Alien meets its nemesis

…and it’s the US Box Office. Years ago one of the my favourite articles in the monthly Starburst magazine  would be Tony Crawleys annual box office charts, summarising the performance of genre films from the  year before. This was long before the internet, and it was always enlightening to see how certain films had managed at the box office. It was, of course,  no indication of quality -‘the cruelest cut of all’ was how Blade Runner‘s dismal performance was summarised; I’ll remember that line forever. Ever since, I’ve always been curious about box office, the vagaries of cinemagoers taste, critic influence and marketing issues.

So here is the sad case of Alien Covenant, which after a reasonable launch plunged in its second week at the US box office, with a 71% drop in takings. A current final tally of $71 million domestic is a pretty poor showing, and foreign return of $110 million won’t really help the film even break even on a purported $97-110 million (depending who you listen to) budget.

ah, the good old days…

Its funny- the original Alien is perceived as being a huge hit and you have to allow for post-1979 inflation to really know what its then-£80 million domestic equates to in 2017 dollars, but I recall stories back then that the film never actually turned a profit for Fox (rumour  had it that creative accounting was at work to nullify people’s percentages on the profits). For curiosities sake: Aliens $85 million domestic in 1986, Alien 3 $55 million in 1992…

So does this signal another hiatus for the Alien films, despite Ridley Scott’s intention to shoot another sequel next year?

I wonder, what did the studio expect? We are living in a strange world for movies, where studios now have to dodge Marvel blockbusters and DC blockbuster-wannabes and -God help ’em- Star Wars films, and maybe the odd Fox superhero flick or Transformers movie. Where on earth Jim Camerons’ four Avatar sequels eventually fit in is beyond me. Indeed, there seem to be new blockbusters dropped every week in summer- its carnage out there (as King Arthur proved).  

Covenant was originally intended to be released later this year but was brought forward to May- unfortunately two weeks after the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 juggernaut ($336 million domestic, $461 million foreign) and just a week before the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie ($135 million domestic, $392 foreign). When you look at it like that, an R-rated movie (and belated sequel to the ill-received Prometheus) doesn’t really have much hope, does it? A telling comparison is the similarly R-rated Mad Max: Fury Road, universally acclaimed (which Covenant wasn’t) and assumed a hit, which earned $154 domestic and $224 foreign- superior by some margin but on a $154 million budget. So its hard to make out Covenant as some kind of disaster- disappointing yes, but these Alien films have long shelf-lives.

But does it kill any sequel? For all Covenant‘s faults (and I actually quite liked it) I would like to see that sequel, if only to put that Prometheus/Covenant storyline to a rest. It does seem rather doubtful at the moment. Clearly Covenant wasn’t a great film, but was its quality at fault here or rather the swamping of the box office with far too frequent blockbusters and cinemagoers always turning to the Next Thing? I have read that the Pirates of the Caribbean flick is actually deemed the more disappointing by its studio – particularly due to its $230 million budget (foreign box office saved the day for that one). So I guess all things are relative. Maybe Ridley will get one more shot after all.

The galaxy is saved again

ggalaxy22017.24: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (Cinema)

I have to say, I found this sequel to be far superior to the original film. Other than the funky soundtrack of classic 70s songs and some of its quirky characters, I really didn’t understand all the fuss about the first film. The bad guy was generic at best, banal at worst, and confusingly undermined by having Thanos shoehorned in to ensure the ‘Marvel Universe’ continuity running through all these movies. In fact, the whole thing seemed confusing and unfocused, complete with its obligatory cgi-fest spectacle finale that had no real drama at all. I make it sound like a trainwreck. It really wasn’t, but neither was it the triumphant comicbook movie it seems universally touted to be. Fresher maybe, I’ll give you that, after so many ‘traditional’ Marvel movies…

So anyway, I was actually rather nonplussed about watching this at the cinema but finally did so. I’m so glad I did, as it was a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable experience. It was great. It had drama, emotion, focus, character arcs… yes it had spectacle and comedy and lots of rock songs, but… it was great fun. It had a surprising amount of darkness, too (the idea of Star Lord’s Celestial father impregnating hundreds/thousands of aliens with his seed only to destroy his ‘failed’ offspring every time is, well, pretty disturbing) which when I think back on it, just gets darker. I left the cinema with that buzz you only get when you’ve had a really good time with a great movie. I even stuck around to enjoy the end credits, admiring the 1970s graphics as much as the in-joke video segments and the usual added mid & post-credits scenes.

Yeah, it was a good time, and great fun. And so much better than the first film it really, really surprised me.

Indeed, the film may even manage that trick of informing its predecessor- there are a number of revelations and character points in Vol.2 that impact on moments in Vol.1 that have me reaching for that blu-ray. The two films are, in a clever way, a two-part origin story for Star Lord himself, reinforcing each other in a way that reminds me of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and Superman II (at least, how they should have turned out without producer interference).

We even get another Howard the Duck cameo. That guy really has to have his own movie someday. Meanwhile,  I’m actually looking forward to the eventual Vol.3.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

guard1Of all this summer’s releases, this is the one that seemed to tick all the boxes and really got my interest. I even very nearly saw it at the cinema until work etc got in the way. Marvel’s films have been getting better and better and here we were with Marvel doing a fresh new space opera. There was even a rumour a favourite duck of mine would have a cameo. What’s not to love?

Here’s the thing. On my first viewing of the Blu-ray last week, I didn’t like it. It didn’t ‘click’ somehow. To be fair it was a bad night and the stars didn’t seem to align at all. Thirty minutes into the film I was interrupted by a visitor and had to switch it off for nearly an hour, and then having resumed the film it was later further interrupted by a phone-call that necessitated another fifteen minutes of downtime.  Remember than Batman line, “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”? Well, I guess some days you just cannot get to watch a movie. Just wasn’t meant to be I guess. Added to that it was just too weird and odd ball for my wife to enjoy and the night seemed to end on a downer, another film falling victim to too much hype.

Fast-forward 24 hours and my wife is out and I give the film another go. And this time I enjoy it much more. Its not a perfect film, and I think its weaker than John Carter, a film whose failure to spawn sequels still irritates. Indeed its weird how Guardians seems to have captured the public’s imagination whilst John Carter was left buried in the box-office dirt- my preference for the latter film may be a contentious issue but I just think it was more natural and fun. Guardians clearly has the bigger ‘wow’ factor with its set-pieces/effects but there is an awful lot of cgi work and very one-dimensional characters amongst its supporting cast. The villains in particular are very weak.

There was a warmth and spirit in John Carter, and a gorgeous sweeping score- in fact I think the music may be the problem. Guardians just feels a little forced, and I think it lacks a personality of its own, mainly because the score is so very poor (the film dominated instead by its clever use of source music). I think these kind of films benefit from having hummable, whistleable tunes. It tries so hard for the spirit of 1977’s Star Wars and 1980s Empire Strikes Back but it lacks their charm, mostly because of its music.  Its nothing unique to Guardians, its a fault common with so many films nowadays, its just the style of scoring so prevalent in Hollywood today. It sounds so bland and generic, no character seems to have an iconic theme or anything.

Its just that, well, Guardians seems to me to be a film easy to admire but not to love, whereas I just adore John Carter. Personal preference I guess. Its not a bad film and I really did enjoy it the second time, but… well, maybe the next one, eh? At least it will get a next one.