Alien Covenant - This Sequel/Prequel, Prometheus/Alien Movie Rocks In A Very Interesting Way
Dir: Ridley Scott
Starring Micky Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Damian Bicher, Carmen Ejogo, Guy Pearce, the increasingly weird James Franco
To understand Alien Covenant is to understand its creator. Which is hugely appropriate, given the movie. In this case we mean Ridley Scott, who is by no means the man he was when he first stepped aboard the Nostromo on the sound stages of Shepperton in 1978. Back then he was intent on making a movie that took the wonder he himself found in Star Wars and brought the horror that deepest, darkest space could offer. Indeed, back then he took advice from his writer Dan O’Bnnon and watched The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to help find his tone. What he created was the greatest horror-movie-in-space ever. (And bear in mind, Cameron’s sequel is not that, but the greatest war-movie-in-space ever.) What Scott did back then though was to deal with primal issues. The Alien – before she was a queen bitch protecting her young in Cameron’s follow up – was a basic force of insurmountable nature. Something that just existed, and was never explained. It just did what it did. (Bit like Groundhog Day when you think about it – without the acid blood.)
Fast forward forty odd years later and Ridley Scott is a different animal. And his creatures are different animals. Where before Scott was content to give us a haunted house movie in space, now he takes what increasingly looks like the man’s legacy (he’s got more Aliens in him) and seeks to explore the basic creation myth. It’s impossible not to look at Covenant as the workings of a man who is now rapidly approaching 80 and looking for meaning in the universe. And finding a curious mix of both hoped for explanation. And pure horror.
In terms of the former, Alien Covenant is much more of a sequel to Prometheus than it is a whole new Alien. As such it falls between two stools – but two very interesting and intriguing stools. Where once there were chestbursters, now there are backbusters, where the crew of the Nostromo were one-dimensional corporate miners for hire, the crew of the Covenant are couples out to colonise the universe, and hopefully build a better world. Where once backstory was irrelevant in favour of pure cinema – now it takes way too much screen time, adding little but possibly reflecting how much Scott has changed as a filmmaker. We say “changed” more than “developed” because to be honest these are the elements that don’t work in Covenant – they feel generic, where we hope for the ground-breaking that Alien originally heralded.
But, from the opening sequence in which Fassbender’s android David discusses his inception with his “father” Guy Pearce, it’s clear where Scott’s heart lies. This is a story about looking to touch God – and how God may not be what we thought he/she/it was.
There’s a lot wrong with Covenant – certainly there’s too much Fass-on-Fass philozophizin’ between David and upgrade Walter; and there are too many pauses when what we want is action.
But there’s an awful lot to admire as well. Scott has always been an erratic director. A fine visualist always, but not always a man who found the story he was trying to tell – 1492 anyone? But The Martian showed the filmmaker was really back on his game and this more or less continues that. And if audiences really do leave a cinema only concentrating on the last half hour of what they’ve just seen then, yes – this delivers. And then delivers on top of that.
But, in the long run, Alien Covenant is a film that will probably disappoint as many people as it satisfies. It's not the balls-out hard-R horror movie Sir Ridders has been promising us. But, as he approaches his twilight years, it may well be the most personal film Ridley Scott has ever made. And we’re more than happy on those grounds to see what he does next, out there in that place where no one can hear you scream.
(Also, weirdly, it's the second film this year - Ben Whatley's Free Fire being the other one - to hinge on a John Denver song. Who saw that revival coming?)
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