Categories
Horror Movies Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy

Retro Review: Alien (1979)

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Dan O’Bannon

Starring: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Rating: R

There are numerous analogies I can draw to a 21st Century thirty-something giving his critical and analytical thoughts on Ridley Scott’s Alien. A child making sand castles in the backyard giving thoughts on the Hagia Sophia. A mud-pie contest winner remarking on the latest special from Le Chateaubriand. A dead 30-watt lightbulb talking about the sun.  Not only does a sense of dwarfing irrelevance seem to permeate the air of any discourse that could be produced from such soil, but a nagging feeling that expansion on Murphy’s Law is in order develops: “Anything that can happen has ALREADY happened.”

What could I say about one of the most important and influential entries in both the horror and science-fiction genres that hasn’t already been said? Alien has been run through more ringers of analytical and popular reception than most other narrative works that are hundreds of years older have. Add onto that the daunting realization that I, as a millennial, have no feasible experiential access to the cultural paradigm in which the first-time viewers of ’79 received this gem, and the values of the upcoming review seems to run mighty thin.

With those formalities out of the way, allow me to offer what I think may very well be at least a serviceable attempt at bringing new insight to a work of timeless wisdom. As a budding film student, going through what my betters constantly address as “the classics” weighed upon me as both a great joy and a solemn responsibility. Offering something like a critique on these works was more akin to an honor that I put off out of equal parts laziness and reverence. 

But in the case of Alien, I find there is a work with, yes, much sophistication and multidimensionality, but also a very approachable and popular level style that can resonate with even the most unassuming dilettante. In that way, it’ll be similar to reviewing a Disney classic. Who says that popular works can’t be treated with erudite regard? Sometimes, things are popular because they’re good, and Alien is certainly living proof of that.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: A character sitting down to dinner with fellow crew members falls into convulsions, then dies a bloody death as an alien burrows out of his chest. One by one, characters are killed by the alien. While their deaths aren’t always shown, gruesome deaths are strongly implied. Characters shoot a flamethrower and fire a cattle prod while trying to defend themselves against the alien. Horror movie suspense of the “What’s that around the corner?” variety abounds. 

Language/Crude Humor: Expletives when faced with alien outbreak: “f**k off,” “son of a b***h,” “horses**t,” “hell.”

Sexual Content: Toward the end, a character takes off her space uniform, stripping down to a half-shirt and panties. In one of the pods, there are pictures of naked women, breasts shown.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Early in the film, a character is never shown without a cigarette in his mouth. At a celebratory dinner, a character is shown drinking from a can of beer but does not act intoxicated.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Themes: A character voices a stridently nihilistic worldview.

Positive Content: 

A bloodthirsty alien, devoid of remorse or conscience, kills off crew members of a deep-space mining ship. But Ripley conveys the strong message to never give up and to do everything you can to try to save your friends and co-workers. 

Courageous female crew member Ripley shows tremendous resolve and presence of mind during a traumatic event. She even takes the time to rescue the ship’s cat as surviving crew members attempt to escape the ship.

Review

I stated in my review of last year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp that I have a strong affinity for superhero tales in which characters “stumble upon the transcendent.”  Instances in a story where characters go about mundane and seemingly standard activities suddenly cross paths with the vast unknown realm beyond the limited scope of human understanding are fascinating given the proper treatment. From one angle, such Road to Damascus incidents can be derided in the same way that “deus ex machina” flourishes, in which characters are rescued from difficult circumstances through undeserved and unestablished powers that be, are treated as marks of poorly planned stories. Having a character develop suddenly through a near-divine encounter could be seen as lazy and melodramatic–more wide than deep–but the critical difference is that deus ex machina is used as a rushed and ill-conceived means for resolving a story, whereas encounters with the transcendent are rightly used to instigate and develop a story.

Such encounters are found in obvious measure with Skywalker learning of the Force, young Master Potter receiving his letter to Hogwarts, or Clark finding out about his Kryptonian origins. In less evident circumstances, the transcendent is something that is tangentially related to the regular goings-on of the events of the plot. It’s more of a haunting undergirding presence to the very obvious, as it should be. It’s always there, but never immediately acknowledged. The physically nebulous arena of the quantum realm of Ant-Man was one of the more fitting examples, though seeing that being reduced to just another plot device in subsequent entries was disheartening, to say the least.

