Leaving something on the cutting room floor. The phrase has been around since the beginning of cinema, when editors would literally cut strips of film from the reel to leave lying on the floor until it was time to sweep up for the night. There are many things that would warrant a piece of dialogue or a scene be cut from a film, including shortening the length or removing unnecessary or repetitive sequences. For anyone who’s watched deleted scenes of their favorite movies, for the most part the choices the director, producer or studio make are for the better. But there are some things that are cut out that actually would have improved the film, and answered questions left, well, on the cutting room floor.
Alien: Covenant, the sixth entry in the Alien franchise, makes a major error in judgement when playing with scissors. Picking up a few years after 2012’s Prometheus, which explored the idea of our existence and how/why we were created, Covenant begins with what seems like a deleted scene from its predecessor. The illustrious Peter Weyland (an uncredited Guy Pearce), has just finished building David (Michael Fassbender), his first in a series of synthetic humans who he has taught to believe in the power of creation, whether that be art, music or flesh. The scene is fine for what it is, but it’s nothing we hadn’t already learned from watching Prometheus.
Cut to the Covenant, a colonization ship heading to a new planet some seven years away from its current location in order to begin civilization once again. When a freak solar event destroys the energy sails, the crew is forced awake to make the required repairs. Once the ship is back up and running, they discover a message where there shouldn’t be any human life. The captain (Billy Crudup), against the better judgement of his second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterstone), decides to head to this new planet to check on the call, since it’s much closer and could very well be a place to settle. Of course, once they begin exploring, they get more than they bargained for, and in true Alien fashion, begin getting picked off one by one.
But wait. There’s something missing. For anyone who’s seen the trailers, you’re probably aware of the fact that the crew were chosen because they were all couples. It was what the marketing revolved around, so you’d think this aspect of the film was important. Not important enough, it seems, to actually include in the finished product, as the scene is MIA from the film. I recently found out that this (as well as another “prequel” that focuses on Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David landing on the planet) were released as shorts that I’m sure not a lot of people even know about, less been able to see them.
I understand director Ridley Scott’s decision to use this as a tease for the film, but because this particular “short” introduces us to the couples, and to whom is paired up with whom, by extracting this introduction from the actual film, those who don’t go online all the time — or weren’t aware of the shorts — are never emotionally connected to the relationships, thus when someone mourns their loved one, it becomes dulled and insignificant because we have no emotional attachment to that mourning. For example, Daniels’s husband, Branson (James Franco), dies in his cryosleep pod before we ever know who he is, so why should we care about his death or why Daniels would be so emotionally distraught over his passing?
On a similar spectrum, the deliberate or accidental act of omission can also improve or hurt a film. Take Jaws, for example. Because Bruce, the mechanical shark playing the title role, was constantly malfunctioning, Steven Spielberg was forced to hide the shark in many scenes where he meant to have it front and center, an act of omission that actually made the film the classic it is today. But this type of decision isn’t always a good choice. Everything, Everything, an adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s young adult novel, falls into the side of harming a movie due to some key overlooked moments.
Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) has just turned eighteen but has never been outside. She’s been diagnosed with a rare form of Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID), which means that if she were ever to leave the safe confines of her perfectly clean home, she may die because her immune system can’t fight even the smallest of bacteria. Enter Olly (Nick Robinson), the hot guy who moves in next door. There’s an instant attraction between them, and through every awkward discussion, phone call and email, the two connect in a way that neither can explain. When Olly’s sweet charms get the better of Maddy, she decides it’s best to live life and see the world than to live in a bubble.
There’s much to like about the film, especially when director Stella Meghie “transports” the two into one of Maddy’s architectural models to present their text and email conversations as if they were sitting across from each other in a diner or massive library. It plays into the sense of Maddy’s imagination while at the same time bringing the two together when they can’t truly be together. However the film sort of falls apart when Maddy decides she wants to take a chance and break free of her restraints.
Maddy has spent the last seventeen years of her life experiencing the world through videos and books, so there’s a lot of firsts she’ll encounter when she talks Olly into going with her to swim in the oceans of Hawaii. Because of this, you’d expect the awe and wonderment to be paramount to Maddy’s character arc. But more often than not, these moments are overlooked and treated as if the character is experiencing these things for the millionth time.
The biggest example of this egregious omission of wonder comes when Maddy takes her first step into the ocean. Meghie spends a lot of the first half of the film building up to this moment, but when it finally happens, all we get is an aerial shot of Olly escorting her into the ocean. We have no opportunity to experience that first step, to witness the excitement of the sand between her toes as the water washes up against them, or the awe as the waves crash against her body. By not including these elements, we lose our emotional connection to the character, and never quite get it back, even as other experiences are given more admiration for their love and beauty.
One of the more devastating story lines in the film also doesn’t get a chance to breathe because of the lack of time spent between Maddy and her mother (Anika Noni Rose). Meghie focuses so much time on the relationship between Olly and Maddie, she ignores the relationship that leads to a twist that never earns its reveal, but which I was pleasantly surprised by nonetheless, even though I probably should have seen it coming.
Both films are clear examples of movies where the director’s had the right intentions, developing very well made films that could have been that much better had they made the decision to give us more character development instead of distancing us all from the emotion we were all prepared to experience.
My Grades: Alien: Covenant: A-; Everything, Everything: B+
Next week, new movies include Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Baywatch. If you would like to see a review for tone of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.