Alien Covenant Review

13th May 2017 – delayed publish until US Release and my second viewing.

Here’s the thing, I remember the time my Dad told me the story of Alien one summers evening in 1979. His description and the events in story sparked my imagination. I was only 8, and he also showed me some of the pictures from Alien Movie Novel picture storybook, I was hooked! Probably not the best decision as my imagination filled in the gaps between the photographs which was a source of many a nightmare and sleepwalking going forward.

When I eventually watched the movie on TV, I was captivated by its dirty, futuristic environment that was brutal and harsh. Once the cat was out of the bag in the form of a new beastie, the horror, the tension and calculated brutality of the Alien was mesmerising. In fact, it took me many years before I was brave enough to watch the Dallas shaft Alien attack scene.

Role forward nearly 40 years and here I am, my second time at Leicester Odeon one week after the world premiere in the same location.  The first time was when I saw the digitally remastered extended version of Alien, which was outstanding.

With Alien Covenant I was expecting more of a film that answered a lot of the open questions from Prometheus and origins of the original Alien. Many of the questions weren’t answered and new questions sprouted from the new film, almost as quickly as the first spores released during the second act. The source of these enigmas focuses around the rationale of certain actions of the colonists approach to exploring a new planet and main antagonist, the dysfunctional anDROID.

To be fair, the two prologues releases one and three months before the release teased with filling some of the gaps. But in retrospect, I feel these elements should have been interleaved in the main feature – probably will be in the Directors Cut 😉

So, the morning of the night before. My following is a recollection of the scenes and my reactions.

Firstly, the opening scene, a formal prologue to the origin and seed of David’s raison d’etre projected on him by Weyland’s desire to find out where we came from, having not being the greatest Darwinist sympathiser.

The scene was gloriously photographed, and Michael Fassbender acted with precision. Some may say a pretentious scene, but I think the scene reflected the tone and approach (with the odd not so shocking gory moments) of the next 118 minutes.

Flash forward 60 odd years on board the colony ship Covenant. All are asleep apart from a next generation David called Walter, walking the hallowed halls of the ship. Something goes wrong and wakes the crew and not the 2,000 colonists onboard. The captain who had a speaking part in prologue is no more, and a traumatised wife in the form of Daniels consoles herself while the crew repair the ship. During which a radio transmission is received, and the newly appointed captain decides to deviate from the chosen and expensive mission to the source of the transmission. Does this sound familiar?  Maybe an “Intercepted a transmission of unknown origin” protocol and reason to changing course to an uncharted planet.

Two weeks later the Covenant arrives at the moon where the said communication took place. An investigation party is assembled and embarks on landing.

Now, here is my first gripe – why? Don’t they have drones and probes that could investigate and map the area before sending humans on a high-risk activity? With all the technology available in the 22nd century your decision to send down humans first, just doesn’t make sense. I liked the red laser scanning probes or ‘pups’ we saw in Prometheus. Hence, recon first and then investigate using high-value assets i.e. people.

The second gripe, once on the unknown planet, walk around with little protection against pathogens of unknown origin. Even though the atmosphere is breathable doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe. As the story clearly demonstrates, two unsuspecting crew members are infected with a morphing pathogen which very quickly forms into a new organism before exploding out of the body, killing the poor souls. Beautifully done I might add and augmented by an excellent Alien first per person view in VR on Youtube, but the shock value was simply not as rewarding as before. I think we or I have become desensitised to seeing chest bursters or bursters of any kind.

Scientific protocol is observed when one of the infected crew was contained in the medical bay but also trapping one of the other crew which resulted in an inevitable end of both crew members. Subsequently, another crew member decided to try and kill the newborn but unfortunately killing herself and destroying the only lander that can ferry 2,000 colonists between the Covenant and planet. You can imagine what my third gripe is!

So, we have two rampaging newborns Aliens running around and growing rapidly in what seems as minutes into bigger beasties that are naturally vicious. In fact, I liked the new neomorph, the way it moved and attacked. The scenes in the wheat field reminded me a little of the velociraptor long grass attack scenes in Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

Thankfully, then out of the blue amongst the mayhem, David (we don’t know that yet) appears to frighten off the neomorphs with an Engineer flare gun. Terrific, and off the remaining explorers go with a person they don’t know. Into the dark depths of the forest to a city of grotesquely deformed and obviously dead Engineers. Surely, there isn’t a problem with that? Unmistakably, the survivors are suitably convinced everything is going to get better. We all know that is not going to be the case.

