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Alien: Covenant – film review

May 16, 2017

ALIEN: COVENANT

It’s another Prometheus – only ten times worse.

Reviewed on Thursday 11th May 2017

Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Dante Harper and John Logan, story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green. Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup. Running time: 122 mins.

Seeking a new life on a new world, the crew of the colony ship Covenant land on an uncharted planet where an alien craft had crashed ten years before. When two of the crew become infected by microorganisms; giving birth to terrifying creatures, the lives of all remaining colonists left aboard Covenant in hypersleep are threatened.

PLEASE NOTE: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS

Ridley Scott’s street cred with Alien fans was literally hanging by a thread following the major letdown of the pseudo prequel Prometheus – a movie which did more to damage the integrity of the series (in explaining away the mystery of the Space Jockey) – than anything seen in the series’ undisputed nadir – the godawful Alien Resurrection.

Going by the trailers and ad campaign for Covenant, one would be forgiven to expect to see a full-blown, actual Alien movie this time around. Featuring snatches from Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien score; gradually-revealed opening title typography and naturalistic acting, we are immediately lulled into believing that what we are about to see will indeed be an authentic addition to the original universe of Alien films. It is only thirty or forty minutes into it when all is shamelessly revealed that we suddenly realize to our horror – we have only been deceived yet again; anticipation turning to anger and dismay and a disbelieving sense of betrayal. We have been watching Prometheus 2 the entire damn time. The tone of the performances starts as naturalistic but inexplicably becomes theatrical and operatic – a clumsy shift from which the movie never fully recovers. This tonal shift coinciding with the anticipated appearance of the David character from Prometheus; this singular moment heralding the train wreck to come. The much ballyhooed, yet irritatingly smug performance of Michael Fassbender as nefarious android David in Prometheus only becomes increasingly more annoying here (to the point where he devolves into nothing more than a platitude-spouting super villain whose ultimate goal is nothing less than the extermination of humanity). And it is this hour or so of the movie (with the away team stranded on the planet dealing with the homicidal David) which garnered the bulk of groans and heavy sighs from the audience.

Where the film completely falls apart however, is in its depiction of xenomorph biology. In addition to Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett’s original nature-inspired alien life cycle (egg/facehugger/chestburster/adult) – we are also treated here to some half-assed, nonsensical notion of microbial infestation resulting in the host incubating a chestburster (or laughably in this case – a backburster) – which then bursts forth. Gone however is the terrifyingly bizarre embryonic, snake-like chestburster – here ludicrously replaced in one particular instance by a fully-formed miniature version of the adult alien, none of which gels with anything we’ve seen so far. It is this seemingly deliberate disregard for already established internal logic which is the most infuriating aspect of this film. And with the original’s director back on board (enjoying complete creative control no less) – there really is no justifable reason for so brazenly (and consciously) messing around with the alien’s life cycle – especially to such a ridiculous extent as this. With his use of homages to James Cameron’s fast-moving facehuggers and the bambi burster from Alien 3, Scott appears to be tipping his hat to installments other than his own. However, his use of the quadrupedal bambi burster makes no sense here (being birthed from a bipedal human) – as the big takeaway from Alien 3 is the creature takes on the characteristics of the host. Indeed, there is so much confusion going on about what the actual rules are to this creature that we very quickly find ourselves throwing up our hands in frustration and disengaging from the movie entirely.

Unlike the pitch-perfect pacing of both Alien and Aliens (excellent examples of how     to draw an audience in and effectively escalate momentum) – the structure of Covenant is clunky in the extreme; lurching from one disjointed sequence to the next. It appears Scott is indeed attempting to follow the structural template of these previous entries – the gradual introduction of the various alien forms over the course of the flm; the changes in locale from act to act. But these radical shifts in tone between scenes involving David and the rest of the film are so jarring when they occur it really does feel like there are two films in here vying for supremacy. Indeed, by the time the film finally decides its an Alien movie and essentially replays the second half of Alien (albeit at breakneck speed with zero suspense) – we are way     too disengaged to even care.

Just prior to the release of Covenant, Scott hinted of his plans to direct at least   three more Alien films before he is finished. However, if this movie is anything to     go by – I guess all we can do is hope that someone whose opinion he respects will successfully talk him out of it.

If you live in a universe where Prometheus doesn’t exist. Then this one won’t either.

no stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, May 11th 2017

Greg Moss is a flm school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-f thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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12 Comments
  1. Woah! Was wondering what this movie was going to be like, sounds pitiful. Can only hope that the next Bladerunner isn’t as bad although the shorts are not promising 😦

    • gregory moss permalink

      I’m actually really quite excited about Blade Runner 2 – the original’s writer (Hampton Fancher) being attached is a massive step in the right direction. And I really like what I’ve seen of Villeneuve’s previous work. Actually, based on how terrible Covenant is – I’m really glad Ridley Scott appears to have virtually nothing to do with Blade Runner 2 – creatively speaking. It may well be a blessing in disguise. 🙂

      • I’m hopeful it’s not just good but great, just not sure the actual look of the film from what I’ve seen has the same “feeling” as the original.

      • gregory moss permalink

        I know what you mean. It does have that digital look about it. I caught the trailer in the cinema last night and it looked pretty amazing on the big screen – if a tad digital. I know some have criticised the minimalist look of the world in this one. But this story does take place thirty years after the events of the original – I guess plenty more people have left to go ‘Off-World’ in the interim. I’ve only read the Dick novel once (a while ago) and people forget the book actually takes place in a depopulated city – as opposed to an overpopulated metropolis. I’m guessing with Fancher on board as the principal writer – they will be exploring the setting as it appears in the book. I remember Fancher also had a lot more stuff in his original draft for Blade Runner to do with the extinction of animals. I’m feeling pretty optimistic it will be great. I guess we’ll find out in October.

      • Cool, thanks for the bg info, will have to do some reading of my own to get up to speed 🙂

      • gregory moss permalink

        Hey – no worries. Of course – I could be totally wrong – and it will be completely terrible. But my gut tells me otherwise. 🙂

      • This Bladerunner 2 imagery reminds me very much of a sci-fi book cover artist (check out frame at 2:41/4:11 in the trailer on youtube), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJtZYCv7AxA

        And compare to the cover of Iain M Banks book titled “Matter”.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matter_(novel)

      • gregory moss permalink

        Yeah – that’s really cool. I can see the resemblence. 🙂

  2. Ouch! WORSE than Prometheus?!

    To be fair, while I evidently liked the film more than you did -I’d go for a charitable 3 out of 5, veering towards a 2.5 if I had it as an option- you are right that there’s two films here mashed together, which doesn’t help either. Its got to be better than Resurrection or those AVP films though, so that ‘0’ of yours seems harsh. The film certainly seems to be polarizing fans more than Prometheus did. If only the idiocy of Aliens had been rewarded with such criticism back in ’86.

    • gregory moss permalink

      MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! About half way through, I was so angry with what Ridley has done – I actually contemplated walking out. I stayed to the end – but I was still angry. Prometheus was bad enough – ruining the mystery of the Space Jockey for future audiences. But I cannot forgive Ridley for this ridiculous notion that it was the android David who created the xenomorphs. Thanks to Ridley’s hair-brained ideas there is no future for this series now – which is why I gave Covenant a zero score. Indeed, the original Alien may well have been ruined forever for anyone who is yet to experience it. Which is really quite sad.

  3. Nice post! Have you shared your writing on any film websites before?

    Samuel

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks Samual! No – I have to say I haven’t.

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