Film: Alien: Covenant
Director: Ridley Scott
Running Time: 123 Minutes
*This review contains spoilers*
It is nearly impossible to be involved with the sphere of cinema without being familiar with the Alien franchise. Sigourney Weaver’s ‘Ripley’ has become something of a touchstone for the empowered female lead; H.R. Giger’s alien concept artwork revolutionised the standard for extra-terrestrial life, and the terror of the Facehugger and the Chestburster taught its audience to slowly disregard the suggestion of an alien life-form coming to Earth in peace.
For me, and the many others who were born too late to experience the crisis aboard the Nostromo in 1979, Alien: Covenant presented an opportunity to become part of the community that boasts its own detailed science and extensive fan-base. It had been rumored that Scott aimed to title the film Alien: Paradise Lost to reinstate the relevance with the Alien franchise after a confused audience mistook Prometheus (2012) for a standalone film. Yet, naming the film Covenant and, therein, creating a link with the hugely popular Halo video game franchise, Scott demonstrates the battle with maintaining the series’ relevance in contemporary cinema. It seems that this muddled origin for Alien: Covenant is a suitable episode to represent the film’s narrative progression; a disappointing pastiche of its own discography that has, along the way, adopted many clichés associated with the genre.
The attention that is given to Weyland’s (Pearce) creation of artificial intelligence and the custodian of the Covenant, Walter (Fassbender), in the opening scenes, the film soon begins to present as an investigation into the perils of creating the perfect sentient machine rather than a portfolio of alien encounters. Watching Walter communicate with the ship’s operating system, Mother, the narrative began to overlap with that of Tyldum’s Passengers (2016) – The spacecraft, carrying thousands of colonists and embryos, is on a course for a new planet to call home. However, due to a solar flare, the Covenant takes serious damage and results in several of the incubation pods to wake their occupants early whilst the Captain (Franco) is burned to death leaving the crew leaderless.
From here, Tennessee (McBride), one of the Covenant’s crew intercepts a rogue transmission containing John Denver’s ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and decide – under the new leadership of Oram (Crudup) – to set a course for the planet of origin. The brief moment of relief that I had felt that Alien: Covenant was departing from the tired trope of ‘waking up too soon’ was short-lived. When the crew arrived on the source planet, they emerged from the Covenant dressed as Rebels from the Star Wars franchise and began wandering aimlessly across marshland, stepping on alien nests, releasing spores into the air, and abandoning the years of training they would have undertaken to prepare them for a new environment. The crew spend far too long ‘exploring’ the hostile terrain and, considering that it presents nothing aesthetically different from Earth, becomes a drag for the audience. Daniels (Waterson), Lope (Bichir), and co. meet David – The previous model and identical A.I. to David – hiding out in an ancient city trying hard not to seem like a token Yoda after being stranded following the events of Prometheus.
Ridley Scott, knowing that the majority of his audience has turned up to see the infamous aliens, keeps them from the screen for as long as possible and forces his viewer to sit through long, confusing scenes featuring Michael Fassbender (Walter) teaching Michael Fassbender (David) how to play the flute whilst discussing ‘Ozymandias’ and how sad it is that they can’t create life. It wouldn’t be so insufferable if this was an isolated incident, but Walter and David share several exchanges throughout the film and, at one point, share a kiss for little more reason than a brief nod to the discography.
When the audience is finally permitted to gaze upon the genre-defining, yet disturbing phallic, Xenomorphs, it seems that the pressure of expectation and previous achievement proves too much for the director. There are countless episodes of token face-hugging and chest-bursting that attempt to relive the glory of the original moment, but are repeated so often that the event is cheapened and reduced to little more than male sexual aggression.
It was disappointing to watch Alien: Covenant, knowing the reputation that Ridley Scott has nurtured with the Alien franchise over the past forty years, crumble into a stagnant cliché. The narrative adopts one too many tropes of Science-Fiction cinema and soon begins to juggle between A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Star Wars, and the history of itself. I would like to say that this film is still deserving of viewing; for the experience, for the history, or even because it might present something of value to the long-term fans of the Xenomorphs and the Neomorphs. However, it seems that if Covenant is the representative of where the long-line of films has ended-up, then it might be best to give this one a hard-pass, even if only to protect the memory of the glory that once was.