ALIEN: COVENANT (Dir Ridley Scott, USA, 2017)
Starring- Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz
No doubt when a new ALIEN film turns up everyone turns their heads in anticipated glee awaiting the new entry into the franchise which has lasted almost 38 years since Scott turned a spaceship into a terrifying claustrophobic nightmare pitting humans out of their depth, against an unstoppable killing machine. Since that first film the Alien has gone onto a superb sequel in James Cameron’s ALIENS, then followed by the underrated and superb dark misery of ALIEN 3 and the uneven and sub-standard ALIEN: RESURRECTION. Following that there were two heavyweights clashes with it’s rival extraterrestrial bad guy the Predator, ALIEN VS PREDATOR and ALIEN VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM, both as bad as each other. It took until 2012 for Scott to return to the franchise with PROMETHEUS a very flawed but technically stunning picture which has started a series of films to go about explaining the origins of the Xenomorph being and this brings us to ALIEN: COVENANT, the first film in this prequel series of films to feature the word ALIEN in it’s title.
Covenant is the name of the colonisation vessel on a seven year mission route to a new planet. On its journey the ship is hit by a solar flare storm which severally damages the vessel and causes loss of crew life including the main captain and husband to Daniels (Waterston) leaving Oram (Crudup) to reluctantly step up and take charge. The ship receives a distress signal from a nearby planet which Oram decides to send out a re-con mission to investigate and to see whether the new place could be a possible hospitable home for the colonists (you can see where this is going, right?). Naturally when they arrive some nasty spores causes some nasty reactions to their human hosts and the re-con crew find themselves under attack from an earlier version of the Xenomorph only also to find sanctuary from the synthetic David (Fassbender) from PROMETHEUS who has managed to survive on the planet. Yet David who sinister intentions in the previous film seem more apparent and this puts the crew in even more danger.
It’s safe to say that this latter series of ALIEN films will not reach the tension and terror of Scott’s original, or the bombast and brutal action of Cameron’s sequel and not even the grim beauty of Fincher’s ALIEN 3 but in turn it’s trying to bring a fresh origin story to the franchise. Whilst PROMETHEUS felt uneven and quite overblown in it’s execution it seems to be a necessary forefront in establishing the beginnings of the origin. ALIEN: COVENANT does follow this in many way’s even with the dialogue which at times seems clunky and contrived and retains one of the main characters from that film, David. Though in the process it gets rid of the engineers from the previous film and only offers their absence with a flashback sequence that shows they where exterminated. Yet this is not fully explained or attributed and in its absence you would have liked to have known more of the background to the engineers especially since this is supposedly an origins story. Whilst it does attempt to follow a new path parts of the film almost seem like a greatest hits retread of the first two movies with a bit of ALIEN thrown in there and a bit of ALIENS dropped over here. It also does rely to heavily on the use of CGI effects for the Alien which seems a bit disappointing in retrospect when the original film used the classic man in a monster suit to great effect.
Admittedly its necessary to use CGI for the Alien’s first beginnings and growth but at the same time the nostalgia and effect of prosthetic effects is greatly missed and the reliance on CGI ends up coming off as more lazy than necessary in parts. Despite the flaws the film is in the end visually and technically stunning. One thing that Scott is great at is world building and visual craft which has been one of the most important aspects of his career and will be a surely a hard act to follow in the forthcoming BLADE RUNNER sequel due out this year for that films particular director Denis Villenuve. Even with a flawed script Scott somehow manages to maintain a stunning visual presence in the film and design a fantastic outer space world which on the IMAX screen is brilliant to watch and thankfully in this films release they have dropped the gimmicky 3D effect which was utilised in PROMETHEUS. Credit should be given to the cast with Fassbender both in dual roles as the synthetic David and the Covenant’s ship own robot Walter and is again superb, Waterston is also confident and reliable in what is essentially the Ripley role as Daniels and also McBride as Tennessee the chief pilot. McBride has mainly been in comic roles but this time round he manages to shrug of the funny guy persona and deliver a decent likeable serious role as the brash Covenant pilot.
In terms of being a return to the original nightmare of the first series of films COVENANT won’t reach those dizzying heights and whilst I can understand the negative feelings towards the film, I still like to recognise some of the impressive work within this particular outing and on the biggest screen you can see it, makes it all the more stunning. Given a stronger script Scott, who intends to carry on with another film in this series, could benefit even more. Though in the meantime he still manages to stage and orchestrate some fantastic visual and technical skill that at the core is one of the retaining and beneficial factors of COVENANT.