Cinematic Releases: Alien: Covenant (2017) - Reviewed

The first time I saw Ridley Scott’s Alien I was only ten years old and the impression it left on my understanding of the possibilities of science fiction horror still haunts me to this day.  More or less transposing Steven Spielberg’s Jaws into deep space with a biomechanical stowaway extraterrestrial designed by the late Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger terrorizing the ship’s crew, Alien was and still is a game changer in the horror genre.  Then came James Cameron’s Aliens and from there I was a devoted fan of what eventually became known as the Alien franchise. 

After the fallout of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection, the dreadful Alien vs Predator films and finally Scott’s own return to science fiction in 2012 with the prequel film Prometheus, the franchise outside of the wonderful Alien Isolation videogame unfortunately got so far away from what Scott created in 1979 that most fans like myself were left pining for a return to the gothic horror roots that made the series so iconic. 

Now after five years of waiting, here is Alien: Covenant, a sequel of sorts to Prometheus which picks up where that film left off with the promise of a full blown return to the series’ horror origins replete with the beloved xenomorph showing off his sinew dripping fangs in the film’s theatrical trailer.  For die-hard fans eager for the alien terror they were denied in Prometheus, I’m sorry to say despite some tense and gory moments scattered throughout, we’re still waiting for another great Alien movie.

While harkening back to the 1979 film a great deal, right down to Jed Kurzel’s score reworking much of Jerry Goldsmith’s original cues for Alien, the main problem behind Alien: Covenant is the inability to fully separate itself from Prometheus.  If you thought that film messed around with the series’ mythology and logic with regard to the creature’s origins, Alien: Covenant only complicates things further.  We’re now introduced to more than one species of xeno with some curious developments into how Giger’s alien came to be, not all of which will sit well with Alien fans.  Also somewhat troubling is Scott's penchant for CGI and giving the creatures swift movement, going against using practical effects with less emphasis on the creature hiding within dark shadows this time around.

Give us your sandwiches
or die. 
Much has been made of Scott ratcheting up the gore this time around and while there are plenty of gross out gags scattered throughout, I never once recoiled in the way the infamous chestburster scene from the 1979 film did.  While the film succeeds in outdoing the gore in the previous Alien films, the film largely fails to frighten with exception to a few jump scares and a particularly gruesome birthing scene glimpsed in the red band trailer.  There’s also a lull in the film’s midsection which runs the risk of instilling restlessness in some viewers.  Where the first and second films were perfectly paced with a thread of tension holding our attention, Alien: Covenant tends to meander.

Where the film does work very well involves the casting, starting with the great Katherine Waterston as a surrogate Ellen Ripley of sorts.  Aiding the ensemble cast is Michael Fassbender as the android Walter who manages to expand upon what he did with David in Prometheus and Danny McBride jettisons his comic talents in favor of a riff of sorts on Parker/Brett from Alien.  Also turning over solid supporting roles are veteran actors Billy Crudup and Demian Bichir, though for the most part Alien: Covenant is Fassbender’s show.

In the end however, despite all the technical precision of Scott’s direction and working from a stronger script this time around by The Aviator screenwriter John Logan, Alien: Covenant while an improvement still suffers from the aftermath of Prometheus.  From the outset Alien: Covenant aims to revive the franchise and return it to the scare fest that terrorized audiences in 1979 and 1986.  The reality however is that this is Prometheus with some Xenomorphs and a few more scares thrown in for good measure. 

Gotta smoke I can bum? Long day at the office.

Scott says there are more films on the way which should hopefully bring things full circle but your best bet for indulging in the Alien series is to simply rewatch the first two films.  Alien: Covenant may have brought the classic sci-fi horror franchise closer to what fans know and love but not enough for this die-hard fan.  As a standalone Alien film, Covenant is good but not great.

- Andrew Kotwicki