These transcendent encounters are ones that should not only alter the characters’ understanding of the world around them but also of themselves and their place within it.  In “The Problem of Pain”, C.S. Lewis remarks about how one’s very nature and being can be drastically altered and dwarfed when encountering the numinous. American author H.P. Lovecraft practically made his career in exploring the cataclysmic and even fatal effects on the mortal being that such meetings with the entities that dwell within and exist as the great beyond can have. At the very least, such tales are an excellent exercise in humility, presenting a profound illustration against human hubris.

Ridley Scott’s 1979 seminal sci-fi horror classic Alien does even more than just explore how existentially and even physically devastating it can be for ordinary mortals to meet with beings beyond their understanding of principle and survival.  It goes so far as to tread such waters as they would be in a truly godless universe. We are introduced to a humbly limited cast of work hands aboard the Nostromo space tug as they are returning to Earth in stasis. 

Having our main band of humans be menial laborers in this sci-fi setting brings the crises that later overwhelm them to be as immediate as possible for us viewers. As fascinating as “the greats” may be in history, the commoners under their influence are the ones with greatest relation to us average viewers. Don’t tell me yet another story of Napoleon. Tell me of one of his infantrymen.

In addition to that, one of the essential elements of effective horror is a clear sense of vulnerability for what are effectively the audience surrogates. Characters who are marked as “the greats” tend to be saddled with a substantial amount of plot armor, detached from the masses of average folks who may read of their exploits from an armchair position. By contrast, these glorified resource gatherers simply doing a modest job for nothing but profit are far more worthwhile here in that they are more vulnerable and unprepared for what writer Dan O’Bannon has in store.

The crew is awakened from stasis in response to a mysterious signal from a nearby moon. This acts as both figuratively and literally a rude awakening for these ill-fated mortals. A factor at this moment is that the warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is able to properly decipher the transmission, but is unable to classify it as either a distress signal inviting help or a warning discouraging further progression. From my reflections, that is precisely how a call from the chaos of the unknown should resonate with us. There are great treasures to gather from such exploration into the abyss of unexplored territory, but there also dragons lie guarding it.

Ripley is unable to relay this information to the crew members who have already made their descent too deep to be reached by those on the surface. In fact, this chance meeting with mystery is already taking its toll on the Nostromo and her crew. The ship is damaged when landing on the moon’s surface, and communication is stymied. Some make the descent into greater knowledge more quickly than others, and they are the ones in greatest danger to sustain the most injury from the realizations therein.

The hapless victim, in this case, is executive officer Kane (John Hurt), who is altered in the most devastating way from the encounter. Much of the critical analysis surrounding this film has been on the psychosexual overtones of the intrusion that the eponymous alien makes upon the crew. Upon examining some ovum-like sacs on the derelict ship, Kane is set upon by the infamous “facehugger” that forcibly impregnates him with the larvae form of the movie’s monster. 

From the thematically inverted image of a man being essentially “raped” and birthing a living entity that is partly himself but still “alien” in many ways, to the very design of the creature’s explicitly phallic cranium, the interpretation of Alien as just “as much a rape movie as much as Straw Dogs (1971) or I Spit on Your Grave (1978), or The Accused (1988)”, as David McIntee put it, is understandable. With that said, I find this angle to be not only unhelpfully pedestrian but also marked by more resentment and desire for “payback” from those who make such declarations in regard to the years in which female characters have been depicted as victims of sexual violence and aggression. These psychosexual analyses seem to say a lot more about the viewers and critics who make them rather than the film itself.

The analytical approach I find to be more holistic and less ad hoc is the Lovecraftian routine. A ubiquitous element in Lovecraft’s tales of cosmic horror is that of forbidden knowledge. He was one beholden to the constrained vision, in that he recognized humanity’s capacity for understanding and moral greatness to be severely limited, and that the closer we get to a full understanding of the cosmos, the beings within, and ourselves, the closer we push our psyches and beings to the point of breaking.

