Ridley Scott’s Alien was perhaps the first great sci-fi horror film; a haunting and existential thrill-ride through the depths of space with a biological killing machine. It left us all wondering where the iconic H.R. Geiger designed creatures came from? I know I was, in a rhetorical way. In 2012 we got a sort of answer in Prometheus as the start of a new string of Alien Prequel films. Now the series returns with Alien Covenant, and the question is will this be a return to form for the Alien series or will it be another style over substance slog like its predecessor.
An Earth colonisation ship, called the Covenant, is bound to a remote planet, Origa-6. However, during a neutrino shockwave, the crew is woken to repair the ship. During this time they receive a garbled transmission from another Earth-like planet. They decide to investigate the world to track the source of the signal and to see whether this new world would make a more suitable place to colonise. While there, the crew of the Covenant find some things that are both familiar and horrifyingly alien.
Alien Covenant, as well as Prometheus, feels like it has almost lost the point of the Alien franchise. I know it sounds presumptuous of someone who didn’t even exist for the first two films, but I think a key part to Alien’s horror is in it’s unexplainability, the sheer unfeeling cosmic randomness of the xenomorph. However seeking to explain where they come from, and revealing the Alien’s origin as they have feels disingenuous and disappointing, perhaps even confusing their own crypto-zoology. That alone with a slightly forgettable and predictable story makes Alien Covenant about as hollow as a chest burster victim.
I will say that director Ridley Scott and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, do a wonderful job with the design and the look of the ship and the strange world that the Covenant crew land on. For example, we see a strange city with corpses of the dead, and it is a glorious mix of H.R. Gieger, From Software’s the Souls Series and H.P.Lovecraft’s Mountains of Madness, a vast metropolis, reduced to an empty shell. There are even more creatures to marvel at their savage beauty, but a film cannot rely on that alone, there must be a story and cohesion that uses them to greater effect.
A mention must also go to Michael Fassbender, who was the best part of Prometheus, pulling double duty as synths Walter and David, and returns as the film’s delightfully devilish antagonist. It is actually through David that I think the film losses itself. There are numerous references to Frankenstein and Ozymandius, that work, if perhaps a little heavy-handedly, to create a sense of dread and inevitability, but only if you view Alien Covenant not as an Alien film, but as a David Film. The other actors do a good job, but there is so little for them to work with I couldn’t tell you who they were.
I really like the Alien series, I tend to like Alien and Alien 3 better than Aliens, but that is a personal preference. I didn’t think that there was a need to explain where the Alien came from, you just needed to know that the Xenomorphs were about and you had a bigger problem you don’t care where it’s from, you just need to survive. I mean its interesting, as a fan of Lovecraft, to find parallels between the Shoggoth’s and the Elder Things in Mountains of Madness in the Alien Prequels, but the way that it was executed in Prometheus never fully jelled, and it was far too loose with its internal rules. The same can be said for Covenant. The focus of the Alien prequels feels off, yes there were some stunning visuals and new monsters to marvel at, but it was really Fassbinder’s David that was the focus of the piece, providing a lot more chills than the xenomorphs and neomorphs. Instead of being entitled Alien movies, maybe they should be David movies instead.
You can watch Alien Covenant in Cinemas now