Alien has long since earned its place as a classic of both horror and sci-fi cinema, as well as being a damn good film. Aliens is considered to be one of the few sequels that successfully builds on the original making a film that is arguably better than the original. Even the troubled genesis of Alien 3 has created a movie that, although flawed, has an atmosphere that most would struggle to match. Since its release in 1993 though the Alien saga has gone downhill. The less said about Alien Resurrection the better, and my hatred of Prometheus is well known to anyone who has ever listened to The Minotaur’s Head podcast.
So now we come to Alien Covenant, a movie that has been advertised as a return to the core values of the Alien series. Claustrophobia, body horror and the terror of the unknown. Unfortunately I have to say that it fails on most of those points, as well as suffering from the issues that most prequels do: spoiling the surprises held in “later” movies in the series.
Horror is a very difficult genre to get right. The creeping terror invoked by the original Alien movie wasn’t because of the bio-mechanical design of the Alien (or Xenomorph to the true fans), it was because we could see characters who felt like real people in a horrific situation that seemed to have no hope. We cared about those characters. We knew their names as we walked out of the cinema the first time. I have had to google the names of the characters in Alien Covenant whilst writing this because I can’t remember the name of a single one. Not one of them feels like anything other than Xeno-fodder. Yes, there are moments where character traits are attempted for each of them, but unfortunately the script is so clunky that none of them ever come close to feeling like real people, and therein lies the main weakness of this film. If you don’t care about the characters, why would you buy into anything that happens to them? That is not to say that the cast don’t give it their all, but no amount of acting skill can save a script that is terrible.
Sadly that is not the only place where Alien Covenant falls down. The plot is paper-thin and filled with so many convenient coincidences that I often found myself actually rolling my eyes and sighing. It has also clearly been written with the intent of adding more “Alien” into the follow up to Prometheus. Say what you will about Prometheus (and believe me, I have!) but at least it had the confidence of its convictions, however maddeningly silly they may have been. Alien Covenant feels like a film that has just had bits tacked on to appease the fans. Newsflash; fans like to see elements of what they first loved mixed in with an original and interesting story filled with new and exciting characters and situations! Not just the same stuff recycled with new people in the limelight.
This means that the film is one of two halves, but annoyingly they are mixed into one another. This leads to is the pacing of the film being all over the place with alternating action/horror scenes interspersed with massive amounts of uninformative and boring exposition. I don’t feel like I came out of this movie having explored the Alien universe, I feel like I just know more, and none of it deepens anything I knew before watching it. In fact it tends to cheapen what has come before.
Then we have the horror aspects of the film, which should be central to any movie with Alien in the title. Once again we end up with moments that are all both derivative, painfully boring and completely unsurprising. Every one of these moments is so telegraphed that none of them carry any weight. This is compounded by the fact that none of the characters are worth caring about, so when they are slaughtered it doesn’t have any impact. Also, the film’s 15 rating (R for you Yanks) completely hamstrings it, as the horror all feels watered down to the point where it is basically pointless.
The one good point of this film is that it is visually very impressive. Ridley Scott has always been amazing at framing shots and his skill keeps growing with experience. The landscapes in this movie are gorgeous, much like in Prometheus. Once again though, even the visuals are not without their weak points, as the CGI in this film ranges from the impressive to the seriously ropey. Sadly some of the most ropey parts are the creatures themselves, which robs them of any of the terror they should invoke. When a guy in a rubber suit from the late seventies is scarier than CG monsters you know that something’s not right!
Overall I found this film to be thoroughly disappointing and a complete waste of time and talent. If you want a new Alien experience that is terrifying and fulfilling in equal measure I suggest avoiding this film and playing 2014’s excellent game Alien Isolation instead.
This review courtesy of Movies with Moon