Thursday, 15 June 2017

Alien: Covenant

In my review of Prometheus, I mentioned my hope that its sequel would do a better job of getting at the bigger questions introduced in the film, questions about the origin of the human species, for example, but that I wasn’t holding my breath. Good thing, because not only did we have to wait much too long for that sequel (five years), making the holding of breath rather difficult, but as far as addressing bigger questions is concerned, Alien: Covenant could not have been more disappointing to me. How on earth were Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox unable to find writers who could do justice to such potential? What a waste!

Alien: Covenant takes place ten years after Prometheus. The Covenant is a ship full of ‘sleeping’ colonists heading for an earth-like planet still seven years away when it is damaged by a solar flare and the crew awakened prematurely. While awake, the crew pick up a signal from a nearby solar system and discover the system has an earth-like planet even more suitable than where they were headed. How had they missed seeing it? And how can the person sending the signal be singing John Denver’s “Country Roads”? Well, it’s no surprise that the singer is one of the two survivors from the Prometheus, but it’s an absolute shock to my brain that I heard no attempt to explain the coincidence of the flare and the signal. Were these the work of someone on that mysterious earth-like planet luring the Covenant to its location? Perhaps, but this isn’t explained, and neither is the fact that astronomers somehow missed this planet’s existence. To me, this is just one example of some incredibly shoddy writing.

Needless to say, once the crew of the Covenant decide to investigate the planet, all hope is lost, because our ‘alien’ friends are there and, with the exception of Ripley, humans just don’t stand a chance against those things. But wait! Are these aliens even more intelligent than the previous Alien films suggest? Is it possible humans can even learn to communicate with them? Based on the writers’ inability to answer any other questions I might have (like pursuing the question of human origins), I would say we’ll never know. All we have is hints, about everything, because this is not a film series that’s really about anything other than the same old same old alien threat and the graphic gore that inevitably follows. At least Alien gave us mystery followed by incredible suspense and Aliens gave us nonstop heart pounding action. Sigh.

Which is not to say that Alien: Covenant was a total waste. On the contrary, the presence of a single great actor was alone worth the price of admission. Michael Fassbender plays not only the lead character in the film but also the second-most important character in the film. Reminding me of Data and Lore (Star Trek), Fassbender plays Walter and David, two identical androids with very different personalities (i.e. David, who is one of the protagonists in Prometheus and has lots of personality, and the more advanced Walter, on board the Covenant, who has no emotions because his creators have decided that was a flaw). Walter and David, despite being androids, have a love/hate relationship and (spoiler alert!) will of course spend much of the film trying to kill each other, as brothers do. Still, Fassbender’s performance is an absolute joy to watch and easily the highlight of the film.

Alien: Covenant as a whole did a much better job with character development than Prometheus, and the acting matched up well - especially Katherine Waterston as Daniels, the third-most important character in the film. You may remember that I was particularly impressed with Waterston in Fantastic Beasts. Clearly, she is a young actor to watch for in the years ahead.

I was also impressed by the cinematography. I’m not sure how much was CGI, but it was gorgeous, even while made-for-3D. The score was also very good. 

In the end, I’m very glad I saw Alien: Covenant on the big screen. It has a lot going for it. But I’m so disappointed with the writing (especially the lack of answers) that I can only give the film a solid ***. My mug is up but I’m still waiting for more from Scott and this series.

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