Alien: Covenant (2017)
Dir: Ridley Scott
A foreboding, unsettling quiet, overconfident space explorers, running, chasing, creatures gorily bursting forth… This definitely is a place we’ve been before, it’s what I expected, though sadly hardly any more than that.
Chronologically after ‘Prometheus‘ yet before the first ‘Alien’ movie, the crew of the spacecraft Covenant land on a planet, soon facing a deadly predator that picks them off one by one. This isn’t a spoiler, really it’s what you should expect if you’ve seen any other films in the franchise, and if that’s what you’re expecting then you’ll be pleased.
I rarely watch horror, not being a fan of gore and not wanting the supernatural horror that often seems to be the only option offered. I do enjoy a bit of tension though, something the original ‘Alien’ abounded in, so this seemed like a good choice. It was billed as being a large step toward the events of the original 1979 ‘Alien’, a movie with which I have a long and mixed history.
I first saw ‘Alien’ at school as part of my media studies course, then got to university and it was one of the first films we studied in my first-year film module. Along with that, I had to read a few essays on the film that discussed the theory of the ‘monstrous feminine’, which stretched my tolerance of over-analysis of films and the meanings therein. I’m far from convinced by the suggestions of deep symbolism, preferring to focus on the effectiveness of the film’s tone and development and brilliant central character Ripley.
I appreciate this franchise as brilliant sci-fi, effective tense thrillers and monster horrors, I’m not bothered about deeper themes than that. So much of ‘Prometheus’ was extraneous nonsense to me, to the point that I’ve forgotten most of it and it alienated (no pun intended) many fans of the franchise. I think that I liked ‘Covenant’ a lot more than ‘Prometheus‘ though I can’t remember much about the earlier film as I think I only saw it the once, which is a sign in itself that it was nothing special. This latest film worked a little better for me as it was closer to what I was expecting, very similar in many ways to the original ‘Alien’ in terms of the narrative, so while it didn’t surprise me much in any meaningful way, it did better meet my expectations.
It follows a pre-used format so closely that there’s almost nothing at all that could shock or surprise. There are deeper themes touched upon but none of these are brought to the forefront in place of the alien attack recipe, so they get left behind as characters run away from them while chased by a Xenomorph. Those human characters too, there’s not an interesting or distinguishing thing about them, they are near enough a facsimile of the crew from the Nostromo in ‘Alien’, though most of this crew are couples which feels like lazy shortcut to developing character depth, we are just expected to care about their fates because their other halves do. The most stand-out character is Michael Fassbender returning as android David & new model Walter, by some measure the one aspect of the film that has all the potential to turn things around and very nearly does, then fumbles it.
The final scenes are where I actually got actively frustrated with the film, especially after leaving the cinema and reflecting on the experience a little. Ridley Scott was somehow incapable of resisting the common pitfalls though he and the film have all the potential to be that key bit smarter and more poignant, leaving thoughts and questions that could linger in the mind, tantalizingly unanswered and ready to form an enticing basis for the next installment. It’s an issue with so many films, I think that a little more could be left unsaid and unshown so the audience is left to make their own mind up or endlessly ponder. It’s not hard to see certain things coming, there aren’t any huge shocks, yet the conclusion had potential to make effective use of a little uncertainty. The audience should be smart enough to come to the right conclusions without them being explicitly stated, a lingering ‘I wonder if…’ would’ve been a strong end to redeem an otherwise unremarkable formulaic prequel.
‘Alien: Covenant’ is available to buy or rent from all the usual places right now, though for the same price or less you could just get Ridley Scott’s original and far superior film, then read spoilers online and you’ll be in a better place than those of us who sat through this for hardly anything of note.