crew (Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, et al. ) intercepts a transmission from a nearby planet thought to be lifeless and decide to go investigate. When they land, they discover an engineer ship from the “Prometheus” movie that crash-landed here with archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), an android named David (Michael Fassbender), and a cargo of “black goo.”

Several of the rescuers are infected by a spore, and next thing you know aliens are busting out of them like gory Jack-in-the-Boxes. The ship’s crew, colonists, and an upgraded android named Walter (Fassbender again) are forced to do battle with these alien “facehuggers.”

Some fans think the message of the “Alien” movies was beware of xenomorphs. In these prequels, it seems to be never trust an android.

“Wimpy Kid” continues on

Remember when the TV producers switched Darrin on “Bewitched”? One episode he was played by Dick York; then Dick Sergeant in the next. I found that disconcerting.

It was as if Body Snatchers had been at work.

That same thing has happened again: In “Dairy of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” you’ll encounter an entirely new family than you knew in the first three films based on the YA books by Jeff Kinny.

Instead of Zachary Gordon as the titular kid Greg Heffley, we have Jason Drucker. Instead of Robert Capron as his best friend, we have Owen Asztalos. Instead of Devon Bostick as Greg’s brother, we now get Charlie Wright. Instead of Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn as mom and dad, we now have Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott.

Off putting.

(About here you want to pause to consider one other detail: Alicia Silverstone as a mother. Wasn’t it only yesterday, she was in high school in “Clueless”?)

Why the new cast? The kid actors simply outgrew their roles.

The first “Wimpy Kid” movie introduced our youthful protagonist Greg (played by Gordon) to middle school. The plot was simple: Greg is perpetually stuck in middle school “with a bunch of morons.”

“Dairy of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” takes a different turn. Greg (played by Drucker) and his brother convince their family to go on a road trip for their grandmother’s 90th birthday. But actually they plan on attending a video game convention.

“I think that every family road trip longer of more than about three hours is a nightmare family road trip,” says Jeff Kinny. Fortunately the movie runs only an hour and a half.

Kinny grew up wanting to be a newspaper cartoonist, but he found fame as a children’s author. “I didn’t write ‘Dairy of a Wimpy Kid’ for kids,” he claims. “I never intended it to be for a kids’ audience.” But he’s happy that his books found their way to kids. Do we hear a cash register going ka-ching?

This fourth “Wimpy Kid” film is actually based on Kinny’s ninth book. But who’s counting? He’s up to twelve books so far. That means there are plenty more plots for movie adaptions.

Top 10 scary aliens movies

The release of the sci-fi movie “Alien: Covenant” reminds us that all aliens aren’t cute and cuddly like “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” or weird and wonderful like those characters you’d encounter in a “Star Wars” bar.

Here’s our list of ten aliens you would NOT want to meet up with outside of a movie theater.

10. “The X-Files” (1998) -- Mulder and Scully knew the truth was out there: that aliens were colonizing earth. The episodic TV show was better, but stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson managed to carry its paranoia to the big screen.

9. “Starship Troopers” (1997) -- Earth’s military (led by Casper Van Dien) battles giant alien bugs on a distant planet. A Robert A. Heinlein story in all its fascist glory.

8. “Signs” (2002) -- Crop circles warn a farmer (Mel Gibson) that aliens are coming. Director M. Night Shyamalan uses suspense rather than gore to send chills up your spine.

7. “Predator” (1987) -- Commandos in a Central American jungle are stalked by an invisible alien warrior. The teaming of future governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura is certainly worth a look-see.

6. “Independence Day” (1996) -- Humanity’s will to survive overcomes these alien invaders. A jet jockey (Will Smith) and the president of the US (Bill Pullman) lead the patriotic fight.

5. “The Fifth Element” (1997) -- In the 23rd Century, a cab driver (Bruce Willis) leads the search for the Fifth Element, who comes to Earth every 5,000 years to protect the humans with four stones of the four elements. Milla Javovich makes an enticing alien; Gary Oldman is a more threatening entity.

4. “War of the Worlds” (20005) -- Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning star in a thrilling update of H.G. Wells’s infamous story about the invasion of earth by shiploads of alien tripod fighting machines.

3. “District 9” (2009) -- A government agent (Sharito Copley) shows empathy for an extraterrestrial race that’s forced to live in an internment camp in South Africa. A moral parable.

2. “Men In Black” (1997) -- Two dark-suited secret agents (Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith) monitor otherworldly oddities who are hiding on earth. I’m particularly fond of this film, since I was involved in producing it.

1. “Alien” (1979) -- The scariest of all alien movies, this is the one where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces off against an acid-dripping xenomorph inside the claustrophobic confines of a spaceship. Like the tagline says, “In space no one can hear you scream.”

We’ll leave some of those older alien movies (“The Thing,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “It Came From Outer Space,” etc.) to another list.