Alien: Covenant 2017
Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members (Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup) of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.
May 19, 2017
John Logan, Dante Harper
Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride
There’s really no easy way to say this: Genre fans hoping that Ridley Scott’s hotly anticipated Prometheus sequel would be a return to the horror roots of 1979’s Alien will be sorely disappointed. Yes, it’s worlds better than its predecessor, but if the best thing we can about Alien: Covenant is that it’s an improvement on Prometheus, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement (unless you are one of the few who believes Prometheus is an underappreciated work of art, which I am not). It’s not a worthless film; far from it in fact. But when you build up a film for 6 months, all the while highlighting the horror elements of said film, people will expect something terrifying. Instead, we get something that reminds us how good Alien was by drifting even further away from the franchise’s core mythologies. Ultimately, we’re left with even more questions than legitimate answers, most significantly, “Which came first: The facehugger or the egg?”
Official Synopsis: Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members (Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup) of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender), the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.
Like Prometheus, Alien: Covenant is a meditation on creation first and foremost; an exploration of what it means to be human and a search for the cosmic roots of our species. For this reason, Covenant is much closer to a true Prometheus sequel than an Alien prequel. I have no doubt that Scott has enough ideas to connect a prequel trilogy to the front end of the Alien franchise (in other words, Ripley’s story), I’m just not sure I’m very interested anymore.
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As a huge fan of the first 3 Alien films, I never really questioned where the titular extraterrestrials came from; I just assumed that they were nasty space bugs with an aptitude for adaptation. When Ash (Ian Holmes) called the xenomorph a “perfect organism”, I assumed he meant perfect like a Great White Shark: An apex predator so effective it hasn’t needed to evolve in millions of years. This “perfect organism” description is echoed in Alien: Covenant, but this time, it’s like finding out that sharks were invented in a laboratory. As someone who always held a naturalistic interpretation of the xenomorph, I find the storyline of Covenant to be excessively convoluted and disappointing; I’m like a kid finding out there’s no Santa Clause or a zealot getting indisputable proof that God does not exist, while simultaneously being told why the lie is necessary.
Ridley Scott has long stated that he always believed the story of the “Space Jockey” from the original Alien was the most interesting area for further expansion, which certainly isn’t a bad idea in a vacuum. But I feel as though Scott has gone too far into the metaphysical aspects of sci-fi, meaning that if his goal was to return to the winning formula of Alien, he’s failed. There are many things that made Alien great, but 2 elements made it exceptional: Its commitment to scientific accuracy and a no-holds-barred approached to the depiction of raw, primal terror.
The science of Covenant, like Prometheus, is so selective it’s ridiculous; after seeing the harrowing “Quarantine Protocol” of Alien, I find the lax enforcement of even basic protection techniques staggering. These guys go out into an alien biosphere without any sort of defensive layer (i.e. breathers, goggles, gloves) then act surprise when someone catches a virus that causes people to vomit black goo. It really blows the continuity of the franchise making it difficult to believe that the world of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David (Michael Fassbender) truly is the same universe inhabited by Ripley and Dallas. Even after swearing the connection to Alien would become solid, Covenant (like Prometheus) leaves me feeling like I’m viewing something only peripherally connected to the first 4 films, much like my attitude towards the Alien vs Predator films.
Alien: Covenant does do something unique, although this point of originality only extends to films in the Alien universe: For the very first time, a film ended with a twist and a clear direction for the next installment. While the survivors of the doomed Prometheus exhibition set out on a grandiose quest for knowledge, it was the kind of ending that didn’t demand a continuation. Not so with Covenant: We know where the story is going, who the major players are, and even how long it’s going to take to get to the next important point of conflict. While this gives us specific directions for fan hypothesizing, it sets boundaries to the limitlessness of imagination. Which goes back to one of my biggest complaints about Covenant: It makes the Alien Universe smaller, but less interesting. After viewing the film, I have a very clear understanding of how xenomorphs came into existence, according to Ridley Scott; I just think the explanation is disappointing.
After the requisite 6 to 12 months, I’ll be ready to dig into Alien: Covenant’s most blatant missteps and glaring plot holes, but at this time it’s impossible to do so without revealing major spoilers. But since I’ve always been a reviewer who emphasizes the good over the bad, I’ll end this assessment on Covenant’s biggest strengths:
In addition to being a complex meditation on human existence, Alien: Covenant has scorching anti-Artificial Intelligence undertone, enough to rival films like The Matrix and Terminator. It’s a potent allegory for technology run amok, and these themes will dovetail nicely into Ripley’s story, where the sinister Weyland/Yutani Corporation seeks to weaponized xenomorphs. And speaking of xenomorphs, the traditional biomechanical monstrosities we’ve loved for decades make just a few appearances, but these moments are Covenant’s best.
After so many months of rampant promotion promising a return to the franchises’ horror roots, a mostly cerebral/metaphysical film will disappoint gorehounds and fans of the original Alien. Those who loved Prometheus, though, will probably like Alien: Covenant as much if not more. It’s a great sci-fi film that folks who dig exploration/colonization lore like The Martian and Pitch Black will definitely enjoy. But let’s be clear: Alien: Covenant falls very short on scares; even the grisly viscera of the teaser trailers feels exaggerated. At least there’s still IT to look forward to.