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Review: Alien: Covenant

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Originally, Ridley Scott had the idea to make a trilogy of films that would be linked to, and eventually link up with, the Alien franchise that he started back in 1979 but would explore deeper ideas. The result was Prometheus and, on the whole, people reacted negatively to it. The general consensus was ‘It’s not like Alien’, ‘Where’s the xenomorph?’ and ‘this is too pretentious’.

Alien: Covenant is the direct sequel to Prometheus and has been through a number of scripts and titles since its original inception with Scott seemingly making changes to his original plan based on reaction to Prometheus. It feels a shame that such a visionary director appears to feel that he has to appease the audience over sticking to his original vision. So, Alien: Covenant is what Scott thinks we want, rather than exactly what he wanted to make. This is a film for the people that moaned.

The philosophical ideas explored in Prometheus are right there from even before the title appears on the screen in Alien: Covenant. Also, the over-ripe dialogue that is only really there to explain what’s going on, which was never there in Alien. In the 1979 original the characters had believable conversations about pay and profit-sharing schemes, they were space-truckers and spoke like truckers. In Prometheus, the scientists are looking for the answer to where humans came from, so the cod-philosophical dialogue made some sense. But in Alien: Covenant the majority of the cast are colonists, off to make a new planet their home. They are engineers, botanists, explorers, yet they constantly talk in ways normal people don’t.

In film, it should be ‘show, don’t tell’, but at one point Billy Crudup’s newly-promoted captain says – out loud –  that people don’t trust him because he is religious. It’s written on the faces of the actors, we can see it, it doesn’t need saying.

This sounds like an absolute slating, but there are many, many positives too. Scott is an amazing world builder, and the landscapes and sets are stunning, the gore is visceral and used sparingly to leave things to your imagination, except in one scene very early on which is super uncomfortable to watch. There also isn’t a weak link in the cast either, this is probably the first time since Tropic Thunder that  Danny McBride has turned in a performance that I’ve enjoyed. Michael Fassbender gets to show more range than previously, playing two very different (but quite similar) roles and Katherine Waterston is brilliant as this film’s Ripley stand-in who starts off weak, but proves to have hidden reserves as the horror unfolds.

You get a lot of history about what has been happening in the 10 years between the goings on in Prometheus and now. Which probably serves as a proxy for some of the stuff Scott cut from his original drafts. The other half of the movie serves as a remixed greatest hits of scenes from previous Alien movies. Which is great!

There are face-huggers scrambling around and jumping out at people, chest bursters (that isn’t quite how it happened in Aliens and gestated as fast as in the Alien v Predator films that people also had problems with), Aliens attacking from shadows/above, acid blood spraying, chases through corridors, air-locks, big machinery, small Alien mouths through the skull, and much more.

There are new thrills, one of which has been mentioned in this review already, and they are super-effective. The problem with having so much that harks back to the Alien films is that as soon as characters start to split up or investigate certain things you know what’s going to happen to them. This makes the film a lot less scary than it’s predecessors, but it’s no less tense.

The villainous character is properly insidious and keeps you guessing… to a point. And the finale of the film really has you in suspense for another film, perhaps this will be the one before Alien and Scott will finally have closed his loop, perhaps not. Maybe Neill Blomkamp will get the roll the clock back with his Alien 2.5 movie that is supposed to be set after Aliens and rewrites the timeline after Alien 3 did something almost unforgivable with two of the characters from the second film.

Either way, I’ll see and enjoy any film based around xenomorphs. Alien: Covenant may be a little messy, mainly because of the fact that Scott felt he had to diverge from his original plans, but when it works it really works, and it works more than it doesn’t. I just wish he’d stuck with his convictions.