A Review of Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant.
Housekeeping: Alien Covenant was released on 12th May 2017, was directed by Ridley Scott and runs for approx. 2hrs 3mins.
One sentence synopsis: Colonists fight off germs, monkey-aliens, things with no mouths and more-skeletal-than-ever xenomorphs.
My rating: a draw full of foetuses/10
I love the Alien franchise. I start with this because it is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to new installments of the series. I adore the tropes of the films – chest-bursting, mass killing, many (many, many, many) corridors and the badass ladies that feature, so I don’t tend to mind that these aspects are oft-exploited by the directors. However, after such disappointments as Alien3, and such convoluted plots as in Prometheus, I forever expect the worst when a new installment arrives. So I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by Alien Covenant.
I’ll begin the review with what was, for me, the best part of the film – Michael Fassbender, and his wonderful supporting actor, Michael Fassbender. Yup. Without giving away too much, he plays two roles in the film and it is glory manifest, I would recommend going just for his performance. Katherine Waterson in the role of protagonist Daniels avoided the flatness that some may criticise Noomi Rapace for, at once sympathetic but suitably tough (but of course no one will ever come close to my main gal Sigourney and her bad-assery).
Secondly, the plot. Covenant lost the slow build-up that has become associated with the Alien films, and some may think that this made the film feel rushed. However, it was immediately exciting, and I found myself sold from the minute things began to go awry. The narrative is also much simpler to understand than that of Prometheus, which took me three watches to grasp fully, and although rushed, it was undoubtedly exciting. I feel that Scott really wanted to do something different with this one, after all, as much as the fans love it, we can’t be running down the same beige corridors forever. He fused the old flourishes which we know and love with new, less claustrophobic settings and above all, new themes. Rather than simply being a film about people running from apparently indomitable xenomorphs, Covenant explores more deeply (and in a much more effective way than Prometheus) creation, what it is to be truly alive and the flaws of the human race. It could definitely be said that the film takes on a bit too much, attempting to tie in the Blade Runner connections which Scott promised, but I found the change of topic quite welcome.
And how could we forget the beloved xenomorphs, fucker-upper of spaceship crews since 1979. The films took the classic sleek, black, mouth-inside-a-mouth (mouth-ception?) design and made it somehow more…human? Whatever they did to it, it was scary. There was also a few new xenomorph designs which were a refreshing departure from your standard alien, following in the footsteps of the dog-xenomorph from Alien3 and the weirdly adorable biped of Resurrection. Another thing to note is that Covenant took
the only a good idea from Alien3, the xenomorph POV shot, and made it even cooler.
However, I’m afraid it isn’t all praise, and the films definitely had gaping flaws. So much of the plot was wholly predictable, taking away all of the suspense at times, and the violence was sometimes guilty of a departure into cheesiness. The writing was not brilliant, with quite a bit of hand-holding, perhaps trying to combat the confusion of Prometheus but veering too much in the other direction. Although we all know that the characters in the Alien films are pretty much always all going to die, the ones in Covenant felt completely interchangeable, and I found myself often forgetting about some crew members or confusing them with other characters. And the most disappointing part of the film? The complete absence of practical effects. I may have to watch the film again, but I cannot think of one singular moment in the film where I saw a non-computer generated alien. Come on Ridley! The reason I, and many others, found the original Alien so captivating and terrifying, was because of how beautiful and real the practical effects were. That’s not to say that these xenomorphs aren’t as cool as a cucumber in a cryo-chamber, but there just wasn’t the sense of painstaking creative detail as is found in the original films.
Overall, I think making new Alien movies is hard; you have to appease the lifelong fans who want chest bursting and face huggers and glorious, glorious massacre, but if you keep to the original formula you’ll be accused of recycling material and being unoriginal. So perhaps Scott was stuck between a rock and a hard place. However, I thought, despite its flaws, Alien Covenant was exciting from the off, it combined new and old and, for the most part, was an enjoyable film.