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‘Alien: Covenant’ (review)

Produced by Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam,
Michael Schaefer, David Giler, Walter Hill

Story by Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Screenplay by John Logan, Dante Harper
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup,
Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride,
Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, James Franco

 

Consider for a moment that the film director is god.

He may start out as the father, fertilizing an idea, which he gives birth to as the mother, and becomes proud as the child grows along the way in a truly unanticipated future.

Does the director eventually look upon what he’s created with enough ego to become in contempt of his very own creator.

Does he, in fact, become his own god?

If any director has the permission to feel more god than father of a film, it’s Ridley Scott, architect of 1979’s Alien. The now eight-film franchise has brought in over a billion at the box office worldwide for 20th Century Fox. Scott’s Prometheus, a return to the Alien universe in 2012 grossed a large portion of that take (over $400 million worldwide), despite mixed reviews of its prequel-plot intentions.

Though Alien: Covenant, Scott’s highly-anticipated, promised return to the original film’s mojo has its moments, the film is, quite unfortunately, a worthless mutation. Even when mixing the more successful elements from prior installments, just about every new iteration is surprisingly dead-on-arrival (and that’s no pun intended to the bizarre casting of James Franco as a BBQd corpse in the film’s first ten minutes).

It goes without saying that what made the original film great was its reinvention of the signal-from-outer-space sci-fi plotting, mixed with a Ten Little Indians haunted-house thriller. Less was more, style was substance, and, get this, we actually cared about each and every cast member. Imagine that.

Alien: Covenant not only tries to reinvent that reinvention, but it has the audacity to try to find meaning behind the mutations. Honestly, it was all a lot more fun when our favorite xenomorphs battled Predators without ever needing to introspectively ask “what the hell are you?”

Whereas Prometheus had the advantage of hiding behind a “don’t-call-it-a-prequel” one-off, introducing some surreal themes of creation, nature and “divine intervention,” this new bridge to the Alien we love has no excuse.

Alien also didn’t need expository, ultimately meaningless dialogue, shouted between characters. This one vomits it up frequently, my favorite being a bumpy landing exchange between couple Lope (Demián Bichir) and Hallett (Nathaniel Dean). “I hate space,” says the gruff, yet gay Covenant crew-member to his partner, who replies “this is why you should do yoga,” or something like that. It doesn’t matter. It’s a long way from the poetic, effortless banter from Aliens like “we’re on an express elevator to hell.”

Where we want Alien: Covenant to thrill, it does so only for a few sequences. Some of it’s fairly intense, but all of it is a variation on what we’ve seen before, and done better, in prior installments. Where we want it to elaborate on its inventions, it doesn’t.

Yet, this sequel/prequel isn’t without intriguing efforts. Face huggers from the first film share screen-time with nanosized viruses of the most recent installment. Also returning from Prometheus, thankfully, is the brilliant Michael Fassbender, who brings back android David and introduces us to his fine-tuned, yet flawed successor Walter. Fassbender may be the only redeeming factor of Covenant and somewhere within this modified specimen of cinema contains ideas awaiting proper evolution.

After the new film’s promising set-up, is a downward spiral into a head-scratching final act packed with messy action sequences, gratuitous false endings and nonsensical, almost mean-spirited intention.

Don’t expect a seamless set-up to Alien, with a resurrected, CGI John Hurt going into cryogenic hibernation. This is not that film. After all. Fox wants two more films to mutate more millions in returns before bridging into the Nostromo section of the saga.

As a result, Scott is just a lazy “god,” and a devil to his own creation. Perhaps he’s knowingly aware of what he’s done with Alien: Covenant, and it’s a clever, albeit expensive, inside joke. Like David, and Walter, the two androids at extreme ends of opinion over mankind as creator or commander, he’s clearly responsible for this latest detour, conflicted by an industry demanding his nearly forty year old film continue to produce new specimens.

 

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