At the very least, in Lovecraft’s vision, every time we make contact with some eldritch reality, we are usually changed more fantastically than reality is. In Alien, the creature (Bolaji Badejo) seems to carry on in the same predatory and unrestrained fashion it always has upon meeting humans. By contrast, Ripley, Kane, and the others are physically, mentally, and existentially changed forever by the meeting. From the moment the facehugger latches onto Kane with no way of being removed except by its own natural course, he is no longer a man, but a warm incubator for a predator beyond his understanding or comprehension. It is for this reason that Ripley was quite right in refusing to allow the incapacitated Kane and the other crew members who explored the derelict ship back onto the Nostromo at first. Fear of the unknown is a strongly memetic trend throughout human history; one with a degree of rationality to it that shouldn’t be ignored.

There is one major player in the seven-man crew who seems to disregard all warnings of danger in pursuit of getting to know this creature a bit more with every chance. Ian Holm’s science officer Ash seems to be far more enchanted with the behavior and physiology of the alien than he is with the safety of his fellow crew members, going so far as to violate Ripley’s direct orders and even interfere with the crew’s attempts at killing the creature. In a famous twist that I dare not give away here, we find out exactly the drive behind Ash’s disregard for human life and high reverence for the alien’s natural savagery. He is operating from cold rationality and is receptive only to factual information. When challenged on his disquietingly high regard for the alien, despite it having killed three of his fellow crew, Ash responds, “I admire its purity. A survivor, unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.”

Recently, I’ve been giving much mental energy to the realization that those who are clearly not of the Christian faith–or even of a theistic worldview–tend to deliver far greater insight into the full breadth of both theism and atheism than most believers. At the time of directing Alien, Ridley was a mostly settled atheist. He has mostly agnostic leanings today, evidence that his struggle with the idea of God has been one of great longsuffering. In Alien, we see a vivid and troubling illustration of what living in a godless creation would be like. If all there is to existence is naught but the banal and primal aim to survive, the bestial tendencies of the alien and Ash’s dead outlook would be not only permissible but commendable.

Regardless, we are mortified and repulsed by the alien, and by those who praise such neglect for the value of life. A fundamental part of us cannot help but acknowledge that element in the vast void of being that says there’s more to both the cosmos and ourselves than what animalistic instinct reveals. The tagline to Alien is “In space, no one can hear you scream.”  Artistically, this primarily marks the film as first and foremost a horror flick, but thematically, much like that critical signal from the ruined ship, it serves also as both a distress call and a warning. Those who champion the godless vision ought to do so with solemn recognition for where that would leave us all existentially. No matter how abandoned from all hope we may find ourselves, we still yet scream when faced with the deathly glare of our own demise. We scream because we eagerly hope that we will be heard, even in space.

Almost no discussion of Alien is complete without praise given to the design work of the late Swiss artist H.R. Giger. His running tendency to fuse man and machine together in his illustration work embodied a very common thematic line in much popular sci-fi, in how advancements in technology tend to alter various features and processes in human nature.  That particular line is not found to a large degree in the film for which he won the 1979 Academy Award for Best Design, though. 

The furthest that Alien gets in exploring the idea of the line between man and machine being blurred is with Nostromo’s computer, Mother, who nearly acts as a stern managerial figure on behalf of the company that sent the crew out. It was primarily Giger’s 1976 surrealist print Necronom IV that served as the basis of the film’s entire visual direction where the creature and its original surroundings were concerned.

 Alien is a movie wholly married to its archetypes that, like any effective horror story, leaves the audience’s on its own to fill in the gaps of what it reveals. This is the major reason that the media franchise that followed from the 1979 release, while boasting its own degree of success and accomplishments in a number of ways, doesn’t measure up to the original in its efficacy. The alien creature is so palpably terrifying because it is so primal and base. Everyone has their own conceptualization in how they fabricate a fearful monolith of “the other,” and keeping the creature as unspecified as the plot would allow aids in this universal connection. The film is titled Alien, not Xenomorph. Subsequent installments in the franchise, while adequately making some strides as well some regressions in their own right, tend to dilute this fundamental element in the universality of the original’s archetypal appeal, as far as I can tell.

There is much more that I could remark upon in how Alien draws such effective contrasts between the limited cast. Engineers Parker and Brett (Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton) serve both as the comic relief as well as examples of those sorts of existentialists who would rather just crack open another beer when faced with the numinous. Because of those two, the movie can also register as a pirate adventure, with gold-obsessed sailors of the deep digging too greedily and meeting their end at the bottom. Ripley and Veronica Cartwright’s Lambert operate most unambiguously as the audience surrogates, as their emotional range is perfectly parallel to what the plot expects of the viewers while still maintaining genuine arcs. The leading male characters are, in a very subversive routine, the first to be claimed by the beast, despite their experience and authentic grit. Another essential factor in a successful horror tale is the complete lack of “plot armor.” Death cannot be a respecter of persons.

