COVENANT: Alien, Yet Familiar

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Alien Covenant

ALIEN: COVENANT is the next installment in what has become the ALIEN Prequel series. Taking place in the year 2104 (roughly ten years after Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS occurs) it is supposed to bring us closer to the starting point of ALIEN, which starts around 2122. How much closer it brings us is sort of a conundrum for me, because with roughly 18 years left in the time line gap, some major questions still need to be answered for me. I would say would take at least one more movie, maybe two.

I will do my best not to give away any spoilers here.

This being the actual third Ridley Scott directed ALIEN movie (I discount 1992’s ALIEN 3 and 1997‘s ALIEN: RESURRECTION having ever been made, as both were non-Scott movies and both were a total waste of film, and also 1986’s excellent ALIENS directed by James Cameron), there are not a ton of surprises here; some twists and turns, a couple of new developments, some continuations--and a lot of homage to both ALIEN and ALIENS movies.

ALIEN: COVENANT tells the story of the Colony Ship Covenant, on its way to colonize a distant planet, when a solar accident causes the ship to be in peril and forces the only person awake, Walter (a newer version of David from PROMETHEUS) to wake the rest of the crew to administer repairs. While they are repairing the vessel, their scanners stumble upon a planet that appears to be a virtual Eden and much closer than their target destination. The decision is made to investigate while the colonists remain in suspended animation. What they discover is not a paradise at all, but a planet fraught with danger that will leave the crew scrambling for their lives.

The movie starts off differently than others, and was somewhat confusing to me at first, but I was spellbound by the cleanness and starkness of the room, a setting instantly reminiscent of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It was a feeling I found myself having several times throughout the movie. This is a good thing, as that is a benchmark sci-fi movie that also dealt with the idea that intelligent life on Earth was kick-started by beings from somewhere far away from this blue marble.

I do find Hollywood’s fascination with trying to dispel Creationism--wondering what it would be like to play God in the same movie that tries to say there is none--somewhat disturbing and boring, especially with all the references to faith throughout all the ALIEN movies, and a scene obviously reminiscent of the Last Supper in COVENANT (itself a religious term). Oh well, after all it is a science fiction movie.

Some of the similarities which easily come to mind are in the names. ALIEN had a character named Dallas, COVENANT has one named Tennessee. 2001 had HAL, COVENANT has Mother. Both of those movies have a David/Dave too. The basic shape of the colonization ship Covenant and Discovery are similar as well, including the shots of how we see the ship. There are relationship similarities also between Daniels (Katherine Waterson) and David (Michael Fassbender), and ALIEN’s Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Bishop (Lance Henriksen).

And this movie also continues in the Ripley / Elizabeth Shaw vein of women who become kick butt alien fighters, who do battle in spectacular fashion when pushed to the limit.

I do like how this movie ties together things from the previous film, instead of being totally distant from it with no one knowing anything about the other. In fact, I think it can be said this movie is merely the next installment much the same way THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was the next installment in the original STAR WARS trilogy, because what happens here will still need to be resolved, along with things from PROMETHEUS, to set up the original ALIEN.

Visually, the movie is as stunning as you would come to expect from a Ridley Scott movie, and action abounds the likes of which I haven’t seen since ALIENS. The Aliens themselves are cool, too. It’s no secret after PROMETHEUS that the aliens don’t look exactly like they do in ALIEN yet, and what we see in this movie is almost more from the mind of Guillermo Del Toro than H.R. Giger to me.

As a continuation, this movie worked well. Alas, in some respects, it was also very Alien-formulaic. Several times things happen, and you just know what is going to happen next because it has happened numerous times before. You pretty much know who is going to survive and who ain’t, and how they are going to die. Even when they purposefully try to throw you off track, you still know deep inside. It’s the slight twists on the story line that keep it fresh, though, and, as I mentioned, the special effects and cinematography keep you glued to the screen.

It’s also a dark movie; not a “bright lights, happy go-lucky” movie as none of them are, which makes the stark brightness at the very beginning so compelling.

The acting is good to great; Fassbender and Waterson are stellar, while the others do a decent job at suspending your disbelief that they are actors reading lines, but they are mostly just there to be cannon fodder.

For some reason they felt the need to do a shower scene with some nudity in it that, at the point in the movie it occurs, I found myself asking why? If it wasn’t there it, could have been shot in any one of a dozen different scenarios without having to see bare breasts of a non-major character, and it would have worked fine. It was out of place, and almost gratuitous in nature.

All in all, though, ALIEN: COVENANT is a good movie, not on par with the first two, but a lot of what was new then is no longer now, so it’s not really fair to compare. It’s a worthy installment of the ALIEN franchise. I can see at least one more prequel sequel (or is it sequel prequel?) before we are brought full circle, but I am troubled, based on events in this movie, how that will all come to pass in the original movie.

I highly suggest though that if you have not seen it, or just haven’t seen it in a long time, rent PROMETHEUS. You will be glad you did as there are a lot of references not only to what happened and to whom, but also to the dialog.

3.5 / 5.0