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Alien: Harvest (2019, Benjamin Howdeshell)

Alien: Harvest operates at that all too familiar intersection of bad and stupid. It’s a stupid idea badly executed, though it’s not clear whose at fault for each. For instance, the short is about four survivors on a space ship trying to get the lifeboat before the ship blows up in seven (or eight) minutes. It’s a seven or eight minute short. You’d think it’d be real-time… but no. So who decided to do stylistically weak montage (the second time jump, the first they just cut), director Howdeshell or writer Craig Dewey?

Howdeshell’s direction is bad throughout, sure, but Dewey’s writing is stupid throughout too. For instance, how is it possible no one in the Alien universe knows how to read a motion tracker? Especially given lead (or at least character given the most reaction shots) Agnes Albright ought to know how to read one, given her character’s background. Though Albright’s background is yet another of the script’s stupidities; for an officially produced “Alien Universe” short, Harvest plays pretty fast and loose with the franchise “rules.” And always just for shock value. Dewey and Howdeshell don’t have anything good up their sleeves so they’re just going for the jumps. They don’t get any. They get some eye rolls, which is impressive because it’s usually too stupid to bother wasting the energy to roll the eyes.

There’s one good performance—Jessica Clark, as the pregnant and therefore sympathetic survivor. Adam Sinclair’s pretty bad as her dude, James C. Burns is even worse as the mansplainer. Watching Burns makes you appreciate how even some bad actors are at least not godawful at it. He’s fairly godawful.

Albright’s… not good. It’s a crap part but she’s not good.

Nothing’s good about Harvest, though the space CGI exteriors aren’t bad and Danny Cocke’s music could be worse. At least it’s not too derivative of the source material, whereas Dewey reuses lines from the real movies.

Bad editing from Jake Shaver, though it’s unclear if its his cutting or just Howdeshell’s footage. It seems more like the latter… if you forget the ineptitude of the fifteen second montage to show the characters passing forty-five seconds of present action.

It’s never any good, but the utter stupidity of the finish (and the real-time fails) make Harvest much worse than expected.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Benjamin Howdeshell; screenplay by Craig Dewey, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Chris Saul; edited by Jake Shaver; music by Danny Cocke; production designer, Troy Spino; costume designer, David Tabbert; produced by Shawn Wallace; released by IGN.

Starring Agnes Albright (Mari), Jessica Clark (Hannah), Adam Sinclair (Alec), and James C. Burns (Sturgis).


Alien: Containment (2019, Chris Reading)

For the first few minutes—say, three of the short’s nine minute runtime—it seems like Alien: Containment is going to work out. The acting is good. Gaia Weiss is a fine lead, Theo Barklem-Biggs is an okay freaking out guy (he’s in an Alien movie, someone’s got to freak out), but Sharon Duncan-Brewster is fantastic as the Company scientist who knows more than she’s letting on. Even though the official plot description–Containment being an official “fan movie”—says there are four people, Adam Loxley is a red herring. He’s just there to throw everyone off the obvious plot twist.

That plot twist comes just after Barklem-Biggs has turned on the women in an unfortunate “might makes right” plot development. I had already been thinking about how all the dated technology in the Alien future looked kind of silly given the short is done with professional CGI and whatnot. But director Reading’s script is pre-1979 Alien dated; Barklem-Biggs gets to be in control, once he wants to be, because he can be more violent to the women than they can be to him. And then when Weiss gets made at Duncan-Brewster about something and calls her a “bitch,” well… there are appropriate ways to homage the original films and then there are cheap ways. Reading goes with cheap and inconsequential.

By the last third, the short’s used up all of its goodwill. The beginning, before Barklem-Biggs gets violent, has a lot of potential; for a few precious minutes, Containment seems like a great setup for its cast and characters. Then Reading’s writing ruins everything. His composition is fine (though the last shot is way too much, especially given the nine minute runtime) and his crew is solid—Howard Mills’s photography and Simon Porter’s music in particular—but Containment goes nowhere. It’s a big “why bother” by the end, a sentiment even the short seems to have.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Chris Reading; screenplay by Reading, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Howard Mills; music by Simon Porter; production designer, Arthur de Borman; produced by Patch Ward; released by IGN.

Starring Gaia Weiss (Ward), Theo Barklem-Biggs (Nass), and Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Albrecht).


Alien: Alone (2019, Noah Miller)

Alien: Alone is one in a series of six “fan-made” but presumably Fox-funded Alien short films for the fortieth anniversary. Based on Alone, it doesn’t seem like Fox had a very high bar when it came to project proposals. Or at least they didn’t care how the shorts turned out, so long as the hook was good enough.

Alone feels very Alien. Joel Santos’s music uses (and almost uses) the old Jerry Goldsmith themes, Tom Wyman’s production design is very close to the original spaceship, Colin Jacobs’s cinematography makes it look like Alien. And writer-director Miller knows how to hit some of the franchise expectations.

The sole inhabitant of a derelict vessel is female, played by Taylor Lyons. She’s got some character reveals in the twelve minute runtime, with Miller doing a bunch of foreshadowing. He handles the reveal fine—and the few minutes after the reveal and before the pseudo-twist are easily the best of the short; Lyons goes from mediocre to okay to quite bad by the end. In those two minutes of post-reveal salad days, Lyons all of a sudden seems like she’s going to be able to pull off the part. She can’t, but mostly because the writing gets so bad at the end. It’s never great, but Miller’s got an interesting idea and can’t make it into twelve minutes. He can’t logic the story, he can’t make it fit with Alien “rules” either. So he just goes for the nonsense finish.

There’s some good CG space stuff with the ships. It’s amazing how easy it is, forty years after the original, to mimic its visuals with PCs.

I suppose Miller’s composition is good. Or at least fine. His direction, based on how he directs Lyons and James Paxton, is bad. At some point you just feel bad for Lyons, because there’s no reason her part should end up so stupidly thin. It’s a disappointment. Right after Alone seems like it might be worth it, it fails and then keeps failing; Miller forcibly dragging it down.

Makes you wonder what Fox gave the thumbs down.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Noah Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Colin Jacobs; music by Joel Santos; production designer, Tom Wyman; produced by Valerie Thueson; released by IGN.

Starring Taylor Lyons (Hope) and James Paxton (MacWhirr).


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