ALIEN COVENANT gets 6/10 Another bughunt?

Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup

6/10

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) was a game changing film. Not only did it meld the genres of horror and science fiction, it also added a “lived in” aesthetic to people’s visions of the future. Since then the franchise has undergone various directors with mixed results, till Scott once again took the reins for 2012’s Prometheus. A prequel of sorts, Prometheus concentrated mostly on the origin of the mysterious ship in the original, and the race of Engineers that created the alien killing machines. Sort of. The reception from critics and fans, at best, can be described as divided. Can Scott’s latest offering in this universe repair the damage, and bring life once more to the acid-blooded xenomorphs?

After a catastrophic accident interrupts their journey, the crew of the colony ship Covenant find themselves left with a mystery – a strange transmission coming from a nearby previously undiscovered habitable world. A message that not only suggests life, but human life, where none should be. Investigating, the crew land on an ideal world, one suited for colonisation, but apparently void of animal life, save for that mysterious transmission and the horse-shoe shaped alien ship it is originating from.

Obviously from here, it is a pretty short hop to creatures exploding forth from crew members bodies, and whip-tailed alien killing machines hunting down the survivors.

At this stage of the game, the Alien franchise appears caught between a xenomorph and a hard place. Go with what is old and familiar, and you just rehash the classics of Alien and Aliens, visiting territory that you have already been to, and was better in the first pass. Go with something new, and the likelihood is you’ll be expanding on the Prometheus “Chariots Of The Gods” mythos, undermining the loosely established cannon of the Alien universe. Alien Covenant chooses the middle ground, or rather veers wildly in both directions enough to achieve some sort of centrist approach.

There is no denying Scott’s power as a visual director. Covenant (both the ship and the film) brings the Alien world to vivid life. The design aspects are completely in keeping with what has gone before (although the computer graphics are a little more modern than the green text scrawl of the original), and there are a few new H.R. Giger inspired designs that are stunning in their composition. The good news is that, not only do we see a new version of the proto-xenomorph, but the classic alien also makes a reappearance (as seen in the later trailers). Both are appropriately terrifying, providing moments of heart-pounding action. However the film is let down in terms of dialogue and plot, as they fail abysmally to live up to the strength of the visuals.

That Alien Covenant is a disappointment it’s really not much of a surprise. As a director, Scott, has an output of great highs and lows, and rarely seems to be able to chain a series of good films together. As The Martian was a bit of a highlight, it’s par for the course that this would be a dip in quality.

Still, Alien Covenant is probably at its strongest when it is aping what has gone before. Here it is a slow-boil sci-fi horror, that despite a slight change in setting is a redo of the original film. Yet, when it deviates from this, it does momentarily become a more interesting and dangerous beast, before collapsing into a mire of over-wrought melodramatic stupidity (in a similar way to Prometheus). To discuss more would get into significant spoilers, suffice to say that at a certain point in the film, Covenant begins to tie itself in with the events and themes from Scott’s preceding work in the franchise, and suffers as a result.

As for the cast, well for the most part, unless they are Michael Fassbender, they don’t get enough distinctive lines to differentiate themselves. Hence the crew of the Covenant, which should be reminiscent of the blue collar Nostromo crew, is instead just an extended bloody smorgasbord for the xenomorphs (due to too many characters, and those being underdeveloped). Even Katherine Waterston is nothing more than a poor carbon copy of Ripley, despite the actress’s best efforts to add a raw emotional fragility to the role. Only Michael Fassbender is really allowed to shine, as the synthetics Walter and David (who reappears in an extended opening coda dealing with the synthetic’s creation). Both roles are played with a heightened sense of drama, that at times borders on pantomime, yet manages to be appropriate for the scene.

At the end though, Alien Covenant leaves the franchise in a bit of a shambles. Although arguably better than Prometheus, it mainly re-hashes what has passed before. Acting as a prequel to the original quadilogy, those new elements it does add, appear bolted on and at odds with the timeline in the first few films. From here it is hard to imagine where Scott will go, to extensively end up at the beginning. And with the diminishing returns we are finding from these films, it is even harder to know who exactly will care.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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