Alien Covenant (2017) Review

It’s bizarre to think that the Alien franchise is almost forty years old as I record this. On average we saw an Alien film every six years from 1979 through to 1997, and then after the very poor reception of Alien Resurrection the franchise rested for a few years. Though we did get the Aliens Vs. Predator films in 2004 and 2007 effectively keeping the xenomorph alive for the movie going public.

In 2012 we returned to one of the men who started it all when Ridley Scott made a film going back to the beginning of the species with Prometheus, beginning a story that was either a prequel or a soft reboot, depending on your point of view.

My thoughts concerning Prometheus are complex and I should do a post solely on that film, but to sum it up I have a kind of love/hate relationship with it. There are many aspects of it that I like but over all I find it difficult to say that I think of it as a “good” film.

So I hit play on my copy of this year’s addition to the franchise, Alien: Covenant, with mixed feelings but much anticipation. This was a movie I had been unable to avoid mixed views about but even those who spoke to me who liked the film liked it with reservations.

So, I wasn’t sure what to think.

A few things struck me as I watched the opening teaser and credit sequence that led into the film proper.

Firstly Michael Fessbender was back and I was pleased to see it, my opinion of him has always been good and he was one of the highlights of Prometheus as far as I was concerned, so I knew I would at least like his performance.

Secondly, and perhaps irrationally, I was pleased that the opening titles of the film had reverted to the animation used in the original Alien movie from 1979. This put me in the right frame of mind for the film, and perhaps made me a little easier on it than I would’ve been otherwise.

As I said, I appreciate that this sounds a bit irrational.

The film itself is an odd one, jettisoning all characters from the previous film, with the exception of Fassbenders David, and presenting us with a film that could almost be a remake of Prometheus.

Again we have an abandoned planet, and again our heroes are stranded in an ancient alien structure desperately signalling for help from the ship above.

And one again, of course, we have proto alien creatures picking off our heroes one by one.

So there’s nothing special in that respect, but in all honesty originality is not something I always care that much about…

With long running film franchises I’m often more interested in revisitation than I am elaboration; and this is something that Alien: Covenant served quite well in providing.

From the point of view of plot and character Alien: Covenant does the job, I found the film to be more concise, with more rigid construction that the previous film in the series. This films lead, *****, is more endearing than ***** from Prometheus and Walter, Covenants synthetic, plays well against David; giving Fassbender a chance to play scenes against himself while playing both characters.

I suppose my only compliant, and I use the word reluctantly in this case, would be that Alien: Covenant doesn’t seem to know quite what it is.

There’s not really enough of any one thing to make it sit in any particular style of film. There’s not enough adventure for it to be an adventure film, not enough exploration for it to be a mystery, not enough action for it to be action and, most damningly, there’s nowhere near enough horror for it to be a horror film.

But whatever Alien: Covenant is held my attention and sat with me after the credits rolled, I found that I was dismayed that the film had not done well at the box office because I really wanted to know what happened to these characters and how the next film would tie into the film Alien made in 1979.

Because this was Ridley Scott’s promise with this prequel trilogy started with Prometheus and continued with Covenant; that we would be taken full circle to understand the connection between the Space Jockey, Weyland Yutani and the alien creature that’s become known as the Xenomorph.

If we see Covenant as almost a remake of Prometheus I think it’s a solid upgrade from the previous film with better construction, characters and a more fulfilling conclusion. Unfortunately of course this isn’t a remake but a sequel so the charge that Covenant is just too similar to Prometheus is probably a fair one.

Even if it does do a better job of it all; which I personally think it does.

The biggest criticism that I could make of Alien: Covenant is, as I’ve said, that it doesn’t know what it is; but I’ve thought this of most of the films in this franchise, and in truth its one of the things that keeps these films of interest to me.

Alien and Alien 3 are the only ones where the horror elements are essential to the structure of the film. Even if these films were taken from the farthest reaches of space and put into an old house or an abandoned hospital, or something equally creepy, we could still have the majority of it play out with little change.

The others all have less of a horror element to them, Aliens is more of an action film, a war film more specifically, while the others are far more reliant on their science fiction elements.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Prometheus and Alien: Covenant takes a more science fiction route that relies on the franchises more mysterious elements than many of their predecessors do.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d certainly prefer these films to be more horror based and I think they’d both be better for it, but for me its not a deal breaker if they aren’t.

Probably the most important aspect of these films that lessens the horror they could inspire is the effects and the now routine use of digital effects rather than practical ones.

The element that has made 1979’s Alien work so well.

Computer Generated effects are simply not a replacement for practical effects in the horror genre. CG creates sterile effects that are well suited to order and predictable patterns, but not so for the chaotic and visceral effects bodies produce.

So CG is great for star ships and machinery, in Alien: Covenant these things are faultless, but the same technique rarely manages to capture life as well as an old piece of latex from the 80’s does.

This is why the alien created in 1979 still manages to provoke a reaction that one created in a computer in 2016 fails to produce.

Unfortunately progress progresses, even if some of us might prefer it didn’t at times, and this is just the way things are done these days on bigger productions.

Before I sign off here I want to say one last thing, and again this is something I should do a post of its own about, perhaps even a short series.

If I could have one wish for this prequel series of films, well for the whole series to be honest, I wish the film makers would have read through the comic books produced by Dark Horse in the 1990’s, especially the first two volumes.

Really, that’s where the fans wanted to go and its a real pity no one except for the developers of the Alien Isolation game released a few years ago has taken any notice of them.

It a pity that the movies, as much as I like them, haven’t lived up to the potential of the franchise as much as those comics did.

So.. This is Avalon Enigma last survivor of 8410 Video…

Signing off…

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