Alien Covenant (2017) – Film Review
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride
by Roger Crow
There was a time I would have been at the midnight premiere of a new ‘Alien’ movie, I was so obsessed with the series. But in 2012 I sat through the inaugural IMAX 3-D screening of Prometheus, and still felt sick by the time I got to bed around 4am.
During subsequent screenings, I realised what a weak film it was; an A-list cast and crew dealing with a Z-list script. Those hoping for answers to the xenomorphs’ origins were given more questions than answers.
So by the time Alien Covenant, the second prequel in Ridley Scott’s franchise came along, I give it a week before watching. The reviews have not been good. Savaged by most critics, and berated by many fans of the saga, I go in with low expectations.
Surprisingly, the first half hour is not that bad. The crew of the eponymous spacecraft, a colonisation ship on its way to land on an Earth-type planet seven years away, are awoken after a near-fatal incident with some galactic anomaly, and while repairing the ship, an electronic ghost from a nearby planet is recorded onto one of the crew’s helmets.
“Plays like an old episode of a Star Trek: The Next Generation“
So it’s essentially a remake of Alien up to this point, only the crew are awoken for a different reason, and they intercept a different sort of SOS. Landing on the neighbouring world in the hope it might be a better alternative to their original destination, they soon live to regret it.
Only Daniels (Katherine Waterston) seems to have a degree of intelligence. She wonders why they are endangering their mission by checking out a world that didn’t show up on any of their scans. Their rubbish captain Oram (Billy Crudup) overrules her, launches an away team, and thanks to savage spores, soon ensures one of the crew is literally as spineless as him.
The second act plays like an old episode of a Star Trek: The Next Generation in which Data met evil brother Lore. In this case, robot Walter, meets fellow synthetic David (survivor of Prometheus).
There’s a recorder lesson between the “brothers” that goes on so long, I had flashbacks to junior school music lessons. Most of the time it looks great. This is a Ridley Scott film, so that’s a given, though some of the alien CG effects are still a bit ropey.
“Keeps you guessing until the end”
Sadly the saga has become so obsessed with analysing its own history both on and off screen, we have reached the point where there are two robots named after the producers (David Giler and Walter Hill), and a heroine called Daniels, probably named after the original writer (Dan O’Bannon). But the meta problem is not the biggest issue. It’s the intelligence, or the crew’s lack of it. This is a crew so stupid, there’s no question of quarantine at a crucial moment or immediately wondering why wheat is on an alien planet.
There’s also a point where a couple are attacked in a shower. Not a spoiler, as that’s given away in the trailer. And if you’ve seen the trailer, chances are you’ve seen about as much as you need to regarding their back story, or lack of it.
The dipping toy bird, making a welcome return to the franchise for the first time since 1979’s original Alien, has more of a back story. Thankfully the finale is as dark as Life, the year’s better alien-on-a-spaceship movie. Some clever editing and a Prestige-style plot device means there’s an ‘is he or isn’t he?’ moment that keeps you guessing until the end.
Alien Covenant is not the disaster I’d feared. It’s slightly better than Prometheus, but a very poor cousin to Alien and Aliens. Newcomers to the saga may enjoy it, and given the finale I’m intrigued to see how things connect between the prequels and Alien. Let’s just hope a smarter script is green-lit for (the chronological) episode three.