It’s not easy to match a masterpiece such as the original Alien (1979), many have tried, but certainly none is more up for the task that the great Ridley Scott, right? You would think, but sadly not.
Before going forward, I feel it’s important to set one thing straight. Prometheus (2012) was not a bad movie. It has it’s bad moments and shaky elements, yes, and it certainly wasn’t what people were expecting from an Alien prequel, but that does not make it a bad film. Exploration through the films alternative and deleted scenes, even review a far greater film that could have been, but this does not make it a bad film. The story is clear, the themes are in place, the effects are consistent and quiet striking though out, and the principle characters are well defined and memorable. The same however, could not be said of Alien Covenant. As both a sequel to Prometheus and prequel to Alien, Covenant attempts to bridge the gap as closely as it can, but falls flat in basic execution.
Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), The Martian (2015)), and starring Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Bastards (2009), Prometheus (2012), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)), Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice (2014), Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), Steve Jobs (2015)) and Billy Crudup (Almost Famous (2000) Watchmen (2009), Big Fish (2003)), Alien Covenant brings us the tale of a terraforming crew, consisting of 15 crew members, 2000 plus colonists and several draws worth of second generation embryos in stasis, still 7 years away from their destination, as they are hit with a random solar flare that disturbs there ship. Note the second film in 6 months, following Passengers (2016), to use the ‘solar flare wakes crew members’, as an inciting incident. The crew sustain losses and damages, including their ships captain, a rather out of place James Franco cameo. During repairs, the crew pick up a transmission that could only ever come from human origins, stretching out from a nearby planet. Confused by how such a signal could possibly exist, the crew find a planet perfect for human life, and decided to change course, with the intent to abandon the last 7 years of their original mission, and set up on this previously unknown paradise. Following the signal, they discover the remains of the ship Elizabeth Shaw and David used to escape LV-223 at the end of Prometheus, and the horror that awaits. While the story is sound, and provides a great deal of potential, it’s the execution that lets it down greatly. What should be given time to develop, and set the tone, is horribly rushed to move the plot along, something shared with the opening of another alien film this year, Life (2017). The desired tension and exhilaration of the chase, is stagnant and rather tame throughout. Even the beloved Xenomorph itself, is heavily misused, and not given the proper time and attention that made it such a terrifying entity in the original film, something one would hope Scott knows full well. The opening few minutes of the film, pre-title card, while interesting, are disjointed from the rest of the film in tone and pacing. Feeling more like a cut scene from Prometheus, than a genuine addition to the film.
At its core, Alien Covenant is an exploration of one scene in the original Alien film. When watching Covenant, it is interesting to view David, as an extension of Ash, and his climactic scene in which he attacks Ripley and his true nature is revealed. During the original films commentary, Scott expresses a desire to explore Ash’s nature, and the nature of an impotent machine, wanting to create life, or at least take part in the pleasures that lead to such creations. While this notion is indeed interesting, and would make for a fascinating exploration, it’s inclusion and depiction in the film, feel mishandled and tacked on as a means to explain certain leaps in design and logic. It is easy to get the impression that more than a few minutes of film, were left on the cutting room floor.
The films use of CGI throughout, is laughable. At first noticed when viewing a crewman repairing the ship, looking more like footage borrowed from Titan A.E. (2000), than a 2017, high budget, horror, and continuing through out. The first look of the films creatures, are unfortunately viewed in full lighting, leaving nothing in shadow, and giving off an effect almost on the level of the yellow alien monkey from Lost in Space (1998). While some later shots are given their due, keeping the lighting and scene just right, to give the creature its subtle beauty, they are unfortunately short lived, and we are plunged back into the depth of the uncanny valley. The films score borrows heavily from Jerry Goldsmith’s original score, even blatantly repeating the main theme at times, in an attempt to recreate the originals atmosphere. While this works well in theory, the films pacing and editing works against itself. While the inclusion of Wagner works rather well, and plays in to both David and Walter’s characters, the addition of Paolo Nutini’s Let Me Down Easy (2015) is whiplash inducing, none the less for the fact that the film is set in 2104, and this is the only evidence of a pop culture element.
While the film is not terrible, and could certainly be worse, it is best to approach this film with extreme caution. It seems more than clear that plenty of elements were changed in the editing booth, and that a far better film could still be salvaged from its remains. However, the film fails to live up to the tension and tone of the original Alien, and even the effects of Prometheus. Scott seems best these days, when talking properties outside of the Alien franchise, and while his involvement with the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 (2017) is only that of executive producer, one hopes for a better addition, to Scott’s other Science Fiction masterworks.