Film review: ALIEN: COVENANT, by Nick Gardener from Built For Speed

The first two Alien films were so iconic that any sequels or prequels will inevitably carry a burden of expectation so weighty that even Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson would struggle to lift it. This partly accounts for the disappointment that will gnaw at your guts like the infamous title creature while watching the latest instalment in the franchise, Alien: Covenant but just as in Director Ridley Scott’s previous effort, Prometheus, poor scripting is the real monster here.

With Prometheus and Covenant Scott has attempted to directly link with the original 1979 classic by slowly unravelling what occurred in the lead-up to the cargo ship Nostromo’s arrival on that foreboding planet. Within this plot-line Scott has added a story about mankind’s possible alien origins via giant baldy extra-terrestrials called engineers and their sinister pathogen that forces its hosts give birth to a bouncing alien bub.

Alien: Covenant is set 10 years after Prometheus and sees the crew of the ship Covenant hurtling toward a distant planet which they hope to make home to thousands of humans currently in embryo form. When the ship’s crew receives a strange signal from a nearby planet their leader, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) unwisely decides to investigate placing the hapless crew at the mercy of a sinister cyborg (one of two Michael Fassbender roles) and his hungry alien menagerie.

Does this sound familiar, well it should because this is the plot of the first Alien film. Not only does Covenant shamelessly crib the storyline from original, it contains some near-identical scenes, lifts some of the dialogue and uses very similar music. Some of this is deliberate homage and an attempt to establish continuity within the franchise but it’s also flat-out unoriginal.

Unfortunately, this film lacks the thrill of first exposure to this strange world or the artistry that Scott brought to that first film. Scott’s original was a masterpiece of art direction and white knuckle tension that astonishingly combined the grandeur of 2001: A Space Odyssey with gritty working class realism. Alien Covenant does contain some stunning vistas of the New Zealand wilderness that doubles as the alien plant surface but despite this and all the money spent on cgi effects, Covenant doesn’t look as good as the intricately detailed 38-year-old original.

Also, Like Prometheus, Alien: Covenant promises so much with its tantalising alien origins mythology and the mystery of what happened to android David (one of two Michael Fassbender roles) but delivers so little. Scott and the scriptwriters have failed to construct a story that can sustain interest across the film’s two hours and the result is not just a sense of anti-climax but one of emptiness.

The film touches on fascinating themes of mankind’s origins, what it means to be human and the threats imposed by artificial intelligence and robots. It also continues the series’ obsession with psychosexual themes from the creature’s reproductive cycle to an oddly homoerotic recorder playing session between the two the Michael Fassbenders. Again, though, as in Prometheus, none of these themes are explored in a deep or compelling way, they’re simply hinted at and left to evaporate.

Also, as a horror film Alien: Covenant fails to shock or deliver the necessary nail-chomping tension. It’s occasionally gory but the attacks by a variety of aliens occur in such a confusing flurry that they have little visceral effect. Also, film confirms the adage (or at least the ‘Built for Speed’ whinge) that a cgi monster can’t top the old man (or woman) in the suit. The attacks in the original Alien had an element of sexual violation which made them particularly disturbing, much of this feeling is lost when we’re clearly looking at a computer-generated monster.

Fortunately, some strong performances add a little grit and credibility to Covenant. Although she’s clearly a surrogate Ripley – even pinching a couple of her lines – Katherine Waterson makes a fine heroine as the emotionally troubled but resilient First Officer Daniels. Michael Fassbender once again brings a creepy coldness to his robot character David and likeable warmth to his latter day twin Walter. Billy Crudup also does a reasonable job as the stereotypical sweaty bumbling commander. Elsewhere though, the cast are given little chance to make any sort of impression.

Alien: Covenant is by no means a dud but it appears Ridley Scott has not heeded the outcries that followed the disappointing Prometheus.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Science fiction/ horror.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Ridley Scott.

Release date: 11th Apr 2017.

Running time: 122 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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