A sequel to Prometheus (2012) and a prequel to Alien (1979), Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant serves up what could have been a deliciously diabolical recipe concocted of the best of both worlds. Instead, it’s a visual feast as lukewarm as leftovers.
That’s not to say that the movie is all bad. In fact, the movie is thoroughly watchable, an entertaining popcorn film on par with something like, say, Alien vs. Predator. But we expect more from Ridley Scott whose visionary magnum opus kicked off the Alien anthology 38 years ago, and whose Prometheus was at the very least visually stunning and character-driven.
Some of the shots in Alien: Covenant are breathtakingly beautiful, in signature Scott style framing, but for the most part there is no iconic imagery that makes this film stand on its own two feet. Instead, it visually borrows a leg from Alien, and a leg from Prometheus. Which wouldn’t be so bad if that were the only problem. The casting, however, leaves much to be desired. Katherine Waterson might be strong and vulnerable, but she’s no Sigourney Weaver, or Noomi Rapace. Not that the actors are given very much to work with. The dialogue is predictable and the relationships between characters offer no surprise, mystery, or evolving depth as the movie trudges onward.
What Ridley gets rights in Alien: Covenant is the story. It’s a compelling tale that instead of just rehashing the same old ‘landing/exploring/egg finding’ plot (though there’s plenty of that!) also introduces new territory, specifically within the ‘sequel’ category. What has happened to David (Michael Fassbender, who deserves serious praise for his performance) since we last saw him headless and bagged is without question the most intellectually intoxicating element of Alien: Covenant, drawing parallels to tales that date as far back as the Bible. (Jacob and Esau, meet Walter and David.) As a novel, Alien: Covenant might have actually been hypnotic. The problem lies not in the story, but in its execution: The script. The casting. The acting. And most notably, the horrific use of CGI in its special effects.
Whereas Prometheus signaled a return to practical effects – large scale sets, tangible props, puppetry, and even stop-motion animation – Alien: Covenant finds us right back in a 90’s world of bad CGI aliens that makes this prequel feel a lot more like, Alien: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. The new protomorph and neomorph offer up a couple of genuine scares, but there is nothing frightening about the computer generated xenomorphs here, whose greatest moments were all revealed already in the trailer.
Ridley’s intentions were good. He tries to pull a Hitchcock style opening where the movie’s biggest ‘star’ turns out not to be in the movie at all; he opens with a literal bang unlike the sleepy prologues of all past films in the series; he makes this the first Alien movie he has directed with hardcore weaponry on board; he even gives us two androids for the price of one.
Ridley Scott had the necessary seasoning to make a perfect fare. He just forgot the meat. Without strong characters and scary aliens, it all falls flat.
P.S.: The original Alien anthology (Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection) is on sale this week for 43% off! Do yourself a favor. Buy the DVD or Blu-Ray set, and watch these gems instead. Any one of them is better than Alien Covenant.