DIR: Ridley Scott • WRI: John Logan, Dante Harper • PRO: David Giler, Walter Hill, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, Ridley Scott • DOP: Dariusz Wolski • ED: Pietro Scalia • DES: Chris Seagers • MUS: Jed Kurzel • CAST: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Guy Pearce, James Franco
The sequel to the much hyped Prometheus (2012) very much returns to the ethos of the early Alien films. It still has some long, frankly boring scenes, in which characters try to get across their pseudo-philosophical ideals to one another but when Alien: Covenant is at its best is when it takes the tone of the original horror/sci-fi hybrid.
The title Covenant, like Prometheus, comes from the name of the ship that is taking our characters to a distant planet Origae-6. Their mission is to colonise the habitable planet. Things go awry very early on when the ship glides into a ‘space storm’ in layman’s terms. This results in the death of the ship’s captain Branson (Franco). Second-in-command Oram (Crudup) takes over as skipper of a grieving crew including Branson’s wife Daniels (Waterson), pilot Tennesse (McBride) and an updated version of Prometheus’ android David, Walter (Fassbender). The tragic event causes the crew to be hasty, choosing to take a look at a previously unchartered planet which is mere weeks away as opposed to the seven year journey to Origae-6. An accidental detection of human life draws their attention. A fuzzy version of John Denver’s Country Roads picked up on the ships satellite.
Oram, a man of ‘faith’ gives the go ahead for the exploration mission. Daniels who is now his second-in-command is more of a sceptic and strongly opposes. It turns out that this seemingly serene planet has some sinister and deadly quirks. If you look at it thematically Alien: Covenant is again pitting religion and science against each other, as represented by the characters Oram and Daniels. If Prometheus was ambiguous about its philosophy, Alien: Covenant is a straight up nihilistic narrative where evil always gets the better of good and characters’ faith and love is only repaid by loss and eventually death.
Reading those last three lines makes the film sound ultra-depressing, however Scott delivers the narrative in such a way that you don’t get bogged down by it as the action is happening. Covenant is very much an amalgamation of Scott’s own original and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) with a hint of its direct predecessor, Prometheus, and the result is not original and very predictable. The script is not as bad as Prometheus but there is way too much expositional dialogue for comfort. The film delivers on scares, gore and some interesting action sequences.
As with Prometheus, the highlight is again Michael Fassbender- who is in a duel role this time round. As well as playing Walter he reprises his role as David, who the crew find marooned on the very planet they are exploring. Fassbender’s talent as an actor is plain to see as he is required to play two different robots on seemingly different levels of consciousness. David (whether deluded or not) thinks he is capable of feelings. Walter is more practical about his existence and his depth to his creators. The slight idiosyncrasies in Fassbender’s demeanour and voice when switching between Walter and David are a marvel.
The creationist theme is carried on from Prometheus and is embodied by David. Mary Shelley conceived Frankenstein as the modern Prometheus. David is Alien: Covenant’s Frankenstein. A mad scientist android, his villainy has burgeoned in his 10 years of isolation after the events of Prometheus.
Ultimately Alien: Covenant is not a smart enough film to get across its heady themes in any engaging way. At times it does seem to take itself too seriously, something the original Alien (1979) could not be accused of. Covenant is at its best when the horror aspect of the film comes to the fore, the problem is that one has to be patient while the scriptwriters amble down thematic blind alleys.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Alien: Covenant is released 12th May 2017