Alien: Covenant – Review

alienposterAlien: Covenant (2017)
R | 2h 2min | Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller | 19 May 2017 (USA)

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.

Check out the video of Rusty Ryan and Kathryn Waite talking about the new film

Review: Rusty Ryan

About 20 minutes into Alien: Covenant a subtle yet very strategic thing happens that is worth noting.
Until that point, the movie was a visual continuation of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012); a deliberately slow-paced intro with deep retrospective dialogue spoken in sterile environments, with long beautiful sweeping shots of immense space ship interiors and exteriors. Suddenly, a distress transmission emits from the ships control panel and we begin to hear music from Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien soundtrack playing in the background. And just like that, Scott winks at the audience and thus begins the film’s exciting journey back to the franchise’s 1979 roots. After that point, he cranks up the pacing, editing and suspense and doesn’t really take his foot off the gas until the end.

First off, let’s level set everything. Prometheus was a good movie. It had an interesting story line, arresting visual cinematography shot in native 3D, a good combination of practical and CGI special effects and very nice performances, especially from Michael Fassbender. It suffered from audience expectations, and that included mine: most were so happy that Ridley Scott was going back in his Alien world, we just naturally expected there to be lots of eggs, goo, Facehuggers and Xenomporhs. . . only to be let down. Yes, it was jarring and off-putting, but now, I would humbly suggest you go back and revisit Prometheus before seeing Alien: Covenant. Especially since it goes a long way to help us understand David, the synthetic human, played by Michael Fassbender.

The original 1979 Alien presented two very intriguing mysteries. “Who” was the ill fated pilot of the Alien ship forever known as the Space Jockey? And “What” horrible life form killed the pilot and left all those eggs patiently waiting for more live hosts? Prometheus went a long way to answer the questions about the “Who”, and now Alien: Covenant will shed light on the murderous “What”.

The story is simple, approximately 10 years after Prometheus ended, a spaceship named Covenant is traveling to a specially selected planet with the hope to colonize our species there. In addition to the initial crew, the Covenant is also carrying 2000 additional humans in hyper-sleep plus over 1500 embryos. After an unexpected mishap that wakes the crew from hyper-sleep, they receive the aforementioned distress transmission.

They decide to investigate the signal and, completely on cue, everything goes downhill from there. This time Scott wastes no time transitioning from discovery, to contamination, to various forms of the Xenomorphs graphically busting out of the unfortunate victim’s bodies. The scenes are extremely well put together with just the right balance of suspense, panic and gory detail. And those graphic “births” lead to multiple Aliens quickly growing and wreaking havoc among the rest of the crew.

Most of the crew serves as eventual victims but the writers do manage to let us get to know some of the characters. The stand-outs are Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and a surprising Danny McBride. Waterston is the closest to a “Ripley” type and she is believable as a woman who is forced to quickly deal with heartbreak, doubt and eventual self-survival. McBride effortlessly steals the show in all of his scenes as the approachable Everyman that handles the increasing sense of doom with determination and occasional humor.

But the hands-down star of this movie is Fassbender playing dual android roles. He reprises his role as David, the android from Prometheus who always seemed to have a hidden agenda. A unforeseen side-effect of David’s programming allowed him to develop some base emotions (or at least the ability to fake those emotions) and a sense of superiority over his creators. This time around, we are introduced to an improved model, Walter. Walter is the newest synthetic life form created to correct the problems that the earlier David model presented. They look the same yet Fassbender gives each their own distinct character traits right down to the British and American accents. This is a daunting feat when you consider that these are robots and essentially devoid of emotion and characteristics that distinguishes humans. A memorable scene involves David teaching Walter to play the flute. Very simple, yet so complicated when you consider the choreography of both sets of Fassbender’s fingers and all the layers of symbolism when robots that are only supposed to follow thier programming start breaking the rules and learn to create like humans do.
Just as Ellen Ripley was the iconic persona in the first 4 Alien movies, Fassbender has quickly become the face of the Prometheus/Alien: Covenant world.

As stated before, the action in the last two-thirds of the movie seldom lets up and is always entertaining. One miss, however, is the speed at which Scott glosses over a flashback scene of David finally coming face to face with the Engineers. This is a scene that was unique and essentially the stated goal of Prometheus. But once we get there, everything happens too fast for the viewer to digest the highly detailed world of the Engineers as well as the symbolism of what is happening. I would have liked to dwell on that whole sequence longer instead of treating it as a throw-away conclusion to one storyline in order to get back to the mayhem.

Overall Alien: Covenant is very satisfying. It is not at the level of classics like Alien or Aliens but it’s a well-made and meaningful addition to the franchise. As he nears 80, Ridley Scott is still a relevant force in the movie industry.

3 1/2 of 4 stars

A FEW FINAL NOTES:
For you Alien Completests, I would suggest going to YouTube and watching some of the pre-release vignettes that were part of the marketing campaign. They contain information and back-story not in the feature film. One of the shorts is a 5 minute scene of the crew before they enter hyper-sleep. It gives more background on the relationships between each couple and we get to see James Franco, who is reduced to just a small cameo in the final film. Another shows Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) piloting the engineers ship and repairing the damaged David as they journey to the Engineers home planet.

I was honored to attend this screening with my daughter, Kathryn Waite as part of a dual review we were doing. Almost 38 years ago to this date in late May of 1979, I was there for opening weekend of the original Alien with my Father. Both were very special moments that only add to my affection for this franchise!