So…in preparation for this review, I told myself that I was going to sit my ass down and plow through ‘Prometheus'(2012) again; a film that I still feel burned by. On its release, I had such high hopes for Sir Ridley Scott’s return to the franchise he largely fashioned back in 1979, but the flick we ended up getting, in my opinion, was FAR below the man’s proven vision and abilities. It had all the grand ‘Ridley Scott’ visuals that we can now expect, but the script they were married to is, by and large, asinine. Of this, I was very quickly reminded, when I was about 20 or so minutes into my Blu Ray copy and my self-respect overcame the beer I had downed in preparation…and forced me to hit STOP. I couldn’t do it. If you take ‘Prometheus’ at the script level…it sucks. The dialogue is juvenile and weak. The characters are stupid and out of ‘character’, if that makes any sense. There are plot holes galore and SERIOUS lapses in logic. If it wasn’t for the pretty production design and high-end cinematography…this flick would suck, plain and simple. So, as you can tell…I was burned by ‘Prometheus’ and the half-baked (but well constructed) sci-fi cock-tease that it was. It would seem that I’m not the only one. MANY of the ‘Alien’ franchise’s fans took issue with ‘Prometheus’…and Ridley Scott listened. One of the aspects of the bitching that surprised him was the affection people still had for the incorrectly named ‘xenomorphs’. So he and 20th (21st?) Century Fox put their heads together and worked out a way to still connect to ‘Prometheus’ while also (hopefully) appeasing the original fans…like myself.
I can happily say that ‘Alien: Covenant is MOSTLY the apology for ‘Prometheus’ I feel that I’m owed. Anyone who’s read some of my reviews will know that ‘Aliens’ (1986) is still my favorite movie EVER (followed by ‘True Romance’ (1993)…just sayin), so my new order of preference is ‘Aliens’ (1986), ‘Alien'( 1979), ‘Alien: Covenant’ (2017) tied with the ‘Alien 3’ Assembly Cut (1992), then ‘AvP’ (2004) and unfortunately followed by ‘Alien Resurrection’ (1997)…which I fucking loathe, BTW…and then, like a stuck turd, comes ‘Alien vs Predator: Requiem’ (2007). Needless to say, this series has had some ups and downs. But, I can confidently say that this is one of the ‘Ups’…mostly.
As most nerds will know by now, ‘Alien: Covenant’ takes place 10 years after the events of ‘Prometheus’, which saw last survivor ‘Shaw’ (Noomi Rapace) and the decapitated android ‘David’ (Michael Fassbender) take an Engineer’s ‘Juggernaut’ ship from LV-223, on a self-imposed mission to find the Engineer home-world, to try and find out why, after having created us, did they now seem to want to wipe us out. Fast forward…the ‘Covenant’ is a mile-long colonization ship bound for a habitable planet far from Earth, carrying 15 crew, 2000 colonists in cryosleep, and 1140 viable embryos. A badly-timed burst of neutrinos from a nearby cosmic event damages the ship and kills several colonists and the captain. The rest of the crew, in trying to get a handle on the situation, come across a rogue signal from a nearby but uncharted planet. Even more intriguing is that the signal appears to be human and the planet itself is, at a glance, a better candidate for colonization than their original destination (which happens to be 7 years away still). So a portion of the crew head down to investigate. While on the planet, it becomes clear that something dangerous has happened to the environment and soon the away team is under siege by various bizarre and deadly creatures, which leads them to ‘David’, who has been there since he and ‘Shaw’ crashed ages ago. It soon becomes a fight for survival.
