When David, the humanoid android from Prometheus starts to quote heavily from Shelly and Byron, two renowned poets of our yesteryears, or hum to the symphonic tunes of the late Richard Wagner, I can’t help but think of what Aristotle observed in the era Before Christ. That when storytelling goes bad, the result is…‘decadence’. But for now, this is just sewage; I just wanted to namedrop famous poets to act culturally sound. Alien: Covenant doesn’t have that bad of a story but when it is time for fresh answers to surface and new questions to arise, it looks to have no distinct direction as to what Ridley Scott wants to present us with. The movie is beautifully photographed to the likes of vintage Scott and unfortunately at times, this spectacle looks to be a substitute for the lack of storytelling substance. Despite the obvious flaws in such, Alien: Covenant is still a highly engaging and tension filled entry in the new prequel trilogy.
Set around 10 years after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew of a colony ship, Covenant. It contains 2000 sleeping colonists and over a thousand embryos. Their destination is a habitable planet on the far side of the galaxy, more specifically, seven years after they first wake from their cryosleep. However, they soon find a planet which appears to be even more suitable for human occupation via a rogue transmission. Upon arrival on the mysterious planet, they soon learn that something monstrous has already infected the planet.
While there is a universal consent regarding Ridley Scott returning to the visceral horror roots of 1979’s Alien in Alien: Covenant, it never does seek to reproduce the elegance and sheer terror of the original. Which is definitely a good thing since it can be seen as trying a bit too hard to milk the best stuff from the original. Such doing can come off as, ironically, unoriginal if not pretentious. But this isn’t to suggest that Alien: Covenant wants to thrive on ideas of pure philosophy and the ancient words of Mythological Gods. In fact, outside of this movie having the same narrative style as Prometheus, it also has copious amount of gory content when you put both films side by side, and that will please many critics.
Scott offers up imagery and scenes which will be reminiscent to not only fans of the series but also the casual audience. The crew wrestling with iconic facehuggers and succumbing to the merciless chestbursters, coupled together with spine splitting noises and gut busting gore will leave you wincing in pain for the characters. And this is what the Alien franchise thrives on – visual horror and claustrophobic tension. The perfect marriage between these two elements of cinema is no gimmick. It comes into play for Scott to manipulate together masterfully and I can’t think of any other concert of techniques or form which can top either of them.
As a direct continuation to Prometheus, I felt like Alien: Covenant had a lot of missed opportunities to answer more questions regarding the events during and after the former film. Scott had a wealth of lore to capitalize on in this movie following Prometheus, whether it is about the Engineers or the unilluminated Xenomorph virus and the film just did not have a great sense of fulfilment that one would expect from a Prometheus sequel. Sure it answers questions, but it also leaves you hanging on a not-so-great cliff-hanger with more doubts about the entire universe and how everything is correlated. So what is the final objective now? Are we still going to find out who our creators are? Or are we just heading to Origae-6 to see what awaits the crew?
Alien: Covenant incorporates yet again the philosophical mentality which made Prometheus be deemed by the masses to be a step away (not step back, mind you) from the bloody rhetoric of the franchise. With that effect in place, the film feels like it is at war with itself, with Ridley Scott desperately trying to find the right balance between claustrophobic deep space action and a story with heavy-handed themes which he has taken a big liking to quite clearly. So as good as the famed visual artist is at world building and the like, he isn’t so apt in creating fluent stories which capture the essence of the narrative he desires and that is where Alien: Covenant falters the most.
He has practically acquired mastery in the art of building suspense by this point; Scott makes use of stunning cinematography, music and fancy dialogue to find realism in outer space and convey tension without action. All this is further bolstered by the fact that the crew is in deep space where apparently, ‘no one can hear you scream’, and confined environments which expand on the fact that they have nowhere to run. Alien: Covenant took what worked well from Prometheus and did a great job holding our attention with the addition of classic horror from the series. However, it being a direct sequel, the end product or sense of fulfilment from the film as a whole was still lacking.
Should you spend money on it? Yes
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Screenplay by: John Logan, Dante Harper
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Cudrup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir
Running time: 123 minutes
Genre: Science fiction/Thriller