Skip to main content

Whatever it is, it appears to be a genetic aberration.

Leviathan
(1989)

(SPOILERS) Two films called Leviathan revolving around the ill-effects of vodka, and which do you think is superior: the Russian social commentary/ political critique or the waterlogged George Pan Cosmatos rip-off of AlienThe Thing? The latter is so unmemorable, I wasn’t even certain that I’d seen it before. Compounding this is how very familiar it feels. A pungent déjà vu lingers throughout, as the post-Alien tropes are lined up and ticked off but never in an interesting or remotely stylish manner.


David Webb Peoples’ (Blade Runner, Unforgiven, Twelve Monkeys) name is on the screenplay, asked for Alien underwater by the studio, but failing to delivering a screenplay that was quite Alien enough, which is why Jeb Stuart rewrote it. Possibly the presence of Cosmatos (Cobra, and the nominal director of Tombstone, though Kurt Russell was really calling the shots) incapacitates any positives in the script. Certainly, while the creature work isn’t Stan “Aliens” Winston’s best, the director has absolutely no idea of how to make the most of it, and Jerry “Alien” Goldsmith is unable to ring any atmosphere from the dripping sets. Additionally, in stark contrast to the bruising realism of James Cameron’s sub-aqua yarn of the same year The AbyssDeepstar Six being the low budget third in a 1989 trio of underwater science fiction movies – Cosmatos could barely be bothered to take the plunge; it’s all-too obvious that he’s mostly opted for simulated underwater look (to be fair, Alex Thomson’s cinematography is solid in the main, but it’s a lost cause).


If one is so inclined, one can pass the time ticking off the genre clichés, which include Machiavellian corporate manoeuvring (“This company’s commitment is to the almighty dollar”) under the aegis of alien-eyed Meg Foster, keeping the crew of the Tri Oceanic Mining Corporation, with only a few days left in their 90-day shift, down below with the monster (it’s implied the company knew about it in advance, just like Alien). Which, we learn, is a genetic aberration. “No shit!” exclaims Ernie Hudson’s Justin Jones on learning this detail. Hudson also gets a line almost worthy of LL Cool J in Deep Blue Sea when, having surfaced, they hit more problems; “Sharks! Talk about having a bad day”. It’s a line only topped by “Gone? Bitch we’re still here!” in response to Foster’s “I realise you must have gone through hell”. None of which gives Ernie a free pass to the end credits, though.


The crew of Russian vessel Leviathan were subject to an unbeknownst experiment with a mutagen laced in their vodka, and there’s even a Thing-esque scene where Richard Crenna’s doctor views a computer simulation of the virus’ progress, the crew having already investigated a Thing-esque wreck with no survivors. Before long it’s necessary to break out the Thing and Alien-esque flamethrowers, always to hand in case of an aberrant freak, even deep down on the seabed.


Like Alien, the creature changes in form. Like The Thing it retains semblances of its victims (some of whom we assume are dead, but of course aren’t) and absorbs their intelligence (about the only aspect that isn’t derivative is victims remaining conscious as part of the creature, Michael Carmine’s DeJesus pleading for help). Occasionally Winston hits the mark in a Rob Bottin, kind of gross, way, but too often the creature amounts to a sub-Alien thing slithering through vents, or an unconvincing giant rubber fish thing. There’s even a chest-burster scene and a body part with teeth that isn’t a mouth. Most mirthfully, crewmember Sixpack’s leg escapes at one point and swims off.


And in the realm of brazen copying, Amanda Pays strips down to her skimpies, just like Sigourney. During the opening stages, there’s the occasional moment suggesting a better Peoples script that was thrown out; Peter Weller’s Beck rehearses extracts from The One-Minute Manager in an attempt to keep control of his disrespectful crew. But, mainly, this is a B-movie cast (Hector Elizondo, Daniel Stern is Sixpack, Richard Crenna, who worked with Cosmatos on Rambo: First Blood Part II, is the doctor; they go dutifully through their paces, but they’re all fully aware this isn’t going to be anything special) with B-movie dialogue (“Say ‘Ahhhh’, motherfucker!”, offers Beck, nursing the strange belief that blowing the creature up might put an end to its reign of terror; he then punches out Foster) and B-movie motivation (all are devoid of common-sense, in common with such movies but accentuated here, be it attempting to conceal the death of Sixpack or repeatedly straying near infected cremates).


Quite why Search and Rescue is still about when Foster has issued a press release announcing the death of the crew is beyond me, but then so little here follows rhyme or reason, including the survivors’ miraculous ability to decompress superfast thanks to a red light announcing “Decompression” (earlier, a skull and crossbones signals oxygen depletion, which is a bit indelicate). Cosmatos has zero grasp of suspense or terror, meaning everything happens in a noisy, careless and/or gory manner, which is fairly of-a-piece with his career. Leviathan arrived at the opposite end of a decade that began with numerous cheap and shoddy Alien imitators, but managed to learn nothing in the meantime.





Comments

Popular posts from this blog

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Dude. You’re my hero and shit.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was going to say I’d really like to see what Vince Gilligan has up his sleeve besidesBreaking Bad spinoffs. But then I saw that he had a short-lived series on CBS a few years back (Battle Creek). I guess things Breaking Bad-related ensure an easy greenlight, particularly from Netflix, for whom the original show was bread and butter in its take up as a streaming platform. There’s something slightly dispiriting about El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, though. Not that Gilligan felt the need to return to Jesse Pinkman – although the legitimacy of that motive is debatable – but the desire to re-enter and re-inhabit the period of the show itself, as if he’s unable to move on from a near-universally feted achievement and has to continually exhume it and pick it apart.

Well, it seems our Mr Steed is not such an efficient watchdog after all.

The Avengers 2.7: The Decapod
A title suggesting some variety of monstrous aquatic threat for Steed and Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith. Alas, the reality is much more mundane. The Decapod refers to a Mongo-esque masked wrestler, one who doesn’t even announce “I will destroy you!” at the top of his lungs. Still, there’s always Philip “Solon” Madoc looking very shifty to pass the time.

Madoc is Stepan, a Republic of the Balkans embassy official and the brother-in-law of President Yakob Borb (Paul Stassino). There’s no love lost between him and his ladies’ man bro, and dark deeds are taking place with the embassy confines, but who is responsible proves elusive. Steed is called in, or rather calls Venus in as a replacement, when Borb’s private secretary is murdered by Mongo. Steed isn’t buying that she slipped and broke her neck in the shower; “I shouldn’t like a similar accident to happen to you” he informs the President.

The trail leads to wrestling bouts at the public baths, where the Butcher…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…