Film Review: Alien: Covenant
Director Ridley Scott's
Alien: Covenant, which sits in the timeline between
Alien, starts off well, with memorable, likeable characters holding some silly plot points together but unfortunately it devolves into an unsatisfying mess that rehashes everything we've seen before instead of focussing on the points that would have offered something new.
Ten years after the events seen in Prometheus
the Weyland-Yutani colony ship USCSS Covenant
is on its way to a habitable planet with 2000 colonists in hypersleep and 1000 embryos on board when it is hit by a neutrino burst after having deployed its solar sails during a usual powering cycle.
The crew members are awakened after the anomaly causes damage to the ship, and a couple of deaths, so no one is particularly keen to go back into stasis after the ship is repaired. As a result, when they accidentally pick up a transmission that points to a planet that's a few weeks of normal space travel away - that, oddly, is not documented in the system as a potentially habitable planet, unlike their intended destination, Origae-6, which is seven years away and seems to have been well surveyed - the crew members decide to swing by to see if this new planet will serve their purposes and can be terraformed and colonised.
You can imagine what happens next, without knowing the specifics. I'll give away one spoiler here because it's crucial to everything that's wrong with this movie: the crew members investigate the planet - a planet they know nothing about - without taking hazmat precautions, which is one of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a science fiction movie. Back in the real world in 2017, where there are only six people alive who have ever walked on a foreign surface, we all
know you need to take hazmat precautions against viruses and bacteria even if the atmosphere is breathable. (Admittedly the crew of the Prometheus
did something similar once they were inside the structures they discovered on LV-223. We all know how well that turned out.)
The casting of this movie is superb and the friendly camaraderie of the crew is reminiscent of the pre-chestburster table scene in Alien
, which has never been matched again. This is partly due to the fact that the ship is crewed by couples, which is an interesting choice and logical for a mission whose primary aim is colonisation. However it proves to be a bad decision when curveballs are thrown into the mix, which is, of course, exactly what happens. As anyone who's watched any of the seasons of Survivor
that feature couples or family members would know those bonds tend to override common sense. People make bad decisions in order to protect their loved ones and this plays out a number of times in Alien: Covenant
(Interesting fun fact: there's a deleted scene in Alien
in which Ripley asks Lambert if she's slept with Ash for exactly this reason - emotional ties might cloud her judgement.)
There is a gay couple on the crew, although this is only very subtly referred to in the movie and is more overtly stated in the "Last Supper" prologue (see below) and we also have the android Walter on the ship, a never generation successor to David 8 that was created when it was determined that the David model was a little too human (which manifested in his ability to want to create and his determination that humans are unworthy and should be destroyed - so much for Isaac Asimov's laws of robotics). Michael Fassbender does a great job of portraying Walter without the vaguely menacing, can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it threat haze that always surrounded David so Walter feels comfortable from early in the movie when you realise he really isn't like David at all.
On the whole the movie treats its female characters as strong and capable but it wasn't one hundred per cent respectful. There are a couple of scenes that have a rapey subtext that I found very uncomfortable to watch. This has always been an unfortunate hallmark of the Alien
franchise and it's time it was retired. In Alien: Covenant
it was particularly unnecessary and I didn't like it. There is also a moment when Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is running around without a bra on, which was a little bit gratuitous and an unpleasant - and likely intentional - nod to Sigourney Weaver's scene in Alien
. There was also a shower scene that was included solely for male-gaze purposes. Are some of the film-makers not-so-secret pervs? I'm beginning to wonder.
On a technical level the production design is very good, with a ship that feels inhabited, not sterile, with touches of humanity that are, in some cases, nods to the production design of other movies in the franchise. The costume design - most notably seen in the spacesuits - is better than Prometheus
. The clothes are functional, not weird skintight, pocketless bodysuits.
The music is well done and is noticeable without ever taking centre stage or being distracting. I don't know the composer, Australian Jed Kurzel, at all but there were lovely touches of previous scores drawn into his score but not in an overpowering manner. Instead it was just little harkenings back to some of the earlier Alien
movies. It's really beautifully done, especially if you know the other scores well.
Some technical problems included a heavy teal and orange
colour grading in certain scenes and an overall darkness that presumably was supposed to help with the mood. Unfortunately it just obscured visual details - some very important to the plot - and made it even harder to follow what was happening in the fast-paced action sequences that featured very quick editing.
More disturbing is, once again, all the pre-movie marketing material that gives away too much of the plot. I wisely stayed away, which is now my standard practice, and it allowed me to enjoy the movie a lot more than people who have seen any of it.
In particular two short prologues to the movie were circulated prior to its release. One (embedded above) is safe to watch and actually should have been included in the film as it helps to set up the character relationships and orientate you towards your favourites. The other prologue should not, under any circumstances, be watched before you see the movie (the same is true of the trailers and other assorted vignettes, bar the AMD and Audi advertorials, which I've embedded after the review) as it gives away important information that is best discovered during the course of the movie. If you know it beforehand the movie loses what dramatic tension it has to begin with.
Unfortunately the good bits, as well as a healthy letting go of pedantry when confronted with plot holes and many crew members' utter lack of common sense, aren't enough to save the film as it's closing in on its third act, in which the plot and all the tension really fall apart at the exact moment when the movie is supposed to be reaching a storytelling climax. There is a particular scene in which this change happens - you feel
it - and it's all downhill from there. Plot "twists" abound that, if you've ever watched an Alien
film, or if you've ever watched any damn film, are not remotely a surprise so you end up just waiting for the twist to play out, no longer engaged in the movie because you know exactly what's coming.
ends up being a rehash of the same old story we've seen multiple times in the movies (and even more often if you've read some of the comics and books) and, coupled with a series of really bad decisions made by the crew members and plot holes in the script, results in a disappointing film that can't be saved by the great cast or production design, which add beautiful new content to the world and so many wasted opportunities. I explore some of the reasons as to why this happened in my companion article, Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?
, but this film sadly does
contain material that should have been fashioned into the primary story. It would have been an entirely different movie and, in the hands of the right director, it would have been a much better
I never thought I'd say this about a man who has made many films that I love but someone needs to take the keys away from Ridley Scott. In fact, if he'd had his way in 1979 Ripley would have died
- there'd be no franchise now and we'd be saved from this perpetual cycle of disasters. Instead we are stuck with a middling series
of his films (two done and, for our sins, at least another two of his to go) that serve no purpose but to set up the next one - and, some think, to try to scrub away the impact of James Cameron's Aliens
. They're not stories, they're instalments.
When he finally links this all to LV-426 and the Space Jockey in Alien
it's going to be a huge disappointment - and we're going to regret ever wanting answers.
Alien: Covenant was written by Jack Paglen and Michael Green (story) and
John Logan and Dante Harper (screenplay), was directed by Ridley Scott, and stars Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollet, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, and Benjamin Rigby.
The press screening was courtesy of Times Media Films.
Read Next: Why Are Franchises Destroying Movies?
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