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Film Review: Alien: Covenant (2017)

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SYNOPSIS:

The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.

REVIEW:

Director: Ridley Scott

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz.

Ridley Scott directed one of the most seminal (& most imitated) sci-fi films of all time with a little ditty known as Alien (1979). It’s immediate success influenced dozens of similarly themed copycat films over the next ten years (3/4 of them seemingly produced by Roger Corman). It’s success led to the inevitable sequel, Aliens (1986), which was even more successful than its predecessor. It also made Sigourney Weaver a legitimate superstar (She also got a Best Actress nod from the academy for her portrayal of Ripley – her most iconic role). Six years later, Alien 3 (1992) was produced, and while it’s my favorite film in the franchise, it wasn’t as successful as either of the previous films. Alien: Resurrection (1997) followed five years later, and it was then followed by a pair of Alien vs Predator films (in 2004/2007). Scott returned in 2012 to direct Prometheus, which was the first of a new trilogy that’s set decades before the events of the very first Alien film. But its cerebral approach (& dearth of any real Alien carnage), made it an odd bird to audiences. It was a sight to see, but definitely a case of style over substance. Now Scott has returned with the second film of the new trilogy, Alien: Covenant. And while it does a really good job of reintroducing some good old fashioned blood & guts to the franchise, it still has a hankering to tell a story that wants to expand on theories Prometheus touched down on. Theories that slowed that film to a crawl.

The Covenant is a colonization ship. One that’s carrying over 2000 colonists (Who are snoozing the trip away in cryosleep). The only sign of life (That’s awake) is Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android that performs general maintenance on the ship while the crew is asleep. An errant solar flare hits the ship, causing a great deal of damage that Walter can’t handle on his own. So he awakens the emergency crew to help. Sadly, an accident kills the captain of the crew, so second in command Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes the captaincy of the crew. Afterwards we meet the rest of the crew: Daniels (Katherine Waterson) is the second in command, Tennessee (Danny McBride) is the pilot, Lope (Demian Bichir) is the gunman, etc, etc. Once the crew is gathered together, and repairs the damage to the ship, The Covenant receives a transmission from a nearby planet (That just happens to be habitable). Oram wants to investigate the source of the transmission, but Daniels doesn’t. Unfortunately for all of them, Oram outranks them all, so the decision is made, and the ship heads for the planet.

Once the landing crew touches ground, they notice that there is no sign of any sentient life. No birds, animals, insects, nothing breathing air but them. But after TWO encounters with what will eventually turn out to be xenomorphs, they run into David (Michael Fassbender). Who’s David you ask? He’s the android that flew away with Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) to find the planet from where the engineers came from (Don’t ask) at the end of Prometheus. And while he definitely helps the crew find shelter, he might just have other reasons for keeping them exactly where they are…

Let’s start with what I enjoyed about Alien: Covenant. I love the look of it! Cinematographer Darius Wolski does a marvelous job of lighting everything just right. The film is dark when it needs to be dark & foreboding (A lot of the time), and bright (Hardly ever). Either way, everything looks perfectly lit here, and Wolski’s work here gives the film a great deal of heft & substance. The performers are all up to their respective tasks, with Waterson and Fassbender giving the best performances in the film. Fassbender plays both David and Walter (Both with different accents), and he gives each of them distinct personality traits (Even though androids shouldn’t have personalities at all). Additionally, the makeup FX are first rate, Alien: Covenant is the goriest entry in the franchise, and it isn’t shy about it either. The carnage is both gooey and graphic.

Somewhat less enjoyable is the wonky nature of the script. As written by John Logan and Dante Harper, Alien: Covenant doesn’t seem to know what kind of film it wants to be. I wasn’t sure if it wanted to be about scientific curiosity, or about the reasons why humans exist, or about a group of people under siege by some really vicious creatures, or just about some (Supposedly) really smart people doing really stupid things to move the plot forward. It’s a bit of all of those, and a smattering of a few other plot threads that don’t really lead to anywhere very interesting. And since the film can’t really decide what it wants to be, it falls to the viewer to make up their own minds. Personally, I found it to be a shout out to the original film. It’s dark and claustrophobic settings work wonders on the psyche, just as the original Alien film did. But, unless this is your first time sitting in front of an Alien film, you won’t find any of this remotely scary. The crew members just aren’t smart enough to do the right thing, and some of their actions are downright ridiculous. A shower sex scene between Ricks (Jussie Smollett) and Upworth (Callie Hernandez) is especially dumb and out of place. It’s the sort of scene that’s been done in just about every Roger Corman Alien rip off film of the 80’s. The difference is that Corman knew he was making dumb movies, and sex scenes can seal the deal for an especially dumb flick. I think Scott was aiming a bit higher than “Dumb Movie” when he shot this – so the scene in question really made me scratch my head in confusion. The look of the aliens harkens back to H.R. Giger’s original design, which is good. But the overuse of CGI hurts the desig a bit. Some of it looks great, some of it looks off kilter. There’s a small sampling of a full fledged Alien suit, but 95% of the Alien FX look to be CGI creations – and sometimes the seams really show.

Additionally, the “Twist” in the final scene is telegraphed. I knew it was gonna happen thirty minutes before it happened, so it held no surprises for me. And if you’re a devotee of the franchise (Hell, of genre films in general), then you’ll see it coming too. Alien: Covenant never bored me, and I did enjoy the ferociousness of the beasties on display this time around. But Scott’s insistence of shoehorning the Prometheus story line into the script makes for some extremely dull moments. And the script is too reminiscent of the script to the original Alien film for it to be called very original. If you must see it, then see it for the amazing visuals, and a couple of really strong performances. If you’re looking for a sequel to Prometheus that’ll get the franchise back on track – then you might be mildly disappointed.

Alien: Covenant: 2.5 out of 5 shrouds.

2 comments

  1. SteelScissorsInYourSkull

    It sounds like I’ll be disappointed. I wouldn’t call ‘Prometheus’ cerebral; it featured some stunningly stupid characters and moments representative of the big budget Hollywood machine.

    I will get around to seeing ‘Alien Covenant’ but I’m not in a hurry; Scott hasn’t made a movie I’ve truly enjoyed since ‘Blade Runner’, he’s one of those directors who shot their loads early and haven’t had anything interesting to show since.

     
  2. A bunch of disjointed scenes, none memorable. Looks like an Alien vs Predator movie. Should have ended the

    series with Prometheus, which looks like a classic next to this one. The best scene and the most human was

    the intro dinner scene with the main characters, and soon to expire Captain, a scene reminiscent of the first

    Alien film, which was sadly deleted from the Covenant final cut. (see you tube).

     

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