Alien Covenant (2017) – Dir. Ridley Scott.
Well, I had high hopes for it – had watched the original anthology in preparation and took my seat excitedly for this latest chapter in the hugely successful ‘Alien’ franchise. And…I found myself quite sorely disappointed!
Firstly, a plot: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a distant planet, intercept a transmission after being awoken during a freak accident in the depths of space. After discovering this mysterious message comes from a habitable planet a few weeks away, they decide to consider this as their new home, rather than the original intended planet which is still 7 years away! Upon landing on the planet, several crew members somehow fall ill and cross paths with some familiar faces…
I guess my main issue with this film is the pacing. Scott has a good 30-40 minutes to set up characters and a plot. Somehow, after that time, I still found myself struggling to find anyone I really cared about. Katherine Waterston is out latest heroine, her character Daniels, being this films Ripley/Shaw. And yet, even with her, I struggled to make a connection as the only thing we really learn about her is that she wants to build a cabin on a lake, when they reach their new home world. Billy Crudup’s captain Oram is just fairly flat and unlikeable. And, well…to be honest, no one else is really given enough screen time to allow a rapport to develop. Danny McBride’s ‘Tennessee’ comes off as a decent character, but again, isn’t given much time to shine.
There is, however, a lot of Fassbender. He plays two synthetics in this film, David from Prometheus and a newer upgrade, Walter. When these two cross paths, it allows Scott the chance to explore some of the themes touched on in the former film. Unfortunately, several things simply don’t work. Some of the dialogue is just awful (David asks Walter to hold and blow into an instrument whilst he fingers it to make the melody…seriously!) and sometimes these interactions splice between action/horror scenes. It makes for a jolty experience at times. Ultimately, whilst I was a fan of the spirituality of ‘Prometheus’ and the route he took in that film – here it seems a little contrived and generally confused about what type of film this wants to be.
I for one would have been up for a real sequel to Prometheus which explored the questions that film asked about existence, creation and a higher purpose – awesome (I actually quite enjoyed Prometheus!) Or I would’ve been up for the film that the trailers made it look like it would be…”Crew finds planet, investigates planet, someone gets impregnated and all hell breaks loose.” Just like the original films. Suspenseful, no-nonsense, plain old fun. Hell yeah! But instead, what we get is a confused cross between the two.
The film could have done with a lot less Fassbender. Not due to a bad performance (although David did seem to have gone a little Bowie in this film compared to the last) but simply because he became a conduit for the elements of the story I suspect was the film Scott really wanted to make, spliced in and around the film he felt he owed to fans. Perhaps a lot of recutting would fix a lot of the issues I have with this film, but until that there is a brand new Directors Cut – I’m going to be very reluctant to add this to my collection when it comes out. I have also lost a lot of hope for the future of the series. If I was to place this alongside the rest of the films, it would be on par with the theatrical cut of the third film. ‘Resurrection’ sitting just above it (Resurrection being a self-aware, very fun, very watchable film.)
Covenant tries a little too hard in respect of both trying to please the audience and also be taken seriously. As a result, sometimes the pretentious script just comes across ridiculous, particularly within the interactions between the synthetics. A major misfire from Scott here. The film’s only redeeming feature is the last 10 minutes or so in which it begins to feel like a part of the series we all love dearly. It lets go of overt philosophy and embraces its sci-fi horror side. It’s such a shame it is so brief, because more of this and the film could have easily been sitting alongside ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ as one of the best of the series.
All I can do is hope that the next four or five that Scott has planned, can now just go back to basics. He has set up how the beast was created and now can enjoy letting it terrorise audiences again. Here’s to hoping…