Alien: Covenant (2017)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Synopsis: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
MPAA Rating: R (for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity)
Release Date: May 19, 2017
"In space, no one can hear you scream."
That was the famous tagline for Ridley Scott's original Alien (1979), a pioneering film in the science fiction canon that shocked audiences with its slow-burning horror, eerie atmosphere and yes, the horrifying original chest burster scene with John Hurt's character Kane. The film, however, also ushered in one of the first female science fiction heroines in Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), a bold move in that period where women in the genre were strongly looked at as supporting characters. After the success of Alien, James Cameron took the helm for the second entry Aliens, a film that improved on its predecessor in nearly every way, delivering action, suspense, horror, and even a bit of comedic elements mixed in among the characters. The film was honored at the Oscars for its pioneering use of special effects (particularly from Stan Winston's work on the animatronics) as well as Weaver's performance as Ripley, earning the first ever acting nomination for an action film in cinema history--and a female action hero at that.
In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the alien world with Prometheus, a film that served as a quasi-prequel to the original Alien. Though the film delivered action, its main focus was on philosophical ideas about the origins of humanity--who created us and why. The film also didn't contain the signature "xenomorph" of the alien franchise or even the face huggers. As a result, the film was met with mixed reactions from fans and critics. Though he had plans to further explore the engineers (the creators of humanity) from Prometheus in his sequel, Ridley Scott catered to the fans and instead returned directly to the roots of Alien with Alien: Covenant.
In Alien: Covenant, the crew of the space vessel Covenant are on a mission to colonize the planet Origae-6. En route to the planet, they pick up a radio transmission from another planet that supposedly contains a better atmosphere and living conditions than Origae-6. After some debating, they ultimately decide to travel to the newly discovered planet.
Alien: Covenant ratchets up the action from Prometheus, yet still contains a lot of philosophical ideas introduced in that film by commenting on humanity's current obsession with playing God and wielding power that is too strong for us to handle. It really uses the same ideas employed in Steven Spielberg's blockbuster hit Jurassic Park (1993) in that we as humans are constantly trying to become more powerful as a species--whether its inventing new technologies or creating life itself (think animal cloning and embryo implantation). Just as Jurassic Park proclaimed, Alien: Covenant warns us that many dangers come from playing with fire. Indeed, the best elements of Alien: Covenant are these philosophical ideas, since they are extremely relevant in today's power-hungry society and world.
The film, however, has many detractions. To start, the characters are dry. They aren't noteworthy, memorable, or characters you care about rooting for against the aliens. There is next to no light-hearted or comedic moments like those memorable ones found in Aliens (1986) and the characters themselves are not very bright at times, a frustrating element that fans complained about in Prometheus. The performances are solid enough, and Katherine Waterston gives it her all, but she lacks the depth, boldness, and intelligence of Ripley.
The special effects of Covenant are another frustrating negative element of the film. Nearly all of the alien effects are computer generated--gone are the tangible, physical, practical effects of Alien and Aliens that put the franchise at its terrifying levels of horror in the first place. The aliens' movement is also much swifter this time around, and it actually makes them less terrifying than when they were the slow walking, crawling creatures in the early installments. The film also places the aliens in broad daylight for several scenes, which not only painfully highlights the CGI, but also makes it flat-out less scary than if the scenes took place at night. (Just think how much of the terror would've been taken out if the crew in Aliens were looking for the aliens in the ship with all the lights on instead of near complete darkness). It seems Ridley Scott ignored things that worked beautifully in Alien and Aliens (dark scenes, rain-slicked environments, actors in costumes and animatronic creatures) and chose to adapt it for the 21st century. The worst part? The beloved xenomorph and facehuggers don't make their first appearance until the film is nearly 3/4 over. And this isn't to create tension---other creatures take their place for earlier scenes.
Alien: Covenant delivers poignant philosophical ideas (just like Prometheus) that harken back to Jurassic Park regarding humanity's ignorance in its quest to create and possess unchecked power. Even its philosophical agenda, however, can't quite save it from its bland characters and rudimentary special effects. It is several steps above the forgettable Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, but sadly also several steps below Alien and Aliens.