The original 1979 Ridley Scott directed Alien is among my favourite films of all time. It was unlike anything I had seen before. The film reached new heights for terror, tension, suspense and gore; and gave birth of the notion that the last man standing could be a woman. Skip ahead to the series reboot Prometheus in 2012. Scott’s highly anticipated return to the series was a cerebral experience that lacked the signature Alien elements. Many fans complained that Prometheus did not have enough Xenomorphs, acid splatter, chest bursts or frothing alien teeth.
It seems that Scott, along with writers John Logan and Dante Harper, heeded the complaints from their fanbase when constructing Alien: Covenant. They crank the familiar imagery up to eleven, but lose story, character development and originality in exchange.
The year is 2104, 10 years after Elizabeth Shaw and her crew went missing. The Covenant is on a colonization mission headed to Origae-6 with 2000 colonists, more than a thousand embryos plus an all couple crew. After a weather event strike the ship, Walter (Michael Fassbender), a synthetic monitoring the ship, think David from Prometheus with upgrades, wakes the crew to complete repairs. Before the Captain can get out of his pod, it malfunctions causing his death putting devoutly religious Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge.
Shortly after the crew picks up a message from a nearby planet emitting human music. Not keen to go back into the pods for another 7 plus years, they decide to investigate. The only naysayer is Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the wife of the slain Captain and now second in command, who sees the planet that failed to appear on any of their pre-launch research, but is magical dropped into their laps, as too good to be true.
One of the enduring features of a Ridley Scott film is the beautiful visual aesthetics. The landscape shots, from the moment the landing party touch down, are breathtaking when viewed on an IMAX screen. Clear running water, green mountain foliage and rich colourful vegetation leap off the screen. The attention the production pays to the planet’s ecosystem serves as an important foreboding plot point. Despite the abundance of natural resources and habitat there is no animal life to be seen or heard.
Katherine Waterston leads the cast as Daniels, channeling Ripley 18 years before the timeline of the original Alien film. She’s smart, resourceful, and processes the ability to adapt to the most stressful situations. The other key performance is that of Michael Fassbender in the dual role of Walter and David. The scenes where both synthetics occupy the same frame are truly a work of movie making magic. Look for seasoned comedic actor Danny McBride in the toned-down role as Tennessee pilot willing to bring the Covenant to the brink of harms way to aid of his fellow crew.
Alien: Covenant is a bridge film; a detour to an uncharted planet that picks up some essential elements that will be feature in future films. There was a plan to produce a film that told the post Prometheus story of Elizabeth and David, but it was abandoned. Flashbacks of the dropped project are seen here along with little snippets of David’s creative work.
The return to familiar ground will make this sequel appealing to the 18-34 multiplex crowd. However, the lack of philosophical elements, injection of new beats and underdeveloped characters will leave others, especially those that liked the new ground that Prometheus explored, underwhelmed.