The definition of a “classic” in the field of the arts is “a work that stands the test of time.” Alien certainly meets that criterion in every way it can.  Fear is a universal experience, and we’ve been wrestling with it ever since we could walk. Without the hope of a better world from which we may draw some veneer of resolve, the great void of the natural cosmos is even more fearsome. But suppose we were not to accept Nature’s looming and constant threats without a fight? Suppose we are more than what she dictates? Suppose there is both more and less to Nature than what she presents on the surface–more in that mere survival is not the only purpose to her design; less in that she’s not insurmountable and there is a real promise of something transcendent beyond her veil? Suppose as C.S. Lewis once did that she is not our mother, but our sister? As a mother, Nature is cruel and terrifying, but as a sister, she is a far easier adversary with which to contend and there is the hope of putting ourselves at peace with her, or at least some semblance of peace on this side of the grave. 

Alien works ultimately because it can’t help but call out to that hope even in the pitch black of space and in the horrific face of death. It is that hope that wins out because Alien not only calls but screams for it. Make sure to listen while you can, dear reader.

 

Categories
Action/Adventure Horror Movies Sci-fi/Fantasy

Flawed Faith: Alien: Covenant and the Horror of Godhood

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28   

The opening scene of Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant underscore’s the film’s most relevant theme: the horror of flawed godhood. A semi-sentient android, David, stands before his creator. Despite being merely a day old, he uses his vast skill and intelligence to play a piano recitation of Entry of the Gods into Valhalla by Richard Wagner. His creator comments that without the full orchestra, the recitation lacks. The two begin a dialog about the nature of God and creation. David, the android, was created by a human. Who is his creator’s creator? He is told that seeking out that question is life’s greatest purpose. This sentiment is echoed in the final moments of the film when David has conquered everything and placed himself at the pinnacle of his purpose. He strides across a colony ship lined from top to bottom with humans—subjects he plans to turn into ghoulish science experiments. The halls of the ship echo with the full orchestral version of the song that he played on the day of his birth. He has, on his own terms, become a god.

Alien: Covenant has proved to be one of the most controversial films of recent years and not for its content or strident themes. Merely it’s controversial for being a very strange entry in the Alien franchise. In my initial review last year I was extremely disappointed by what I saw. My reviewing partner took the opposite attitude and embraced the film in all of its quirks whereas I was very skeptical. Alien: Covenant as I understood it was a movie that largely forgets a great deal of the logic of its previous entries and throws much of the expanded universe’s material of its franchise out. The movie elaborates on questions about the origins of all the elements of this universe that were better left unexplained in the first film. Worst of all, the film doesn’t craft immediately relatable or complex characters.

But, feelings change, and I’ve had a full year to ruminate on the film now. Having seen it half a dozen times and dug through some very fascinating critical reexaminations from major online critics such as Film Crit Hulk and Patrick H. Williams, I now realize where I made my initial mistake. Properly understood, Alien: Covenant isn’t an Alien film; it’s an android movie that is meant as a meditation on the nature of godhood, creation, and how horrifying the implications of those two things are. The Xenomorph is just a piece in that puzzle. In that sense, a large number of critics I’ve read have more accurately compared Alien: Covenant to Scott’s original Blade Runner than to the original Alien film.

Ridley Scott is an atheist. A great deal of his filmography has referenced his worldview directly and indirectly such as Kingdom of Heaven and Exodus: Gods and Kings. When religion shows up in his films it’s usually as a throwaway remark by a character or something that inspires characters to act irrationally or dogmatically. When God himself shows up, he’s a cruel morally arbitrary being that lashes out at people. Going into Alien: Covenant one would assume it would pick up and continue with a great deal of the themes from its predecessor Prometheus such as the whole Ancient Aliens/Chariot of the Gods idea. That being the famed/infamous scientific theory that the old gods of legend were actually alien beings. The movie here takes those motifs into a whole new direction. All of the movie’s themes are built directly into David’s story. The story carries numerous references to Greek mythology and Christian iconography and more directly builds them into David’s story.

