Vesper feels as bleak as its dark dystopian depiction of Earth, in the aftermath of an ecological catastrophe that has left the Earth mostly wiped out. You know, the ones where engineered viruses and the like are let loose into the world creating an ecological disaster. Yet there’s hope, brought to light through its main character, Vesper (Raffiella Chapman), a compassionate and intelligent 13-year-old girl skilled in biohacking. She’s a survivor, abandoned by her mother to care for her sick, incapacitated father. He follows and communicates with her via a floating head shaped drone, displaying an emoji like face, while remaining bedridden in their house deep within the forest. She spends her time scavenging the land for things to trade, energy sources to keep her father breathing, seeds to grow food, and following on in her father’s work, engineering their own food.


The inhabitants in Vesper’s toxic world are divided between the privileged elite, in their tall impenetrable citadels, and the unfortunate others, scavengers who are struggling to survive on what little they can forage from the junk of the past, while eating insects and broths created from fungus and bacterial concoctions. The oligarchs control the seeds, coded to yield only one crop. Their monopoly decides who will have access to them, which depends on what is traded.

The film is uniquely immersive, more so through its visually dystopian grimness, often transforming into a ghostly canvas of some medieval myth reset in a sci-fi dark age. The cinematography composes a limited palette and balanced tonality, begging to be sung as an endless lament to ecological devastation. This echoes as a cautionary tale with impressive emotional depth in classic European art house style. Its imaginative world building, of Earth recreated and coveted on intelligent and bizarre recreations of bioluminescent life forms and gory blood sucking flora. Steeped in surreal landscapes of bleak wastelands of overrun alien vegetation and twisted organisms. Overall, a beautifully crafted film.

Just don’t expect grand visual and narrative storytelling, this is not trying to be a sci-fi blockbuster. Vesper is indicative of culturally European science fiction, more in the tone of Solaris and similar works, but also inheriting the tropes and styles of other modern works of sci-fi. It’s a passion of love, six years in the making, directors/writers Kristina Boyte and Bruno Samper shot the film in Lithuania just as the snow began to thaw, taking advantage of the fairy tale mood of the country and referencing Dutch painters such as Vermeer and Rembrandt as key references to light the environments.

It’s hard to imagine how a young girl can survive the emotional turmoil she has to endure daily in such a morbid world, but she does, finding empathy and strength in her objectives and those she cares for in times where it might be lost. The focus is on Vesper, a gentle heroine who demonstrates the courage and capacity to take care of herself under impossible conditions. It’s her viewpoint of the world we witness and it’s through her eyes we learn how to find hope when all hope is lost.

Blade Runner 2049

Honestly, when I first heard they were making a sequel I wasn’t thrilled, but once I learnt Denis Villeneuve was involved, I was curious to see what he would manage to produce.

Having watched his previous film, Arrival—based on the original short story, “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang—I felt he had the skill to create an outstanding adaptation. And while listening to an interview, I learnt Denis Villeneuve also happened to be a passionate fan of the original, which was a plus. Of course, I loved the original, for the obvious reasons I reiterated in the Blade Runner review I posted here in the blog. Still, I was skeptical.

I saw Blade Runner way back in the 80s. It was a time when a lot of us were scared and excited about the future. But that was then, and today that future seems partially here. So, while watching 2049 I didn’t share the same emotions I had back then. The foreboding of what was to come, had been replaced with, it’s here, now. Well, somewhat.

Fortunately, after viewing Blade Runner 2049, it turned out to be a splendid sequel, leaving me pleasantly surprised. Denis Villeneuve pays homage to the original, and does so admirably. I can’t wait to see what he does with Dune.

However, some found it to be a long film. And to be truthful, it’s much longer than the original. Two hours and forty-three minutes long to be exact. The original had a running time of under two hours. I didn’t mind the length. It actually gave me ample time to relish in the spectacle, the soundscape and the visually stunning sights, which were staggering. But the film’s length might have accounted for the less than stellar box office performance, possibly hampering a further sequel.

