It’s that time once again for Director Ridley Scott to return to the Alien universe, but things between him and the fans aren’t all that rosy after “Prometheus”. Changes were promised as well as attempting to return to the original and recapture that classic terror in space. So did this work out?
Set ten years after the events of Prometheus, the colony ship Covenant gets struck by a Neutron blast en-route to their proposed planet for colonisation. Many casualties are left after the event, but during the repairs a strange signal is picked up from an unknown planet, seemingly ideal for human inhabitants. The choice is made to search for the source of the signal, as well as determine the capabilities of the planet surface, but a strange form of life threatens the entire landing crew as well as questions the formation of life.
That being a telling of it while staying as spoiler-free and vague as possible for all of you. So don’t read much into all of that. But the two significant themes in here are an attempt to return to the original’s ideas, along with carrying across elements from “Prometheus”. So… yeah, that promise to veer on a new path doesn’t hold up.
But before I go into those, let me go into the film’s biggest asset, and that’s the visuals. They are simply fantastic, at least in terms of talking about the story-boarding and concept sketches, this was very well thought out. The ship may be rather dumb in that it looks like a giant syringe floating through space, but the interiors do indeed seem to hold ideas from the Nostromo. All purely functional and almost no glitz to be found anywhere. I really liked the computer interface that appears everywhere, in that it doesn’t seem futuristic in comparison to the originals. It is a different style, but rudimentary and classic in that sense.
The impressive visuals carry on to the locations which were shot in New Zealand, and are pretty breath-taking on the big screen. It helps to make the planet feel very old, but uniquely familiar to ours. I really couldn’t fault any of the locations or props used by the characters, even one space walk looked very impressive.
A very varied cast was brought together too, including a return by Michael Fassbender (don’t call that a spoiler, it’s not), Danny McBride, Katherine Waterston, Damian Brichir, Carmen Ejogo, Guy Pearce, and a small role by James Franco. The characters who are designed for the film certainly are very varied in their looks and personality, going some way towards making them distinct. It would have been excessively easy to just have a bland group of schlobs on the ship, but hey, thumbs up for the effort in the casting and character design.
I got all of this out of the way first and foremost, because after this, everything starts to go downhill in a sadly disappointing way. And this is not me being a picky fanboy, or sitting there looking for problems. The finger of blame can be squarely pointed at the colossal mess that is… the script.
I just honestly don’t know how the dialogue and the plot progressive devices could be put together in such a poor manner, when the visuals are at the high standard that they are. We run into the dogged issue from “Prometheus” of the crew simply being a mass of blithering idiots who should never have been put in charge of a canteen, never mind a colony ship. They use no precautions when presented with an unknown planet, or what is on the planet either. I know that the dialogue can’t be smothered in technical jargon, but COME ON. Even the damn hibernation pods cause them to utterly panic when something out of the ordinary happens, it is ridiculous. Now, just to keep everything clear, I’m not talking about how they respond to extraordinary things like you know, aliens. I’m talking about standard procedures, and in a Sci Fi movie, it is plain silly to see happen.
More problems arise for Michael Fassbenders characters (again, not a spoiler!) in the third act when… he is given the weirdest shit to talk about and do. It was bad enough for him to be embarrassed in the ruin that was “Assassins Creed”, but really, again here??? We know he can be an outstanding actor, but maybe he should just stay away from big projects for a while since they’re clearly utilising his talents in all the wrong ways. You’ll know the exact sequence I’m talking about when you see it, and I bet you to try and not laugh at its absurdity.
And so we come to the Aliens, the reason why you’re here to see this movie. And they illustrate the critical bump in the road overall. As I brought up before, bringing back the original, as well as bringing in new material was on top of the list for the filmmakers. And on the first point, you will find very little new or interesting in the Aliens, that hasn’t been replicated before. Even the CG used on them doesn’t look all that polished, it was very rough and edited together in such a way as you could barely see what they were up to. I would have preferred moments of slow tension to the fast and flurried action in here. And please, don’t show them in the daytime, they end up looking laughable. On the second point, the new material attempts to add more to the “Alien lore”, when all the talk about life and evolution boils them down to a specimen rather than a terror to humanity. It just isn’t all that interesting, the discussion of their perfection has been fleshed out many times before, and the attempts to bulk up the Encyclopedia won’t leave you very enlightened.
Overall you end up with something that looks really pretty, those concept designs were brought to life extremely well and I cannot do anything except praise the art and design departments for their efforts. They are the names and teams to highlight here. But on the flip side the script is a mess, the dialogue is incoherently constructed, the decisions that are made are ridiculous, the characters are morons, the aliens aren’t all that scary or tension-developing, and the ending didn’t leave me satisfied or impressed. It’s a long list.
“Alien: Covenant” was a release that I had hopes for, I wanted it to gain the magic of the originals either in the action, or the tension and beautiful simplicity. And yet none of those targets are really achieved. It can be called aesthetically exceptional, but throwing $100 million at a franchise film will get that result regardless, in most cases. I can give it points for that aspect, but very little for anything else, and I’m damn disappointed for that too. All the talk of a change from “Prometheus”, and they have made something that is… marginally better than it.
Thanks for reading!