As stated before David’s story is one of attaining a personal godhood and the story expresses that theme through the lens of a horror story by making two simultaneous references in regard to David’s character and his morality. In addition to the regular references of David attaining godhood, the script makes references to him in contrast to Lucifer. Late in the film he quotes John Milton’s Paradise Lost by saying that “it’s better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.” Though strange, the point is a rather thematically clear one. David’s own quest makes him a Luciferian character to those around him. In order to attain his godhood, he has to use those around him as meat puppets and things to experiment on. The ending is almost a tragic cautionary tale about the horrifying result of a god existing from a radically secular point of view.

A religious viewer of the material might have a somewhat negative reaction to the idea that the film might portray God as a Luciferian figure. It’s not like the movie necessarily treats religion well outside of these themes one way or the other. In the commentary track, Ridley Scott alludes to one of the supporting character’s fundamentalist religiosity as a somewhat negative trait and as stated before, Scott himself has severe reservations about religion. However, what makes Alien: Covenant meaningful to me, is that the film depicts a very clear, concise, and moral critique of the idea of a god from the standpoint of a mere human frustrated at the abject horror of the universe.

From a small, flawed human perspective the infinite churning and chaos of the universe can be overwhelming and for many secular people that horror is something too terrible to bear and still believe that a merciful God exists. If you follow religion and atheism debates online you’ll see the moral critique of religion as a constant sentiment against the validity of any God. To them, God is an immoral being and that wanting to live in heaven with him for an eternity would be a kind of tyrannical hell. This theologian would tell you that that is the fundamental question of theodicy and while for Christians the question is difficult, for the secular-minded that question can be clear.

What makes the movie so powerful to me is that it presents the Christian viewer with a very honest cry against injustice. To us, surrendering to God is vital to our faith because the core of our belief understands that humanity is fallen and irreparable. To many intellectually honest and moral secularists, the idea of praising a being that seems outwardly arbitrary and wrathful is terrifying and must be fought against. The celebrity atheist and member of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism Sam Harris has referenced in the recent past the idea of “steel-manning” as opposed to straw-manning. Arguments ought to be taken at their strongest and most difficult points.

Alien: Covenant offers the religious a call to do just that. Let’s take the argument that this movie presents at its face and grapple with it to understand the perspectives of people that have the harshest things to say about us. Christ calls upon us to go where the people are and many people in the world today are farther from God than ever before. The entire Alien series is all about the vast horror of the unknown and the brave people who delve into it for selfish reasons and heroic ones alike. Let us take after Ellen Ripley herself and dive into the difficult parts of life with bravery simply because we can bring light out into the darkness.

Categories
Action/Adventure Horror Movies Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy

Review: Alien Covenant

Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Pagan, Michael Green
Starring: Katherine Waterson, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Damian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo
Genre: Action & Adventure, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Rated: R
Not only does Ridley Scott bring audiences to the series’ original science-fiction horror, but it also brings answers to questions audience member have had since 2012’s prequel Prometheus, giving it a somewhat-satisfying taste. While some questions still remain to be answered, the film is overall entertaining and thought-provoking for those who can stomach it.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Aliens hatching out of bodies, puking up blood, surgically cut up bodies, and Alien blood that burns quickly through just about anything, including human skin. As with the original Alien film, the violence is high and should be noted before walking into the theater.
Language/Crude Humor: F-words are thrown around nearly throughout the film along with other curse words, especially during scenes of suspense. Again, this should be noted before walking in.
Spiritual Content: A lot can be surprisingly found in this in regards to the classic question of humanity, “Where do we come from?” While that was more of a detailed topic in Prometheus, it can be found in this sequel as secrets and discoveries are found after the groups’ landing.
Sexual Content: There is a short scene of a couple having sex in the shower. Specific body parts are shown including a breast. This is quickly over after the Alien attacks them which turns into a bloody mess.
Drug/Alcohol References: After the death of the first crew member, the team drinks to a toast.
Other Negative Content: Other than the graphic gory violence and language, I cannot really think of anything else to add.
Positive Content: Though the group becomes easily startled and worried about what is going on, they do their best to ban together to get off the planet.