Ok, this is where the story becomes interesting. The unknown Jedi Knight aka David meets the remaining crew and says “mi casa es tu casa” – he doesn’t, but you get the idea. David and David Mark II (Walter) meet and exchange android pleasantries. At this point, I am impressed with the two androids (played by the same person) are seemly interacting with each as the camera is slightly moving from side to side with subtle parallax effect. The David and Walter scenes are divinely executed even though some viewers may see a sexual connotation while exchanging a flute and Walter learning to be “creative.”

Anyway, a very expressive exchange and analysis of David’s actions. My next gripe when realising David is a psychopath, whatever happened to Asimov’s 1st law of robotics? “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” And don’t blame AI as the reason to be divergent.

While David and Walter are exchanging whatever (this becomes more apparent later on), the rest of the crew are trying to contact the Covenant without success. So, the pilot of Covenant decides to get closer to the planet.

Even with my limited knowledge of astrophysics and aeronautics, this is not a good thing to do. The closer you get to the planet the more effect of drag and gravity on the spaceship. But it does have the benefit of improving communications. This would be true if you were geostationary, which you can’t be at low altitude without some serious vertical propulsion.

Picky, picky I hear you and even if I put drag and lack of vertical propulsion to one side, this is still a low point for me. This is where you need a second lander!

You know whenever a survivor decides to break from the pack (safety in numbers kind of thing) something bad is going to happen. And so it does, straight out of a scene of American Werewolf in London. But there is one moment of solace and Alien taming, which provides our first glimpse of Alien reason. Without spoiling the scene too much, this leads to our first proper impregnation via a face hugger.

Again the gestation period is extremely accelerated beyond anything else we have seen.  I can only conclude that the energy and nutrients available on the planet exceed anything we have seen before. What comes is a new Protomorph (pre-cursor to Xenomorph maybe) Alien which again grows very quickly to terrorise whoever is left.

In the meantime, the Covenant uses a cargo drop craft which I don’t know how the hell is designed to re-enter an atmosphere is sent down to rescue everyone. Without spoiling the story too much, people are saved and reflect on their experiences back on the Covenant, but it is not over yet.

We are then exposed to a rather quick cat and mouse kind of situation which results in the inevitable end. It is also as swift as I described and the sequence felt as if it was hurried. I think there could have been more peril placed on the remaining crew and the final victims of the story were reminiscent of the last victims in Alien. From a victim point of view and based on Ridley’s homework with The Saw I was expecting more of a visceral and visual spectacle. I suppose any more gore would push the feature into the 18 or NC-17 certification.

Finally, the link to the next movie was too blatant for my liking, and we all know it is going to end badly for all who remain on the Covenant. Not to mention how the switch happened without some advanced form of Bluetooth or a quick change and hand cut off. I have a whole list of questions about the last 10-minutes of the movie, but any further divulgence would spoil the end more than I have.

How did I feel at the end? Entertained, visually impressed, technically frustrated, but, and sorry there is a but, the storytelling was too rushed, and I wanted more of the Engineer mythology explained and answers to the loose ends from Prometheus. My impression this is probably by design to keep me intrigued for the next one or two movies. I don’t know if I will have the stamina by then, but I do have a soft spot for the Alien series.

Therefore, using a typical Excellent, Very good, Good, Fair, and Bad or 5-1 rating scheme. I would have to put Alien Covenant as a 3 (Good) for the overall movie experience. Visual and set pieces as 5 (excellent). And the story and technical accuracy being 2-1 (fair to bad). I think I need to see it again to make sure 😉 at my local flix next time!

On reflection, what is very apparent about Alien Covenant and Prometheus has a lack of story validation and some degree technical due diligence. I know that many technical experts are called upon in various forms during production, and the Martian is a testament to that. But with Alien Covenant I felt technical rigour was lacking.

On the point about story validation, I don’t think beyond the walls of a select few professionals within the Scott Free production and Fox team attempted any test or validation of the story arc, logic/rationale, characterisation, and series continuity with hardcore fans new and old. I think this would help remove many of the gripes summarised, but would this make it a better film and piece of escapism?

Probably not, but I would love to be convinced otherwise and especially in the run-up to pre-production for Alien Awakening.

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