Dan O’Bannon

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).


Blue Thunder (1983, John Badham)

Blue Thunder is astoundingly dumb. It’s not exactly bad, as there are some fantastic effects and some of the script has shockingly sublime moments, but it’s astoundingly dumb.

It starts off strong, with a decent enough first act. Daniel Stern is new to the Astro division of the LAPD and, through him, the film introduces Roy Scheider’s on the edge cop. Thunder is just an on the edge cop movie, only with helicopters. Their first night out stuff is fine.

When Candy Clark shows up as Scheider’s comically unstable girlfriend, things get shaky. Then Malcolm McDowell shows up as the British villain (working for the U.S. Government, however) and Thunder bellyflops. It recovers somewhat for the last thirty minutes, with the helicopter in action over LA stuff, but not entirely.

It’s a fun finale, but accepting its stupidity is one of the requirements for enjoying it. Writers Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby have this conspiracy subplot and they mangle it. It, and McDowell’s terrible performance, go far in dragging Thunder down.

The occasional sublime moments–there’s a great scene of Clark looking for Scheider–are memorable enough to leave a better impression than Thunder deserves.

Scheider’s good, Stern’s mediocre (but still likable).

It’s technically masterful. Badham can’t make a good movie, but he can shoot Panavision action well. He’s got great help from cinematographer John A. Alonzo and editors Edward M. Abroms and Frank Morriss.

Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score is repetitive but catchy.

Blue Thunder‘s often entertaining, but entirely stupid.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Badham; written by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby; director of photography, John A. Alonzo; edited by Frank Morriss and Edward M. Abroms; music by Arthur B. Rubinstein; production designer, Sydney Z. Litwack; produced by Gordon Carroll; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Roy Scheider (Officer Frank Murphy), Daniel Stern (Officer Richard Lymangood), Malcolm McDowell (Col. F.E. Cochrane), Warren Oates (Capt. Jack Braddock), Candy Clark (Kate), Paul Roebling (Icelan), David Sheiner (Fletcher), Joe Santos (Montoya), James Murtaugh (Alf Hewitt) and Jason Bernard as The Mayor.


Screamers (1995, Christian Duguay)

Sometimes competency is a bad thing. Screamers is a fairly well-made–Duguay’s composition isn’t spectacular, mostly because the sets were all CG embellished so there was only so much he was actually shooting–but there are some excellent effects sequences. There’s some nice stop motion and then a great shuttlecraft liftoff. Duguay knows how to spend his limited budget to make the film look good. There really isn’t a genre of good lower budget 1990s science fiction because cheap CG ruined it, but Screamers could almost be a solid entry.

Except for the script. There are some really good ideas in Dan O’Bannon’s script–the stuff with Peter Weller and Jennifer Rubin being the last two people alive on a planet should have really been stretched out–but, for the most part, it’s pretty weak. It’s like O’Bannon (or maybe co-writer Tejada-Flores) had to keep taking out stuff to make it cheaper, less grandiose. They give Weller some really bad dialogue–just long and expository–and seeing Weller mull through it and pull it off is sensational. Almost the entire running time of Screamers could be spent wondering how no one ever got Weller a role for an actor of his ability.

The supporting cast is generally okay. Roy Dupuis and Andrew Lauer are both solid. Rubin’s got a rough character to essay and she runs a little too cold at times, but she’s mostly all right.

It’s not cheap enough to be chintzy. Should be better.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Duguay; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Miguel Tejada-Flores, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Rodney Gibbons; edited by Yves Langlois; music by Normand Corbeil; production designer, Perri Gorrara; produced by Franco Battista and Tom Berry; released by Triumph Films.

Starring Peter Weller (Joe Hendricksson), Roy Dupuis (Becker), Jennifer Rubin (Jessica Hanson), Andrew Lauer (Jefferson), Charles Edwin Powell (Ross), Ron White (Chuck Elbarak) and Bruce Boa (Secretary Green).


Dark Star (1974, John Carpenter)

Dark Star is probably John Carpenter’s second finest film (after The Thing). It’s the John Carpenter film I’ve always been saying he should make–a funny one. I have seen Dark Star before, probably nine years ago, back when it was somewhat rare (it got picked up, a year after I saw it, by a video distributor who’s kept it in print). The first time I saw it, it struck me how much Dan O’Bannon used again in Alien. In Dark Star, O’Bannon–who makes the film, he should have been an actor, he’s hilarious–hunts a tomato-shaped alien through the bowels of the spaceship. He used that hunt again in his script for Alien. Well, this time, I noticed some of Carpenter’s shot compositions of the spaceship against the planet are identical to Ridley Scott’s set-ups for Alien… Scott just had more money….

The film is pure delight, from O’Bannon’s bickering with his crew mates to the commander rambling about surfing. The humor’s actually a little smarter than I expected, but it’s hard to believe Carpenter and O’Bannon were just students when they made this film. The budget isn’t quite there–it looks about the same as an episode of the original “Star Trek”–but Carpenter always spends his money well. It’s one of his trademarks.

I’m having problems with this post because the film’s only sixty-eight minutes long and it’s a comedy. I’ve already said O’Bannon’s great, I’ve already mentioned some of the funny stuff… but it’s not without some depth too. The film’s present action is short, maybe a few hours, and while the specifics of these characters’ longings are comedic, their existence is not. I just read someone call Dark Star a parody of 2001 but it’s not… The end of Dark Star is touching and more humane–if incredibly short (three minutes at the most)–then the rest of Carpenter’s filmography combined. Seeing Dark Star in 1974, I’m not sure it would connect with the Carpenter who made They Live. I just remembered Starman (as an example of Carpenter’s humaneness, but Dark Star has it beat). It’s a great film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon; director of photography, Douglas Knapp; edited by O’Bannon; music by Carpenter; production designer, O’Bannon; released by Jack H. Harris Enterprises Inc.

Starring Brian Narelle (Doolittle), Cal Kuniholm (Boiler), Dre Pahich (Talby) and Dan O’Bannon (Pinback).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | John Carpenter, Part 1: The Wonder Years.
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