‘Alien: Covenant’, for me, did more right than wrong (thankfully). For starters, while still fairly thin in dimension, the characters felt FAR more real to me than any of the idiots who populated ‘Prometheus’ and some of them, I sorta found myself rooting for, much to my surprise. They’re still not on a ‘Alien’/’Aliens’ level, as resonating characters go, but I didn’t want to see most of these ones bite it. So I count that as a Good Thing. When it came to the cast playing those characters, I think Scott chose wisely this time. Taking up the ‘Ripley’ mantle, is Katherine Waterston as ‘Daniels’, the Head Tech of the Terraforming division. Prior to this, I was largely unfamiliar with her as an actress, but she did what she needed to do here. A bit more character would’ve helped, but isn’t that always the case? In a dual role, we get Michael Fassbender kicking ass as the creepy fuck android ‘David’, while also acting as ‘Walter’, another android in the same mold imbedded with the ‘Covenant’ crew. He does a solid job making the two ‘hims’ distinct. Billy Crudup gives a solid turn as the religious and reluctant Captain-by-Accident ‘Chris Oram’, while a mild surprise for me was Danny McBride as ‘Covenant’ pilot ‘Tennessee’. When I first heard he’d been cast in this, I was instantly skeptical. McBride has his ‘thing’ which is largely the doofus asshole buddy from stoner flicks with Seth Rogen and James Franco (who also gets a teeny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo here), so I did NOT think he was a good fit for the ‘Alien’ universe that I wanted the franchise to get back to. BUT…he played it (mostly) straight and had an impact on the story. In short…Danny McBride did a fine job with the character and I’m pleased to say that my skepticism was unfounded. The rest of the cast are largely just alien fodder (to be expected), but they were just substantial enough to matter when ‘off’d’…in pretty gruesome ways.
That’s another aspect Scott seemed to want to give back to the fans…the horror and the gore. In those respects, we are well served. There are some gnarly kills on display, which nicely made up for the lack of, in ‘Prometheus’. Some of them, and the aftermath, are effective and cringe-inducing. The first one we get, the back-burster so prominently featured in the marketing campaign, is surprisingly ghastly, when it’s all said and done. There’s also the ugly fate of a crew member at the claws of a new ‘neomorph’ alien (creepy bastard, that one) that is pretty tough to stomach, especially when the creature is found to be basically playing with her innards after the attack. There is a mean streak to this movie…and I appreciated it (sick bastard that I am).
One element of these movies I’ve always appreciated were the attempts at futuristic ‘world building’. Ridley Scott is notorious for his, at times maddening, attention to detail and this was another one showing that that aspect of his style is as strong as ever. The production design embraced the rugged, gritty, lived-in feel that Scott has ALWAYS given his sci-fi entries, and was endlessly fascinating. The ‘Covenant’ looked cool, inside and out, and we were introduced to some aspects that we hadn’t seen in this ‘world’ before, like a very sweet scene involving a massive solar sail and a space walk…that would’ve looked AWESOME in 3D…which this one wasn’t released in…and there has to be a story behind that!
Side Note: The lack of 3D is very surprising, considering how suited MANY of the visuals are to that format and how well Scott handled the 3rd dimension with ‘Prometheus’. But alas…no 3D.
I do have some NEGATIVES that I MUST dredge up. They’re mostly small, but they are there. There are some aspects to the story that just didn’t sit right with me. These aren’t really SPOILERS but: I found myself asking questions like “Why would an android be designed to grow hair?” or “Why does an android have tear ducts?” or “Why is the gestation time on the facehuggers SO much more accelerated?” or ” Does ‘David’ NEED to be playing the actual movie score theme to ‘Prometheus’ on his flute?” or ” Is having sex in a shower after pretty much ALL your crew mates have been brutally killed by monsters a GOOD idea?” or ” Did a dead facehugger hitting a wall NEED to be CG?” or “How did ‘David’s Juggernaut ship crash into a mountain after we saw that he had a decent grasp on its control when we see him on board?” or ” Why is cryosleep shown differently in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE in the series?!”…and some others. Some questions from ‘Prometheus’ WERE answered…but others were simply shunted away. It was like Scott saw the light and in the light were xenomorphs…and they were good. So he’d abandoned his original, lofty plan for an existential ‘thinking mans’ sci-fi franchise that happens to have ‘Alien’ in the background, and is now just pushing back to the fundamentals of the series to give us what we want, as fans…fucking aliens killing off humans in cool Big Budget sci-fi settings! That being said, don’t go into ‘Covenant’ expecting just wall-to-wall xenomorph action. The alien creature we all know and love, is the direct product of this flicks main plot (which I’m still not sure how I feel about) and therefore only pops onto the scene in the 3rd Act. When it is there though, Scott has succeeded in making this beast, which is now ingrained in the ‘fabric’ of pop culture, scary again. Another random NEGATIVE comes to mind, along with the question I asked as I was watching: “Do we NEED an Alien PoV shot?” That was one thing that I don’t think they should’ve done…to give us the Alien’s ‘eyes’. There was no need and, unless you’re counting David Fincher’s dubious attempt at it in ‘Alien 3’, has not factored into the series any where else. I don’t want to know how they see!! It’s scarier when we don’t know!!
