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

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

So the devil's child will rise from the world of politics.

The Omen (1976) (SPOILERS) The coming of the Antichrist is an evergreen; his incarnation, or the reveal thereof, is always just round the corner, and he can always be definitively identified in any given age through a spot of judiciously subjective interpretation of The Book of Revelation , or Nostradamus. Probably nothing did more for the subject in the current era, in terms of making it part of popular culture, than The Omen . That’s irrespective of the movie’s quality, of course. Which, it has to be admitted, is not on the same level as earlier demonic forebears Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist .

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.