Alien: Covenant has been heralded as the movie which would sprinkle sweet extraterrestrial sugar over the sour taste left in our collective mouths after 2012’s Prometheus, even though director Ridley Scott has always been keen to expand the world he created and not shy away from the criticisms that the Alien prequel garnered upon its release.
Scott’s latest foray into the Alien world has also been hyped up by marketers as being as enjoyable as Scott’s The Martian (2015), which saw a charming Matt Damon steal the hearts of earthlings everywhere, enough that it made it onto our “Top 12 Films of 2015” list. Despite being a Prometheus sequel, the Marketing for Alien: Covenant seemed to want to distance itself from the Prometheus branding and announce itself as more firmly rooted in its Alien heritage. Promotion for the film included trailers filled with tense music, plenty of screams and the classic claustrophobia of narrow spaceship corridors that we’ve come to expect from the franchise:
So, did Alien: Covenant live up to its grand expectations?
Well, for me, no. But…it had something to it, which I’ll do my best to explain.
Without spoiling any particular scenes, I want to first praise all of the acting throughout Alien: Covenant. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is a fantastic leading space lady, and I wish that the film had allowed us more time with her. Oram (Billy Crudup) and Tennessee (Danny McBride) are also fantastic in their roles, though potentially interesting plot threads surrounding Oram’s faith are sadly left unanswered during the course of the film. The full cast of supporting crew members (particularly Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo and Amy Seimetz) all play their parts –no matter how long or short– fantastically well, and are believable in their emotions and motivations.
But it’s Fassbender’s character –David, the almost-human mechanoid– that had me puzzled throughout most of the film, and at times, I wasn’t quite sure if his story was deep and moving or just confusing and vaguely faux-poetic. (Faux-etic?) There’s so much to his character: questions of narcissism, creation, what it means to be human, an exploration of sexuality and how it relates to the human experience, and this should all be fascinating and beautiful in a haunting way as we see it played out through the eyes of an antagonist. However…it’s not.
It’s nothing to do with Fassbender’s performance (like his counterparts, his acting is strong and believable), it’s just his story which left me puzzled. Parts of were on the verge of being beautiful and terrifying, but to me, it always fell just short of being something moving. Alien: Covenant tries very hard to make you feel as if you’re watching something poignant during Fassbender’s scenes, but ultimately leaves you confused as it recites popular poetry and plays with ideas of homoeroticism.
Of course, this wouldn’t be an Alien review without me talking about the little suckers themselves. All the scenes with the creatures were well done–most of the CGI is believable, minus a few of the more violent scenes where the motion was a little off. They remained the scariest part of the film, even though we know them (literally) inside out by now, the aliens still manage to be frightening to viewers. Though I was left ultimately disappointed by the film’s overall scare factor (all of the “jump scares” are predictable, as by now, we all know not to look into a pod!), I appreciated that Alien: Covenant relied less on cheap scare tactics, and more on a feeling of general dread as you see the characters’ plans being unravelled and manipulated.
The film does have some really great scenes –the opening half hour or so of the film is actually really fantastic at upping the stakes and making you feel a genuine sense of dread for the crew– and it’s clear that Scott and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski have taken some time to make their shots beautiful and vast, particularly during the exterior planetary scenes. For me, though, the framing and cinematography gets lost behind the plotline, which tries very hard to make itself known as something more complex than it actually is.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to pinpoint my exact feelings on this movie because it left me with so many questions, and I can’t even decide if that’s a positive or a negative yet. I did enjoy Alien: Covenant; I’m glad it was something I took the time to see in the cinema, and really enjoyed the cast’s performances throughout. But I’m also left very confused about quite what the film was trying to teach me about life and the human experience, I just know it was trying to tell me something.
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A confusing dream of a film, Alien: Covenant tries hard to be beautiful in places where it shouldn't. Definitely worth your time -a better watch than Prometheus- but don't expect to be terrified or humbled by it.
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