Before I wrap up here, one more thing I have to point out is the Music Score. The score for ‘Prometheus’, by Marc Streitenfeld, mostly irritated me, from the first time I heard it over the opening credits of the movie. Scott wisely handed the reins off to new composer Jed Kurzel this time and I liked what he did, especially when he was incorporating elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s classic ‘Alien’ score into the mix. Having said that, I do have to note that it was a little odd hearing those parts again, as the vast majority of the scores for the entire franchise have been unique movie-to-movie and there was never unifying ‘Alien’ theme music…till now, I guess. It was like they wanted to beat us over the head, saying “You wanted an ‘Alien’ movie?!! OK, we’re going to make DAMN sure you know we’ve given you an ‘Alien’ movie, right down to the same music!!! Ya friggin cry babies!!” Even though that’s how it felt…it still gave a more appropriate feel than the garbage Streitenfeld coughed up for the last flick.
All in all, I’m pleased with ‘Alien: Covenant’ and look forward to seeing it again, despite my genuine disappointment about the lack of 3D. It has Scott’s visual panache, with a very cool production design, decent characters who spout dialogue that doesn’t make me want to claw my face off, some really nasty alien / gore action and an underlying feeling of menace, that I think this franchise needs more of. On the down side, some of the characters were a little thin, some plot holes and lapses in logic (that I mentioned earlier) bothered me, some of the pacing dragged and a couple times, bad ‘Green Screen’ and obvious CG removed me from the flick for a second. This is a GOOD ‘Alien’ movie…but not quite a GREAT one. Like I said earlier, the first two will ALWAYS reign supreme, with this one coming into a solid 3rd Place tie with ‘Alien 3’. I’d very much like Scott to give this one the Extended Directors Cut treatment for Blu Ray, as I think that another 15-20 minutes put back could really add to the characters and narrative, but this Theatrical version…it’s pretty good as is. To fans of the franchise (or science fiction / horror in general), especially those let down by ‘Prometheus’, I can easily recommend a trip to The Big Screen for ‘Alien: Covenant’. THIS is MOSTLY the apology we deserve for THAT movie. Check it out!
*I just have to say that I’m truly not a fan of the idea of ‘Alien’ needing a prequel story. One of the things that I think that both ‘Prometheus’ AND ‘Alien: Covenant’ are guilty of is tearing the unsettling mystery off of the 1979 original and throwing it out the window, to give us a back-story that we truly DON’T need and didn’t ask for. I’ve always loved the idea that nobody knows where the original derelict ship on LV-426 was from…or what the fossilized corpse in the pilot seat was…or why there were thousands of deadly eggs in the cargo hold…these details just ‘were’…and they effectively lent to the idea of space being dark, deep and sinister, filled with horrible things that we have no understanding of and defense against. You know…these aspects were…how do you say it…ALIEN!! Hence the fucking title of the movie!! It’s the ‘not knowing’ that added to the creep factor. To explain it, as these movies have done, unceremoniously strips that novelty away from the first (and to a degree, second) film…which is unfortunate. Having said that, there’s now no getting around the fact that a prequel story DOES exist, from the man who arguably brought this franchise to fruition. I just hope that the quality and the scares continue on an upward trajectory. ‘Alien: Covenant’ is evidence that this is not a far-fetched notion and is very attainable, if the work is put in. If you MUST give me more of THESE, Sir Ridley Scott…then take your time with them…and make them GOOD!! That’s all I ask.