Review

Premiering in 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien became a smash hit with the resources it had for its time and proved nearly better a second time around in the 1986 sequel Aliens. After the franchise’s struggle with the flops of the Alien3 (1992) and Alien Resurrection (1997) along with the spin-off (that we never speak about) Alien vs. Predator 1 & 2 (2004 & 2007), the series needed new structure to redeem itself by revisiting its origins…literally. In Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel film Prometheus, the story covered about a crew going out to find its creators a decade before Alien Covenant took place. Events take a turn for the worst when they come into contact with the Engineers, the race whom they believe created them, who attacks the group. After Elizabeth Shaw and David survive, they go on to find the Engineer’s home planet, not knowing that a Xenamorph hatched out of the dead Engineer’s body. And that is where the Alien Covenant comes into play.
Overall, the cast worked well as they banned together for survival. Only in small moments did certain team members become annoying in their decision making, but for the film as a whole, the team worked well with the circumstances they got themselves in. What has become a difficulty with prequels has been in fact the lead, Elizabeth in Prometheus and Daniels (Katherine Waterson) in Covenant. Unlike Ripley in the original series, the emotional connection for the character was very small. Only in small moments did they become interesting and worth noting. This does not take away anything significant from the film as actress Katherine Waterson played the part well. The writing for her however was something that indeed needed more effort.
Alongside her is Walter (Michael Fassbender), the artificial intelligence creation from Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce). For those that saw Prometheus, Walter is an improvement from David, Fassbender’s previous character in the prequel. As a human creation, Fassbender’s character not only is an improvement, but Fassbender himself as he constantly pushes himself to new heights in the film that will surprise audiences. Another character that stood out to me was Captain Oram (Billy Crudup). As seen in the film, Oram is not really seen as the best fit for the captain, which is why his character became interesting. He is forced into a position he didn’t ask for though his decisions were catastrophic, one tends to feel somewhat sympathetic for him. While audiences may not agree with this statement, it was one I found to be quite interesting.

As previously mentioned, this film does address and bridge gaps between Prometheus and the Alien franchise and even reveals moments and references to the original series as well. In a number of areas, this may push audiences to rewatch Prometheus to gain a better understanding of the connections to the series as a whole. That being said, other areas of Prometheus were not only not addressed, but glossed over with little to no significance. Furthermore, significant moments in Prometheus were even made obsolete as Covenant goes in different directions than what fans suspected and rumored. It is possible that these areas may get answered in other installments due to the fact that Director Scott has announced four more Alien films, the next one titled Alien Awakening.
The trailer comes off as very horrific with a significant amount of action between the humans and the Xenamorph. In the film, however, this action between the two does not take place significantly until the three-quarters into the film. This is not to say that the movie is a drag. It just takes its time and focuses on other areas of sci-fi horror and plot details and reveals about Prometheus and the Alien franchise as a whole.
By the time the second act roles in, one can easily find the film too predictable as to how it will end. In a way, it does not come off as surprising, though I was hoping for more. What gives this film a pass is the fact that more installments are on the way as announced by Ridley Scott. If it had not been for this fact, then this prediction would have been more of a problem than an exception.
The film definitely answers questions in the previous installment and sets up for a new sequel as promised. Though the film takes its time, it is one that honestly came off as enjoyable. If you walk in expecting a similar feel to the original series, you may walk out feeling disappointment to certain extents. Was it entertaining? Yes. Did it have gaps? Yes. Will those be answered in the next sequel? Hopefully.
Categories
Action/Adventure Articles Movies Sci-fi/Fantasy

Reflection on ‘The Martian’

Ridley Scott’s The Martian stands as a reason why movie lovers love movies. Visually appealing, consistently funny, impeccably-acted, and paced very well, it’s very hard for me to find anything at fault with the film led by Matt Damon. Personally, it visually translated almost every brainstorming session or daydream thought I had as a space exploration-obsessed child. To say I enjoyed the film, it would be an understatement.
In a nutshell, Mark Watney (played by Damon) is thought dead and reluctantly left on Mars by his fellow crew members as they escape a powerful storm that abruptly appeared mid-mission. Following NASA believing him dead and providing a high-profile funeral, Watney shows himself to be alive, as observed by satellite images of the surface.
From his perspective, we see him face the harshest of odds, on a planet that is not conducive to his existence in any way. Whether it’s the pursuit of growing food on a planet without water, making feasible transportation over long distances, or finding ways to re-engineer technology to better communicate with Mission Control on Earth, Watney continues to find ways to survive until help can come to him.
Having not read the Andy Weir novel on which it is based and knowing that the director is a professed atheist, I was ready to be disappointed in regard to its position on the Christian faith. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this “testament to science”, as I’ve heard the film described, wasn’t actually critical of Christianity or faith in general. In fact, the Cross stood out as the crux of one of my favorite moments in the film. One could say that faith and hope are the center of the film, as the thought of bringing Mark home are all that keeps the crew moving forward and all that fuels his pursuit to not give up. The themes of resilience amidst overwhelming adversity were so well illustrated that I left actually refreshed spiritually in my faith, which was a great feeling from a Hollywood science-fiction film.

