The original 1979 Ridley Scott directed Alien is among my favourite films of all time. It was unlike anything I had seen before. The film reached new heights for terror, tension, suspense and gore. Not to mention the inclusion of a high level functioning synthetic crew member and the birth of the notion that the last man standing could be a woman. Skip ahead to the series reboot Prometheus in 2012. The film was highly anticipated by fans but the cerebral finished product lacked the signature Alien elements disappointing many; not enough Xenomorphs, acid splatter, chest bursts or frothing alien teeth extending painfully slow before striking their victims. Scott along with writers John Logan and Dante Harper heeded their base cranking familiar imagery to eleven but losing story, character development and originality in exchange.
The year is 2104 10 years after Elizabeth Shaw and her crew went missing. The Covenant is on a colonization mission headed to Origae-6 with 2000 colonists, more than a thousand embryos plus an all couple crew. After a weather event part way through the trip synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) think David from Prometheus with upgrades wakes the crew to complete repairs. Before the Captain can get out of his pod it malfunctions causing his death putting devoutly religious Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. Out on a spacewalk they pick up a message from a nearby planet emitting human music. A scan shows the planet to be potentially habitable. Not keen to go back into the pods for another 7 plus years to get to Origae-6 the crew decide to investigate. The only naysayer is Daniels (Katherine Watertson) the wife of the slain Captain now second in command who sees a planet that the expansive mapping before their voyage failed to identify but dropping into their laps as too good to be true.
One of the enduring features of a Ridley Scott film is eye pleasing aesthetics. The landscape shots from the moment the landing party touch down are breathtaking especially when viewed on an IMAX screen. Clear running water, green mountain foliage and rich colourful vegetation leap off the screen. The attention the production pays to the planet's ecosystem serves as an important foreboding plot point. Despite the abundance of natural resources and habitat there is no animal life to be seen or heard.
Katherine Watertson leads the cast as Daniels channeling Ripley 18 years before the timeline of the original Alien film. She's smart, resourceful, quick on her feet and very adaptable. The other key performance is that of Michael Fassbender in the dual role of Walter and David. The scenes where both synthetics occupy the same frame are truly a work of movie making magic. Look for seasoned comedic actor Danny McBride toned down as Tennessee a skillful pilot willing to bring the Covenant to the brink of harms way to aid of his fellow crew when things go to pot on the planet surface.
Alien: Covenant is a bridge film. It's a detour to an uncharted planet unwittingly picking up some essential elements that will feature in future films. There was a plan to produce a film telling the post Prometheus story of Elizabeth and David but it was abandoned. Flashbacks of the dropped project are seen here along with little snippets of David's creative work. The return to familiar ground will make this sequel appealing to the 18-34 multiplex crowd. However the lack of philosophical elements, injection of new beats and underdeveloped characters will leave those that liked the new ground Prometheus explored underwhelmed.
** 1/2 Out of 4.
Alien: Covenant | Ridley Scott | UK / Australia / New Zealand / U.S.A. | 2017 | 122 Minutes.
Tags: Colonization, Hyper Sleep, Pods, Crew, Couples, Creation, Extinction, Virus, Spores, Host, Incubation, Neomorphs, Xenomorphs.