2017. Directed by Ridley Scott.
Alien: Covenant is a tricky film. Alien was the film that opened a realm of possibilities, both for the franchise and for the career of its creator, directorial legend, Ridley Scott. Following from the extremely divisive Prometheus, Scott weaves an intricate story about the cycle of life and death masked in the guise of a prequel. This is a deeply personal film made by a 79 year old artist. What it loses with a shallow script and endless horror clichés is almost enough to derail what is quite possibly one of Scott’s most profound works. While diehard fans will undoubtedly find many things to pick apart, it is entirely probable that Scott decided to plumb the existential limits of humanity via a return to his beginnings, and it is with that idea in mind that I left the theater with the understanding that this film is one for the ages, glaring flaws and all.
A colony ship intercepts a human transmission from a mysterious planet. Desperate to find a new planet to call home, the crew decides to investigate and happens upon the most terrifying experiment in the history of creation. Fusing elements of the Island of Dr. Moreau, the spiritualism of Prometheus, and Blade Runner’s creation vs. man bravura, John Logan and Dante Harper’s script stumbles, falls, and then revels in the gutter of rogue philosophy in which it lands. The first act features the standard character building staple of the franchise, however there is not enough to go around and it’s immediately apparent whom will die and whom will persevere. Danny McBride is a surprising standout, emulating the blue collar roots that made the initial film so endearing. The banter between the crew is cringe worthy at best and when death does come, surviving characters are instantly resilient, eschewing Veronica Cartwright’s unforgettable paranoia in favor of soldiering on. While this may appear as a weakness, it is a slick alignment with Scott’s overall message. The reaper always wins and life always goes on, leaving the memories of the fallen behind.
Michael Fassbender’s dual turn as the loyal android Walter and the devious rebel David has to be seen to be believed. The first scene of the film does not work without his subtle ferocity, setting the stage for what follows with a poise that likens his electronic birth to a toddler with a high caliber pistol, questioning his existence and his maker’s intent with ominous innocence. His scenes with both versions of himself are the meat of the story and when taken separately from the paltry characterization of the humans, they are truly something to behold. Katherine Waterston’s archetypal turn is adequate, but ultimately pales under the weight of the story. Yes, characters make bad decisions, possibly even worse than forgetting to run horizontally, however, unlike its predecessor, Covenant has so much going on, there’s barely enough time to complain.
Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, from the stunning first frame is a visual bacchanal of gory aftermaths and alien architecture. David’s insidious lair conjures thoughts of Kurtz’s sanctum in Apocalypse Now while the CGI scenes in space command the gorgeous touch one would expect from Sir Scott. There are dozens of Easter eggs strewn throughout Chris Seagers’s titanic production design, featuring impossible compositions of alien civilization, blending incomprehensible science with low tech accoutrements to bring the high gloss feel of the new films together with the low-fi grit of the classics.
In the end, Alien: Covenant is a remarkable film for what it is saying underneath the carnage and ill-advised choices of its stable of victims. The evolutions of the creature are symbolic of the series, beginning with small terrors in claustrophobic environs that soon spin out of control as technology, budget, and popularity demand more and more, ultimately consuming the creative fires of design. The search for meaning in the creation of life and dissenting against the inevitability of death are everywhere in Covenant’s beautiful set pieces and their presence will either intrigue or repulse.
In theaters now, Ridley Scott’s bridge building film creates more questions than answers for one of the most popular science fiction franchises of all time. Derailing the audience’s concept of timeline and progression, Alien: Covenant breaks all of the established rules to present a blood soaked Genesis in the stars. Scott made the film he wanted to make, and while there are elements which will placate general expectations for an addition to the Alien pantheon, it’s my belief, that Scott almost forgot there would be an audience watching. This is his story and while it may not entirely work, it is something terrifyingly genuine and sincere.