Movie Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’ entertains and is a welcome comeback for the franchise

Alien: Covenant as a sequel to Prometheus

In the late 1970s, Hollywood films were seeing the resurgence of a genre that since long had lost its sheen – science fiction. Although there had been classic hits such as Planet Of The Apes And 2001: A Space Odyssey, there had been nothing exciting enough to revive the genre. That was true until a low budget science fiction – that you may have heard of – called Star Wars hit theaters in 1977. Needless to say, the film became a phenomena and then different studios began to scramble to make films in the same genre and cash in.

During this race, 20th Century Fox, the same company that distributed STAR WARS, came across an interesting script entitled Alien. Intrigued by the script’s combination of suspense, sci-fi and horror, the studio greenlit the film and hired now legendary director Ridley Scott (at the time a new director, but now better known for films such as Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, American Ganster, And Gladiator) to helm the film. Released in 1979, the film was a bonafide hit, making a star out of its leading lady Sigourney Weaver and giving the visionary Scott to the world’s cinematic universe.

Flash forward to 1986, and another up and coming director named James Cameron is hired to write and direct a sequel, Aliens. The sequel surpasses its predecessor in every way and officially, the “Alien” character is now a pop culture icon, spawning a franchise which includes entertaining but disappointing sequels, Alien 3 (directed by David Fincher, his first film) and Alien: Resurrection (directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet), and spin offs (two Alien Vs. Predator movies).

In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the sci-fi genre with the blockbuster Prometheus. (Spoilers ahead) Taking audiences completely off guard, the film, which was promoted as an individual sci-fi thriller, ended in a manner where audiences realized that in fact it was a prequel to the original 1979 Alien (end spoilers). This whetted audiences’ appetite for more, and Scott decided that a prequel series explaining the origins of the Alien character were an order. Subsequently, he wrote the script for Alien: Covenant as a sequel to Prometheus and it became one of the most anticipated films of the year.

However, is it a worthy entry in the franchise or a dud? Let’s find out.

The film tells the story of the ship Covenant whose passengers are on a mission to colonize a particular planet. When the ship receives a garbled signal from a human from another planet, the Captain decides to change course and explore this new territory, which may serve as an alternative to the planet they are seeking to colonize. After reaching the planet, things turn out to be a lot more than they seem, setting off a cascade of disastrous events. Will the Covenant team escape safely? Can everyone be trusted? The film answers this and more.

In terms of performances, everyone is perfect. I particularly want to single out Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, and Danny McBride. Fassbender steals the show in a double role, and what is most fascinating is that he is able to maintain both a similarity and difference between the 2 characters that he plays. I can’t reveal more, but when you see the film, you will know exactly what I mean. Waterston is becoming a star in her own right, with this film and Fantastic Beasts. She is the new Sigourney Weaver in this film (not the same character but same type). She effortlessly displays both emotional acting as well as toughness in which every frame requires either emotion. Danny McBride is actually quite good in a non-comedic role. He was a very interesting casting choice for this film because there is nothing in this character to indicate that McBride was the perfect choice. I think anyone could have done this role, so I am very curious to know how Scott arrived on his decision for McBride. Perhaps he is a huge, huge fan of the series? Nevertheless, he is very good and natural.

The editing is fairly crisp at 2 hours and 3 minutes. Although some of the scenes between the androids do tend to drag a little, it is not so unbearable as to become a distraction. The special effects are excellent though, because the aliens are now CGI, some element of reality is dissipated. Although from a filmmaking standpoint I understand that having a mechanical alien or someone wearing a costume is not efficient and silly, there is a “reality” attached to those which seems missing in the terror of the CGI alien here. Basically, it seems more fake.

Ridley Scott’s direction is perfect. I would particularly applaud his choices to make the film feel visually connected to the original “Alien” films. That way, it appeals to fans who have come to like a certain style and quality to the franchise and maintains consistency. He does everything he can to satisfy fans, but not at the expense of story, and that effort is much appreciated. From the designs of the ship and alien, to the music cues (from the original), Scott does well to blend nostalgia with novelty.

I also applaud the writers of the film, John Logan and Dante Harper. They don’t make the movie too heavy on action or emotions. They balance them fairly well, but at no point do either components seem cheesy, which is key for a movie like this to be effective. They put together a fairly interesting, and bizarre, story to explain the background of the aliens and I think that audiences will enjoy those revelations. I also appreciate them making Waterston’s character both vulnerable and strong, lending that human credibility to her character to make us relate to her. However, one question I would like to ask audiences regarding this whole prequel franchise is, having discovered the backstory to the alien, does that make the original film less terrifying? I throw that out there because sometimes I feel unanswered questions are more scary.

If there is one criticism I have, it is for the plot point in the end. Without revealing much, I think the film could have been edited in a more artful way to make the ending more shocking and surprising. However, it is very easily predictable, and that takes away from a moment which is supposed to make the audiences feel like they have been hit by a bag of bricks.

All in all, I give Alien: Covenant an 8/10. It is fun, nostalgic and a great way to pass time. I can’t wait till the next one in 2019.


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