Genre: Sci-Fi Horror Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.
Release Date: May 19th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ridley Scott Actors: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Callie Hernandez, Jussie Smollett, Amy Seimetz, Tess Haubrich
pon delving a little deeper into the structure and nuances of Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” it becomes clear that it’s much more than just a haunted house movie in space (an outward simplicity greatly contributing to the fun). Add in some engaging characters, a few unexpected twists, and an overly complex alien being, and the recipe for a horror classic is born. But now with “Alien: Covenant,” both a prequel to “Alien” and a sequel to 2012’s “Prometheus,” director Scott dissects his perfect killing machine with such microscopic precision that flaws become noticeable in nearly every aspect of its origins. Even disregarding an overabundant cast of characters who all receive too little screen time, and a highly unsatisfactory triumph of evil (is the alien now a Freddy Krueger of sorts, a villain the audience is supposed to root for over the protagonists?), the overwrought examination of the titular monster’s evolution erases much of the terror, most of the mystery, and all of the logic behind the once nightmare-inducing concoction.
The year is 2104 and colonization vessel USS Covenant heads towards its destination of Origae-6, where its more than 2,000 passengers will begin a new human settlement. When an unexpected solar flare impacts the spacecraft, the fourteen-person operating crew is awoken by onboard synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender). After sustaining moderate damage and casualties, the Covenant is finally stabilized, ceding command to novice captain Oram (Billy Crudup). During repairs to outer foils, a rogue transmission indicating a human presence is overheard, leading Oram to reroute the ship to the signal’s source – a previously overlooked planet more suitable to colonization than the Covenant’s original destination. But when the ship arrives and a landing party, including Oram, Walter, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Karine (Carmen Ejogo), Lope (Demian Bichir), and Rosenthal (Tess Haubrich), is sent down, they make a discovery far more horrifying than any of them could have possibly imagined.
A lot of the charm of “Alien” stemmed from its simplicity. A monster of particularly ruthless, violent predilections attempted to hunt down and destroy a small crew of blue-collar workers. Here, however, as with “Prometheus,” director Ridley Scott has decided to investigate much heavier science-fiction themes, including plenty of philosophical quandaries about the originations of mankind itself. Creation, evolution, zoology, ancient civilizations, human ingenuity, art, faith, mortality, the irony of man making machines that are more intelligent than they are, and even architectural wonders all seem to be on his mind, leaving little room for dependable, old-fashioned creature-feature thrills. “Alien: Covenant” is more about the wonders of manipulating biological life forms – or even the fun of archaeology – than it is about horror. When the curtain is drawn back on the inception of the xenomorphs, they become far less potent. Some things are better left as creepy unknowns.
And so, this latest entry into the “Alien” franchise feels more like a remake of “Prometheus” than anything in line with the original ’79 classic or the ’86 follow-up. There’s still a blend of visual designs from both Scott’s initial vision as well as James Cameron’s additives, but the less impressive imagery from “Prometheus” is by far the most prominent. Paired with the unnecessarily heady themes, it’s all more like “2001: A Space Odyssey” (in its intentions, not its execution) than it is a welcome return to form. If anything, Scott is straying further away from what gave this series such a strong start.
A wealth of familiar ideas also turn up, though they tend to lean toward theft instead of homage (with some moments even looking as if purloined from this year’s “Life”). Once again, there’s an unfriendly, unaccommodating metal layout to the colony craft; an android remains shifty and untrustworthy; small talk is traded, though it’s never as natural as before; the horseshoe-shaped derelict ship returns; the evil company is still pulling strings behind the scenes; quarantine protocols are disobeyed; an airlock becomes a significant stage for a climax; and everything sort of builds just for the third act, which is unfortunately riddled with predictable, hackneyed twists and turns. Panic is overused and ineffective (or utterly annoying), the cast is too large to get a sense of any individuality (McBride donning a cowboy hat doesn’t make him unique or memorable, though he’s an amusing casting choice), and the advanced technology in the film contradicts its setting as a prequel. In the end, the more Scott continues to revisit one of his most beloved projects, the more he makes “Alien” seem either like a happy accident or merely an entity he had the good fortune to collaborate on. Perhaps H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, and Ronald Shusett were the real geniuses behind that picture.
– The Massie Twins
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