Set 30 years after the original Blade Runner, the earth has waned into a dystopian quagmire. With technology no longer the answer to all our prayers, nor humanities savior from ourselves; but a cold, clinical enslaver.

Due to persistent poverty, only the few—I suppose the rich and powerful—have access to more advanced devices and luxury, and even they seem misplaced from their empathy on a world plagued with mass extinction. Where the distinction between humans and replicants is blurred by a shared ‘quasi-alive’ subsistence. So, in retrospect both films share the same gloomy outlook Philip Dick had for humanity, when he wrote Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep. Exploring what it means to be human and the moral distinctions made between life and simulated-life.

Looking out from ‘K’ Ryan Gosling’s shabby apartment, all one sees is an endless night awash in constant rain against a backdrop of lost hopes. Those hopes play like mirrors in the form of corporation logos and giant holographic images, which tease and tempt at what’s left of our addiction to consumerism.

The film’s soundtrack fails to reach the original’s greatness, one that is often described as mythical, evocative and pristine. But it has its moments of brooding beauty and seismic immersion, and manages moments of subtle ambience. Finally, towards the end, it pays homage to Vangelis’s “Tears in the Rain” with an emotive redux.

As a soundtrack, it’s full of echoes and haunting as hell. Zimmer and Wallfisch did a commendable job, and they were well aware of the fact that it would never match Vangelis’s magnum opus, so they decided not to even try. Though listening to the sweeping suites of “Sea Walls” and “Blade Runner”, one feels they captured ambient elements of the original. And that’s an opinion coming from an amateur soundtrack buff like myself, who also is a huge fan of Vangelis’s work.

The critical response was positive, general consensus calling it an instant classic. Quite an interesting difference in retrospect, if one compares the change of attitudes over the years in relation to the originals initial mixed reactions from film critics of the 80’s.

As a sequel, I would highly recommend it. As does a rewatch, which I intend to do in the not too distant future.

Blade Runner – A Timeless Classic

Back in 1982 I sat in a musky, antiquated cinema that no longer exists, watching the opening credits to Blade Runner. The credits ended with a scrolling introduction to the Replicants that finished in pitch black. Out of the darkness, the endless night of the dystopian cityscape of Los Angeles materialized, smeared in smog and toxic rain. Performing to this surreal futuristic film noir was a combination of classical arrangements and synthesizers—the melancholic, yet beautifully haunting music of Vangelis. I was looking at a prophetic November in 2019.

As the rumble of massive flames exploded from towering industrial funnels, I was struck by a frightful question, could this be the future? By the time the film’s final scene ‘Tears in Rain’ ended, I think I was in tears as well. I left the cinema emotionally shaken by the experience.

Over the following days I was saddened to read in the newspapers of the time, the generally negative consensus. Critics and public alike seemed to have missed the point somewhere. The negative criticism, in particular from the United States, impacted the film’s success, stigmatizing for years the film’s true influence. Over the course of time, however, it became a cult classic and was eventually accepted as a science fiction masterpiece, the definitive sci-noir.

The film underwent seven iterations.  In 2007, on the 25th anniversary, the digitally remastered Final Cut was released.  Scott had complete artistic freedom over it and it became the decisive version to watch on Blue-ray. 

I’ll be re-watching Blade Runner: The Final Cut, before I go and see the sequel, Blade Runner 2049.   If you’re planning to see the new sequel and you haven’t seen the original, do yourself a favor and watch the Final Cut.  It’s definitely my favorite version and the one that Scott considers his final true vision of the film.

Come October, I’ll have the opportunity to watch Blade Runner 2049, and hopefully post my views on it afterwards. 

Alien: Covenant – The search for answers

In Alien: Prometheus we have one human character still alive, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), whose uncertain fate rests with the next film—or so we thought.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

In Covenant, her role inconsequentially vanishes in a dialogue towards the end, which left me irritated with the protagonist’s character as unfulfilled… ‘What! That’s it? She’s dead!?’  Alas, it would seem humans are destined to be pawns on the celestial stage.  But if that’s the case, who then is the true protagonist?

