Alien: Covenant blends together the horror of Alien, the action of Aliens and the mythology of Prometheus perfectly.
In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the world of his iconic science fiction film Alien by delving into the origins of not only the Xenomorphs, but human life as well. Now, five years after Prometheus, Scott returns once again with Alien: Covenant, continuing on this cinematic journey of unanswered questions and unknown terrors.
Now there are times when the origins of an iconic beast or character are best left unknown. It adds an element of intrigue, and honestly, it’s not always needed. When it comes to the Xenomorph, sure it would have been completely fine to just believe that this was an alien hive species that lived through the destruction of other species; however, building a backstory that they were created as a biological weapon by the same engineers who created the human race really adds new layers to this universe – and that’s exactly what Prometheus did.
Alien: Covenant expands on that further, taking place a decade after the events of Prometheus, introducing us to a new crew that’s on a colonization mission to a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy. The one returning cast member is Michael Fassbender, as the Covenant’s synthetic crew member, Walter. Walter is a newer model of Prometheus’s David, and his job is to look after the ship and crew throughout their journey.
After the Covenant is struck by a stellar ignition, the crew is awoken abruptly to fix the damage before the ship, and its 2,000 colonists, are lost. After doing so, Tennessee (Danny McBride), one of the ship’s pilots, picks up fragments of an unknown signal through his suit’s communication system. After further analysis, it turns out that the source of the transmission is located on a planet that’s even more habitable than the one the ship was originally destined for.
With their original location still seven years away, and this new planet just a week off course, Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) decides that it’s something they should investigate. His crew agrees, aside from second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), who believes there are too many unknown variables and that they should stay the course to the planet they spent a decade vetting for colonization. But it’d be a pretty short and uneventful movie if they did that, so off they go to investigate.
There are still plenty of philosophical aspects that come along with the newfound horrors, and while Alien: Covenant answers some questions left open by Prometheus, it also creates new ones of its own. But since Scott has said he has at least one more sequel on deck that will connect these films to the original Alien, odds are that the bigger picture will become clearer once the story is fully told.
Even if that’s the case, the questions left unanswered aren’t done so in a frustrating fashion, nor do they detract from the film in any way. No, Scott and screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper have woven a well-crafted tale of science fiction horror that brings this franchise back to its terrifying roots. The atmosphere of the film is nightmarish, from the dark, tight quarters of the Covenant, to the planet the crew goes to investigate, which is best described as Hell disguised as paradise.
For the first time since the original Alien I actually felt fear of the unknown while watching the events take place on screen. Now I love Aliens and Alien 3 (the Assembly Cut is a must see if you’ve yet to do so,) but we as viewers knew that a Xenomorph or Xenomorphs would show up and all hell would break loose. So while there was still tension and scares, we still all knew the rough blueprints going in.
With Alien: Covenant, we’re in uncharted territory, at least in terms of knowing how we eventually get to the point of facehugging, chest bursting, Xenomorph killing machines. We know we’ll get there, but in Covenant, we’re still learning how. And that works greatly to the film’s advantage, as Prometheus laid the foundation of a biological mutagen of sorts, made by the Engineers to wipe out life as they see fit, and now Covenant gets to build on that in blood-curdling ways.
Unlike its predecessor, Covenant is rated R. As recent box-offices successes have proven, an R-rating doesn’t mean you’re locking certain audiences out, it means you’re allowing a film to do what it needs to do to tell the story it wants to tell in the most effective way possible. The worst thing you could do for a film like Alien: Covenant is cut it off at the knees due to censorship. Nothing ruins tension quite like a cutaway shot right before a kill takes place just to keep things PG-13.
Luckily, that’s not the case, and Covenant truly earns and embraces its R-rating. If my memory serves me well, I believe this is actually the goriest, bloodiest Alien film to date. No, Scott doesn’t hold back when it comes to the horrors that await the crew of the Covenant, and as a viewer, I found myself on more than one occasion having to remember to take a breath, as the white-knuckle pacing once things hit the fan is relentless.
Everyone involved on the acting front in Covenant must be given kudos, as their work here helps set the tone as much as any direction, set design or lighting does. When the creatures first appear, the sense of dread and unadulterated fear felt by the members of the crew involved ripples through the screen and into the audience. The sheer amount of emotion exuded by the actors involved in these scenes must have been exhausting during filming, but it pays off in dividends when watching the heart-pounding final product.
Now I could rave about Fassbender’s work here all day, but I’ll keep it short and note that he is truly the driving force of these prequels and it’s absolutely captivating to watch his character grow on screen as he continues to learn more about the world around him and questions it brings.
Taking the role of the leading lady this time out is Waterston. The hardest part of playing the heroine in an Alien film is that the comparison to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is almost inevitable – and somewhat unfair. But Waterston does a good job of taking the reigns here as Daniels, an ordinary person who finds themselves in an extraordinary situation, digging down deep after suffering great losses and choosing to do what needs to be done, with full knowledge that she’s putting her safety on the line for her crew. She’s strong, yet vulnerable, and Waterston conveys both aspects of the character with precision.
Alien: Covenant blends together the horror and suspense of Alien, the action and intensity of Aliens and the mythology of Prometheus perfectly. This is Ridley Scott at his best, and he’s created a wonderfully bleak atmospheric film that truly captures the essence of terror that this franchise was built on, all while continuing to explore the questions of how we came to be, what it means to create life, and whether or not doing so makes us gods, or simply second on the food chain.
Director: Ridley Scott. Writers: John Logan and Dante Harper. Notable Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Guy Pearce.
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes – in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.