Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Katherine Waterson, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride
Review Author: Tony and Adam
Rating: 3.5/5 Pints of Guinness
No one does Science Fiction like Ridley Scott, from his world building to his production designs Scott has crafted many beautiful films over his illustrious career. I’ve noticed a recent trend with films in that they are getting increasingly prettier as cinematographers have almost become rock stars among film fans and in a year of some already very impressive visuals and landscape shots Alien Covenant is the most impressive so far. The design of the interior and exterior of the ship are as visually pleasing as one may expect from a Scott film. Scenes of the crew fixing massive solar-type sails for the ship to regain power is pure science fiction fan eye candy.
Pretty visuals aside, Scott uses the science fiction genre to ask big questions and integrate bold themes such as creation, the clash of cultures and finding purpose. Scott’s career behind the camera has been a fascinating one where his ambition has proven both a curse and a blessing for his films. Scott is a master technician as a director but is only as good as the script he’s working from. Blade Runner and Alien certainly have grand themes to them but both films had tightly structured scripts which allow the themes to flow seamlessly through them. Alternatively, films such as the Counselor, Hannibal and Prometheus suffer from inconsistent writing, convoluted plots and most importantly, poor character dialogue and decisions.
Alien: Covenant opens with a colony ship suffering severe damage from a freak accident forcing the ship’s android to wake a skeleton crew from Cryosleep. The accident has caused the death of the ship’s captain and leaves the crew shaken. As the crew regroup and attend to the damage they stumble upon a transmission on a planet far more suitable for colonization than their own destination. The acting captain decides that it’s an opportunity they can’t afford to miss and sets a course for the mysterious planet.
Considering Alien is in the title of the film, our crew definitely finds something on the planet but it’s not what they were looking for. The first forty minutes of the film are heavily inspired by the original film. The moment events take a turn for the worst is when the film ramps up to ninety in a scene which is sure to shock audiences. This is by far the goriest film in the franchise and it’s glorious. The second act of Covenant connects the film directly to Prometheus. It’s this act which will be most divisive among fans of both Alien and Prometheus as it unfolds in a manner which is rather unexpected. Personally, I found the act had its flaws but was engaging and unsettled me in a way I haven’t been since Sicario.
Where the film falters is when the plot needs and excuse to move forward. Rather than let events unfold naturally or through decent writing instead characters IQ’s are dropped to caveman levels leading to some terrible decisions which would have made the crew of the Prometheus proud. If you thought the scene in the trailer where Billy Crudup’s character practically sticks his head in one of the famed Aliens eggs looked moronic well the real scene plays out in a far more boneheaded way. The pacing is pretty muddled as we never get a gauge of the timeline of the events.
Alien: Covenant is an ambitious film and Scott clearly wants to tell a new kind of story with grander themes than seen in the original. While there’s plenty of fanservice early on, Scott expands the lore in a way which is going to divide fans. The Xenomorph is no longer placed on a pedestal. Instead, a new threat has taken its mantle, a threat with a scarier and more immediate end game. There remains an illogical gap from the conclusion to the events of Alien which could be answered with future sequels. There’s plenty to enjoy here and I found myself shocked and gripping my seat tightly through some of the film’s more intense scenes. It’s just a shame that the script can’t match Scott’s quality direction. Films with ambition usually are polarizing and Alien Covenant is sure to split audiences and fans of the series.
I’m really glad Tony has given a solid broad overview of the film’s successes and failings; because it allows me to completely nitpick and focus on some of the smaller more subtle aspects of the film that shook and entertained me.
If Prometheus was about Elizabeth Shaw and the story of the engineers (and how to not run away from a falling object…) then Alien: Covenant is David’s story. It’s what he’s been up to after Prometheus and again it contains a lot of the same themes, but expanded upon and explored much deeper.
David and Walter (Fassbender’s dual roles in this movie) play off each other’s ideologies in an incredibly endearing way. You have uneasy tension born out-of-the-way they each approach their reason for being at a philosophical level. This film does a great job at creating a ‘this shit could go either way’ feeling for you as you begin to see how quietly powerful the robots are as well as David’s twisted, Darwinian agenda.
There’s an enormous violence to this film at every level. What the film does to the characters is relentless, what the story does to the innocent and to the notions of life and creation is brutal and visceral. But the scene that gave me legitimate goosebumps is the background we get about how the crew’s chosen planet ended up in the state it’s in. The photography, framing, and feeling of futility and confusion in this scene are chilling, along with the cold recital of Ozymandius while it’s all happening. I’ll never look at Michael Fassbender the same again.
When it was over, Tony and I had to go home and look at puppies and stuff on the internet for some much-needed eye bleach. The film Alien has some grisly deaths, but Alien: Covenant takes it even further to a grotesque and fine art type of gore. It’s not often a mainstream film hits human centipede levels of violence and trauma but this does it. The atmosphere in our packed screen was great.
It’s strange to see Danny McBride being serious and deep, but he pulls it off wonderfully. Also, yes that’s James Franco, no I have no idea why his part is so small. He must have just wanted a cameo in the film or pissed off the editor. Either way, it’s a must watch for this May!
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