“Alien: Covenant” (2017)
Running Time: 123 minutes
Written by: John Logan and Dante Harper
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Featuring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and Demián Bichir
David: “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Ridley Scott returns to the world of ‘Alien’ once again after his now classic second film, “Alien” (1979) and his not so classic “Prometheus” (2014). It appears he has some unfinished business with the franchise, particularly after killing a rival ‘Alien’ movie that was to be directed by Neill Blomkamp, as well as featuring original star Sigourney Weaver. I for one welcome any movie in this franchise, looking back I even enjoy the films that failed and still fail to connect with audiences, So it was with high hopes I entered into this film. I had watched and enjoyed the three short films that were the marketing for this movie, particularly the Noomi Rapace/Michal Fassbender “The Crossing” (2017) which I recommend you see as well. I can report that this is well worth watching as it is a real throwback to not only the Alien franchise but R-rated horror films as well.
Of course where would an ‘Alien’ film be without a long outer space voyage, and this movie starts with one, during which the 2,000 human passengers, along with 1,140 embryos, linger in a deep-freeze sleep for several years. The giant ship, called Covenant, is headed for a very distant planet, Origae-6, which is considered a promising new home for humanity to settle. For this reason, not only the slumbering immigrants, but the crew, too, are composed of prospective parents meant to propagate and establish a new home.
This couples-only plot point does give the movie a new feeling, it also means that when things go wrong as they were always going to, it means there is a double sense of loss when someone dies.
Scott has done a mini reboot behind the scenes as well as on camera for this new Alien installment, we have his usual director of photography Dariusz Wolski returning as well as a pair of new screenwriters, dumping the absolutely awful Damon Lindeloff, for Oscar nominated (and “Gladiator” (2004) writer) John Logan as well as newcomer Dante Harper. All of these changes are welcome, particularly Lindeloff who seems to deflate anything he is involved with script wise.
It is great to see Wolski return as he nailed the look of “Prometheus” with both the exteriors of the planet as well the interiors of the Prometheus itself. Wolski is one of the best cinematographers working today; he is in high demand so it is great that he and Scott enjoy working together to produce some of the best-looking movies around. Ridley too is a welcome return, there are few director working today that can command the cinematic language involved in making not only a big budget film but one that has a huge cinematic legacy, of course that legacy does have some holes in it. What I find refreshing about Ridley Scott is that he has such a high attention to detail in particular with the mise-en-scène that you never doubt any of the locations that exist in this artificial world.
The director has made more of an ‘Alien’ movie than a “Prometheus” follow up with more scares and many more actual xenomorphs – this plays like a horror film than many of the other films in the franchise, it may even be the best entry after the first two groundbreaking movies. The movie also attempts to tackle what the previous film tried to do which was analyze what it means to be alive, sentient as well as the asking the questions about where life starts, where it stops as well as where the spark of life originates from.
Once again Michael Fassbender illustrates why he is one of the best actors around as his David from the original film encounters the newly created ‘synthetic’, Walter. Fassbender aided buy special effects plays David and Walter off against each other. David has become a kind of Frankenstein with the alien virus from “Prometheus”, he evens says idle hands are the devil’s play things – once you start to witness his creations you will see what he means. It turns out that David has had plans since before he even went on the ill fated trip from the previous film – in an early scene with Weyland (Guy Pearce) you can see fear palpable on David’s creator’s face which is extremely chilling. David’s point of view as well as his true nature can be seen by Oram (Billy Crudup, here so excellent) who says he has seen the Devil as a child and can recognise him anywhere.
This film moves the origin of species onwards, it is fitting to me that mankind is reaching for the star but is being bitten by something that is closer to home, than in the heavens. There is certainly an aspect of reaping what you sow, in particular in the area of technology as well as creating something that you do not know what the ramifications of which will be – something that we could lean in todays world. Of course it is not limited to technology, as well see the original Captain of the ‘Covenant’ being killed and being replaced by someone out of their depth and who finds it hard to string two words together – sound familiar.
If you like R-rated horror films as well as science fiction movies with a great director at the helm then this is for you. If you are squeamish then maybe try something else. This is a return form for Scott who at eighty years of age is directing movies like someone a quarter of his age – not afraid to correct mistakes of the past, but with an eye on the future – I am so looking forward to the next instalment.
“Alien: Covenant” (2017) is out now in New Zealand theatres.