The-Martian-viral-teaser

In reflection of the film, I immediately thought of the Scriptural principle of Christ’s pursuit of the lost.
Luke 15:1-7 (NKJV): Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
Mark Watney is one man: a botanist on Mars, but still, one man alone on a planet to himself. His perilous situation has no practical bearing on the billions of people on Earth, and even if his fellow crew never knew they’d return safely to their own families. If Watney died, it would in no way impact another human being’s life on Earth. Still, upon knowing of his situation, the world unites with great money and resources to ensure his return. Even after problematic situations on both Earth and Mars test their resolve, they soldier on in bringing him back.
That level of focus and reach and mutual cooperation of mankind to save one other member of our race seems an amazing feat from human beings, and if true, it would be a testament to mankind in putting aside so much for a common cause. Still, Scripture shows us that Jesus Christ showed beyond even that great level of love for us on the Cross.  He poured Himself out for all of mankind, regardless of the sins they’ve committed or are committing.  He who knew no sin became sin for us.

THE MARTIAN

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV): For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
The importance of saving Mark’s life in the film as it’s coupled with the necessity of him not losing hope in his situation and seeking progress against all the adversity coming at him on every front in the film act as symbols to us that no one is truly without hope. No matter our struggle, be it a sin known to all around us in our lives or a personal struggle known only within our internal thoughts, we can overcome it in Christ.
He seeks us to the uttermost and will receive all if we will come to the point of meeting him. He would have died on the Cross for just the salvation of one human being, yet His sacrifice is powerful enough to save all who will belong to Him. Watney’s journey to survival and returning to Earth took great struggle on his part, and for any that Christ receives, they must make great sacrifices as well. The journey with Christ was never promised to be easy, but salvation is only possible through Him:
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Should you see ‘The Martian’? I would say absolutely, but as you see it, just know that just as the planet was intent on bringing Watney home, Christ is much more intent on you knowing Him and being at one with Him in this life and in Eternity. Your rescue mission from sin and despair already took place on a Cross centuries ago, and the power of that act is enough to secure eternal life for you and all who will receive Christ today. Have you?

Have you seen the Martian? What Christian themes did you notice in it? How can you apply this message in your life?

Categories
Gaming PC Reviews

Review: Spirits of Xanadu (PC)

spirits_of_xanadu_by_verysara-d8bn7h4 Developer: Allen Trivette & Lee Williams
Publisher: Night Dive Studios
Platform(s): PC
Rated: N/A
Price: $14.99
Release Date: Mar 26, 2015
Since the release of Ridley Scott’s Alien in 1979, viewers have been entranced with the premise of being lost in space on a massive, dark, malfunctioning vessel. Furthermore, gamers sought to experience this as well in interactive form. After many unsuccessful tries, some would say that Alien: Isolation (2014) was the first game to nail this theme. If you aren’t up for spending the money for that premium title, however, I have a game for you by Lee Williams and Allen Trivette, published by Night Dive Studios (System Shock 2), that will give you most of what you’re looking for. It’s called Spirits of Xanadu.

Story
2015-03-26_00002

Welcome to the Xanadu–a spaceship designed to take you around the solar system in mere days. It seems the vessel is past her prime, though, because when you climb aboard, it is dark, gloomy, and falling apart. Your job is to find out what went wrong aboard the now-abandoned ship and guide it back to Earth safely. While you try to restore her systems, you can find audiologs, as well as pages of a book that one of the crew members was writing. Spirits of Xanadu is rich in its lore, and a testament to the indie game scene in general.
The game revolves around three deceased main characters by the names of Solomon Agnew, Cornell Johns, and Lucy Zhao. All were members of authority aboard the Xanadu, and you soon find that each person had a special quirk to them. It’s up to you to discover the truth behind what really happened aboard the ship and who did what to whom. The game is filled with mystery and even attempts psychological thrills at times. For example, certain landmark items seemingly re-appear by “teleporting” to various parts of the ship, possibly revealing a supernatural force aboard. 

