Movie Review: Alien: Covenant
R | 2h 2min
Director: Ridley Scott
by Jason Koenigsberg
Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated Prometheus (2012) follow-up, Alien: Covenant has arrived. His return to the franchise that he started with the 1979 sci-fi classic Alien, which was also the movie that jump started his career as a filmmaker. Prometheus was met with varying degrees of adoration and disdain. Those that hated Prometheus can rejoice in Alien: Covenant, which felt more like a remake of the first Alien picture, than it did a sequel to Prometheus.
The opening shot is an extreme close up of an eyeball, reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s other science fiction masterpiece Blade Runner (1982). We are then treated to a scene between Michael Fassbender and Guy Pearce, reprising their characters from the previous movie, having a deep theological and scientific discussion about what it means to be human and why we exist. This was a great scene, one of the best in the entire film. Alien: Covenant started out with so much promise and potential questioning who we are as a species and where we come from. Sadly, it dissolved into a rote thriller in space with none of the imaginative ideas from the better Alien pictures.
There are commendable aspects of Alien: Covenant. The set design for one thing is outstanding, and is to be expected from the Alien franchise. Fassbender is great in dual roles as synthetic organisms Walter and David. The latter was one of two “survivors” from the doomed Prometheus expedition in the last film. The rest of the actors were only satisfactory. Danny McBride was the only performance that stood out mostly because he is known for starring in low brow comedies, but anyone who saw Up in the Air (2009) should remember that if given the opportunity, he can pull off a dramatic role quite convincingly. Covenant also features gorgeous cinematography when the space explorers first land on the planet they want to colonize. Unfortunately there are not that many scenes of the landscape in daylight after they land, and the creepy imagery audiences saw in Alien and Prometheus courtesy of H.R. Giger are not as lucid and nightmare inducing so the look of many darker scenes on the ship and the planet do not have the same distinctive aura as previous films in the series. Also, the use of some technological devices in this movie looked modern for 2017 which is unwise and will probably make Covenant feel dated in about five to ten years, whereas Alien and Aliens both hold up flawlessly decades later.
The sound effects and music we hear are profoundly reminiscent of the first Alien. There is some of the Prometheus score to be found here but the audio cues feel like they were taken straight from the 1979 original film. One of the main criticisms of Prometheus was that the supporting characters were very poorly written. Well the same can be said here, for allegedly brilliant scientists, they are pretty stupid for not using their space helmets when they explore the planet they land on, which ends up causing a lot of their problems. Also, many of the special effects shots of the alien creature itself are bafflingly mediocre CGI which is bizarre considering the budget and talent involved. Like Prometheus, themes of God and faith are discussed, but unlike that film, Covenant never delves deeper and only scratches the surface of what these characters think of the meaning of their existence.
As stated before, those that hated Prometheus will likely find a lot to enjoy in Alien: Covenant however, those that liked it will find this movie to be an understatement. It abandons a lot of the imaginative and open ended questions that Prometheus brought to the franchise. Covenant sacrificed creative vision for Alien comfort food. The result is a film that is sadly predictable. This is the first film in the franchise to feel like a retread of an earlier movie. Even Alien 3 (1992) and Resurrection (1997) despite all of their flaws were bold visionary films that never relied on the first two movies for their tone, action, plot or characters other than Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. None of the previous Alien movies felt as unsurprising as Covenant does. It was as if Ridley Scott heard the outcry after Prometheus and dumbed his vision down to give them a remake of his first movie, just with more Xenomorph carnage. This is a movie for the masses, not for sci-fi nerds or die hard fans of the series. What The Force Awakens was for the original Star Wars, Covenant is for Alien.
If you want a mediocre retread of the original Alien, then Covenant is for you. Otherwise, skip this dumbed down disappointment from the usually reliable sci-fi auteur Ridley Scott and just watch his 1979 masterpiece which still holds up today as one of the best movies of its kind.
Here is the trailer for Alien. It jump started the careers of Ridley Scott, Sigourney Weaver and one of the greatest movie monsters of all time.