Alien is undoubtedly a near-perfect film which continues to dazzle and impress me each time I return to it. Ridley Scott’s bold aesthetic choices and simplistic approach to both the film’s story and visuals results in something altogether cinematically extraordinary. Although many believe an argument can be made for James Cameron’s Aliens, I see little greatness to be salvaged in his or David Fincher’s or Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s additions to what I must begrudgingly call a franchise. Five years ago Scott’s bold vision fuelled Prometheus, a film with admirable intention but which was sadly limited by its intolerable script and formulaic stupidity. Despite Alien: Covenant promising us a return to form for fans of the original, it falls short with mistakes made in Prometheus returning here to sabotage the vehicle. Awoken violently from hyper-sleep seven years ahead of schedule, the crew aboard the ‘Covenant’ fleet attempt to get their vast human and embryonic cargo back on track to reach a new planet to secure the survival of the human life. Their captain has other ideas when they discover a mysterious planet which has potential to be a perfect and immediate spot for civilian relocation. Things quickly take a sinister turn when the crew come to the horrible realisation that they are not alone in their new paradise. Billy Crudup and Katherine Waterston lead the crew, both turning in pretty solid performances, but this is Michael Fassbender’s film. Meanwhile, the powerful acting ability of Carmen Ejogo is utterly under-utilised. Fassbender’s David was a synthetic being and a character worthy of far much more that the film he found himself trapped within and the same is true for his updated version, Walter.
It’s unclear whether the film’s endless lines of exposition-heavy dialogue are what Scott intended or merely a result of pressure from the studio who felt the need to patronise the audience. Alien is a film which requires its audience to sit up and focus, in order for them to be fully rewarded. Alien: Covenant is a film which you can mindlessly munch popcorn through, despite it thinking its vastly more philosophical than it is. Byron and Shelley are referenced and discussed at every given opportunity and meanwhile each character is an endless verbal stream of consciousness. Restrained tightly by the film’s ridiculous second hour and the script within it, Fassbender still somehow turns in an engaging performance. Perhaps the saddest thing about Alien: Covenant is that it does no justice to the creatures at its heart – those we’ve really come to see. They are over-digitalised and certain to date quickly unlike Ripley’s original nemesis which has stood the test of time. I could never have predicted that I would feel this way, but I am truly relieved that Scott isn’t directing Blade Runner 2049. The follow up to his 1982 masterpiece is blatantly in safer hands with Denis Villeneuve if Alien: Covenant is anything to go by. To his credit, Scott has created a well-rounded world and there are some lovely tributes to the original Alien artwork of H. R. Giger. At its best, Alien: Covenant is a gruesome space horror and at its worst a stilted and soulless blockbuster which simultaneously patronises and preaches.
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