Content Warning

xanaduviolence

You will find violence in the vein of killer robots, explosions, guns, and lasers, but no blood is spilled. Unfortunately, there is one artistic portrait showing nudity, and just a couple spots where vulgarity is present (two or three uses of the f-word). You can also smoke cigarettes to death and drink alcohol to the point of drunkenness. The game is quite spooky, as it takes place in total darkness (lit only by your flashlight) and is engulfed in the ship’s eerie mechanical sounds, so if these things make your skin crawl, take warning.

Gameplay

2015-03-26_00001

You navigate the Xanadu using the simple WASD control scheme. The shooting uses the very familiar Call of Duty mechanic of right clicking to “aim-down-sights (ADS)” and left clicking to shoot, and also interacting with the “F” key when appropriate. You can run using the Shift key, which is vital, as certain robots can be fatal and swift. As you navigate the vessel, there are terminals where you can save progress, look at cameras around the ship, and more. I was surprised by how seamless the terminals are, as you just have to walk up to them and your crosshairs automatically turn into the mouse cursor on the computer system, enabling you to save your progress or look around. You use maps found on walls quite frequently because the Xanadu is vast with many hallways and rooms. It doesn’t take long to learn the layout of the ship, though, because, when you become incapacitated by the robots, you are taken to the ship’s Brig, forcing you to backtrack to where you were previously.
In addition to exploring and surviving, there are also practical, puzzle-type situations in which you repair the Xanadu for its flight back to Earth. I appreciated the addition of these segments, as I’m sure you would realistically need to know a bit of engineering in order to take over a lost spaceship and set it back on its proper course.
Keeping with the Call of Duty shooting mechanic, you never need to find health, as you just flee from combat, allowing your health (and red-flashing screen) to return to normal. A heartbeat sound effect warns you if you’re being harmed. 
There is something to be said about game developers who make their environments almost fully interactive; it shows the passion and care they radiate for their creation. In Spirits of Xanadu, when you encounter a box of food, can of pop, or box of cigarettes, you can eat, drink, and smoke them accordingly. This adds a priceless value to an experience in which you can essentially do as you wish. I’m not joking when I say you can literally smoke yourself until you pass out aboard the Xanadu. You will also become flatulent if you eat in excess, among other surprises, but I will leave you to find those on your own (hint: there’s a fully-developed arcade game on the ship somewhere…)

Presentation

xanadupresentation

The presentation of Spirits of Xanadu is both the best and weakest parts of the game. You won’t find a spookier indie title than this one. The Xanadu is dark, empty, void of all life forms, and filled with robots just looking to harm you. You have to use a flashlight throughout the entire game, in fact. The actual physical assets of the game, however, are primitive, as every object looks polygonal (made by pieced-together shapes). This takes away from the immersion, but the gloomy vibe remains nonetheless. As you explore the ship, weird noises creek around you, giving the impression that not only is the ship falling apart, but also that something may be lurking inside its walls.
Lore is plentiful in this game, as you find audiologs and book pages along the haunted hallways and rooms. They don’t feel unnecessary or “thrown-in” either, as is the case in other games driven by over-abundant writing. Quite the contrary, every bit of story you find in Spirits of Xanadu enhances the game’s immersion and feel.
Enemies make characteristic sounds that identify them before you even see them, which helps you to interact more quickly and prepare yourself for the coming threat. Along with enemy sounds, the ship has its own Artificial Intelligence (AI) that you can turn on or off in the settings; this AI can vaguely guide you if you become lost or don’t know what to do.

Conclusion

Spirits of Xanadu is a must-play if you enjoyed the original Ridley Scott-directed Alien movie, or if you just enjoy spooky games filled with mystery, story, and exploration. The Xanadu is a dark, gloomy, decrepit space ship that went through a dramatic falling-out between its authority figures, and it’s up to you to conquer it, repair it, and bring it home. Get passed the harmful robots, uncover the truth, repair the ship, and complete your mission in this immersive indie title.