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Friday, May 26, 2017

Ridley Scott Begins Building a Bridge with ‘Alien: Covenant’

Written by  Chuck Duncan

In the five years since the release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, there has been a lot of love/hate for the film and a flip and flop as to whether the movie was set in the same universe as Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien. There were obvious elements connecting the films, but Scott always seemed reluctant to say they had anything to do with each other.

Until now.

Alien: Covenant takes place ten years after the events of Prometheus with a prologue featuring Michael Fassbender’s synthetic Walter and his creator Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) addressing questions of life and death. Then we’re on the ship Covenant where Walter is running things while the crew and over 2,000 colonists are in cryosleep for their long journey to a new planet. But a solar flare causes massive damage, forcing Walter to wake the crew. The captain and several colonists are killed during the event. After repairing the ship’s solar sails, they discover a planet nearby that has the same earthlike qualities as the one they are traveling to ... and it’s only a few weeks away rather than seven years so no one has to go back into the sleep chamber.

But, asks Daniels (now widow of the ship’s captain), why did they not discover that planet before? Why did this planet suddenly appear? Daniels feels they should continue on their original trajectory but the new captain makes the executive decision to explore this possible new home. On the ground all seems well although how vegetation native to Earth got there leaves them puzzled. After sudden illness and terrifying attacks leave several of the crew dead, the survivors are taken in by ... David, who tells them the story of the Prometheus and the loss of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. But David is keeping many secrets that are revealed too late for the surviving members of the Covenant. Secrets that go a long way to connecting this and Prometheus to Alien.

It’s probably going to be helpful for audiences to have seen Prometheus before seeing this film so you can be up to speed on David and Dr. Shaw. It may not have a huge impact on understanding the story, but it may help to have that background information before jumping into this one. Full disclosure: I have not seen Prometheus so I didn’t feel too lost, but I will definitely go back and watch it now.

While the connections to Prometheus are there, the film is really a conglomeration of all the best parts of Alien and Aliens, particularly as the crew battles the various alien species found on the planet, and when some of those species invade the ship. Unlike those films though, the crew members here barely register as more than fodder for the aliens. The only members of the crew who really register with any kind of personalities are Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the Ripley stand-in, and Tennessee (Danny McBride). Most of the others, like Carmen Ejogo’s Karine, don’t last long enough to garner any audience sympathy when they come face to face with the monsters.

It’s also interesting to note that while most of the crew are married couples – as the mission is to colonize a planet – there was much made in the pre-release information of a same-sex couple in a science fiction film. While the straight male members of the crew talk about and engage with their wives, you’d be hard-pressed to figure out that Lope (Demian Bichir) and Hallett (Nathaniel Dean) are the franchise’s first married same-sex couple. There is one fleeting moment when Hallett is killed where Lope doesn’t want to leave his side, but you could just assume it’s because he doesn’t want to leave a fallen comrade behind. Meanwhile the one out actor in the film, Jussie Smollett, is playing it straight. It’s fine that the film doesn’t make a big deal out of the couple, but one the other hand, it is blatant in portraying the straight couples’ relationships so they could have done a little more with Lope and Hallett.

Michael Fassbender is really the star who gets the most to do, playing both David and the updated Walter, giving them both very different personalities with Walter being the more sympathetic even though his emotions are more reigned in than David’s. Of course there is a twist when the two battle for the lives of not only the inhabitants of the Covenant but the universe as well, but the movie doesn’t try too hard to pull the wool over our eyes as to who survives the fight.

The film does deliver in the gore department with various crew members suffering one horrific evacuation of an alien from their bodies after another, and we’re not just talking chest bursting. If you’re just going for the visceral thrill of blood and gore, you will not be disappointed. Although several members of my screening audience felt the need to cackle loudly every time someone died. Talk about annoying.

Overall, Alien: Covenant is ... okay. It has all the elements that one would expect, but as a story it feels incomplete, perhaps because it is with Scott promising the next chapter will begin filming in about sixteen months. It will be interesting to see how all the dots are finally connected but Scott and the story may have been better served had he done a Rogue One sort of one-off story to connect Prometheus and Alien instead of dragging it out with more sequels that may end up just being more of the same.

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