The first thing Covenant hints at is that people are no longer the core of this story, being merely inefficient and good at making poor decisions, with resulting deadly consequences.  Take for example the way the crew blundered about on the Engineer’s planet, like irresponsible children, sniffing this, touching that, without any concern for their actions… who was leading them?  Even that seemed uncertain.

This is an issue that might trouble the audience, which needs to relate to a hero of sorts.  We are apparently offered one in the form of Daniels (Katherine Waterston), but she is not the protagonist, nor was Elizabeth Shaw for that matter; that title I feel goes to David, who has become more than human, created by the humans, who in turn were created by the Engineers—he serves to outdo them all.  In Covenant, it comes full circle and is revealed in the prologue as David arrives on the Engineers’ planet.  We see him standing perched from the alien ship looking down at the Engineers, who have amassed in an immense square in the heart of their city, rejoicing the return of their ship, and blissfully unaware of the doom about to befall them.  David triumphantly quotes Shelly’s sonnet “Ozymandias”: “Look on my works ye mighty and despair.” And then proceeds to release pods of black goo on them, (which he most likely has been studying & tampering with, while on the way to their planet), wiping them out and giving rise to the xenomorphs.

We see this event before we even see the film, in the Alien: Covenant Prologue: The Crossing.  With more cultural references when we finally do get to see the movie.

I’ve noted the more prominent ones below:

  • Early in the film, the Covenant, a colonization ship ferrying thousands of sleeping colonists to the new world Origae-6, is damaged in a neutrino burst, the crew is woken to make repairs.  During this time, they receive an unknown static transmission, with John Denver singing, “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

  • Also, if you look carefully, the ancient citadel in the Engineers City uncannily resembles the painting from Arnold Böcklin’s Island of the Dead, pines and all.  Is this a premonition that death resides in the city?

  • More meaningful to the plot, I suspect is Milton’s Paradise Lost, a poetic work that concerns the fall of man in Genesis.  With Satan as the tragic hero and central character.  We see this at the beginning of Alien: Covenant, in a prelude scene even before Prometheus, with David and his creator Dr. Weyland (Guy Pearce), with a hint in pride and mindful of Weyland’s inspiration, “You seek your creator. I am looking at mine. You will die. I will not.” And his prideful reference to the fallen angel, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

  • With further references accompanied by the soundtrack’s music to Wagner’s “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla” from Das Rheingold with Gods, Giants, Nibelungs and the Rhinedaughters, a cosmic story of unfolding events. The Engineers at the height of their glory, with their creation—not the cursed Ring of the Nibelung—but the cursed Black Goo of the Engineers, which literally rained death on the unfortunate Engineers.

All these cultural fragments help to wedge some mythological personality into Scott’s Alien horror saga, which no doubt is substantial.  Unfortunately, it can feel muddled and unclear, an obvious issue when you are constrained to formulate such complex themes into a story inside two hours, while trying to accommodate a heritage of horror.

Eventually, we are led to the finale of Alien: Covenant, in a showdown between the Alien and Daniels, but instead of originality, Scott retreads familiar territory reminiscent of Aliens finale with Ripley, with Daniels facing the alien’s jaws, (maybe a gesture to his Alien horror fans).  With a final twist, which unfortunately proved all too predictable.

Ending, we are left with David again, who has a mission, what that mission is will be revealed in the sequels Scott is preparing.  For now, however, we are once more left without answers to a lot of questions, and a mystery that spans our own history as a species and that of our creators.

Re-watching Prometheus before Covenant premier

I loved Prometheus, as a quasi-prequel to Alien it was great. Leaving me with tingling questions unanswered. Its visual scope blends a vast, haunting canvas with metaphors left to interpretation, hinting on our beginning and end. So, this week I’ll be re-watching it again, with an added alternative beginning and ending, and just in time for Alien: Covenant.

Hopefully Ridley Scott won’t disappoint. But more on that later…