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Alien: Covenant – Movie Review

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Alien: Covenant – Movie Review

Rating: D+ (Bad)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

When it was announced Ridley Scott would return to direct a new instalment in the Alien franchise he started, the expectation was he would take the series back to its roots and retain a feeling similar to the original. Instead, he crafted an entirely different science-fiction film with only fleeting references to his 1979 horror film. Prometheus was more about life questions and human hubris, rather than monsters lurking in the shadows. It was a refreshing change of pace, but the general reaction was on the mixed side. Scott has decided to direct Alien: Covenant in a more familiar style and approach. That turns this film into a dull retread, with characters whose inevitable deaths result in shrugs rather than gasps.

The story beats are strikingly similar to Alien, although much of the action takes place on the planet with occasional moments in the crew ship. There is not a single scene in Alien: Covenant where one can’t predict the outcome. The times it tries to throw the audience for a loop are beyond obvious in their execution. Scott’s direction is so unsubtle that the symbolism is spelled out to the audience, right there in the dialogue. There is little room for the viewers to think and interpret the visuals for themselves. The screenplay, credited to John Logan and first-time writer Dante Harper, has characters speak obvious statements with not a single person to latch onto or root for their survival.

The most disappointing is Katherine Waterston’s Daniels. The film sets up tragedy with her early on, thanks to a ship malfunction, but she’s then left in the background most of the time. She is given little to do, until the very end of the movie. The Alien series has been home to quite a few excellent female leads, with Ellen Ripley and Elizabeth Shaw. Daniels could have been a worthy addition, had the script knew how to utilise her. Everyone else is given similarly threadbare characters and that dilutes the potential excitement level when the Xenomorphs begin their rampage. Even Michael Fassbender’s updated android Walter never reaches the same memoreobility factor as his David from Prometheus. Possibly more dispiriting than the dull new characters is the removal of any complexity exhibited by David in Alien: Covenant.

One of the criticisms directed towards Prometheus, and principally Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, was its unanswered questions. Alien: Covenant proves why that was instead a positive on the Alien prequel’s part. This entry throws in unnecessary flashbacks and a bothersome explanation for the iconic Alien eggs in the original film that ruins the mystique they had. Questions are best left unanswered for a reason. The only sense of horror in Alien: Covenant comes from the way in which the crew is initially infected, which serves as a good cautionary tale for watching where you step. Ridley Scott tries to employ the same careful pacing he applied to his original film, but somehow has made it even more languid. The only element keeping one’s attention is Chris Seagers’s production design. There is a lived-in quality to the space craft and a long history on the planet, understood more with the visuals than via exposition. Despite how dully written the protagonists are, the cast Scott has assembled do manage to work with what they have. Unsurprisingly, Fassbender is the strongest in a dual performance.

Alien: Covenant is a shockingly disappointing follow-up to Prometheus. Gone are the interesting ideas and the potential new direction Ridley Scott could have taken. We are instead back to square one and the film never seems to crawl out of that hole of familiarity. One of the principal reasons Aliens was a far superior continuation of what Scott, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett established was James Cameron went in a different angle. With the exception of Prometheus, each new Alien film has tried to replicate what has come before. This is a world that can be expanded upon and it is important to make the humans as compelling as the monsters. There is only so much face-hugging one can take before shouting “Enough!”

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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