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The Fall and (Hopeful) Rise of ‘Alien: Covenant’

It hurts to say so, but Alien: Covenant is being called a dud.

There have been a handful of high-profile sequels and reboots this summer that have considerably underperformed or flat-out bombed—from the insanely expensive new Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean flicks to reboots of The Mummy and King Arthur—but the failure of Alien: Covenant to launch is simply baffling. Comparing Covenant to the rest of the duds of the season isn’t completely fair, given that its tighter production budget (reportedly $97 million) is a fraction of what was spent for those loud and over-bloated Transformer/Pirate thingies (and darned if Ridley Scott doesn’t take that $97 million and produce a movie that looks as though it cost twice that much).

Further, reviews for Covenant weren’t exactly ecstatic but the film’s critical aggregate (71%) is stratospheres above those other movies’ respective 15%, 29%, 16%, and 28% scores. And, finally, with its big, bad, no-holds-barred “R” rating, Covenant is the only film on this list aimed squarely at an adult audience.

Anticipation for Alien: Covenant was high, even if fans and critics remain divided over the previous film Prometheus, which largely ignores the Alien mythology and its plot tropes in favor of a headier quest to find our creator. Some fans admire Prometheus for its ambitions despite its flaws; others decry its abundance of stupid characters and its utter lack of recognizable facehuggers, chestbursters, and drooling acid-blooded monsters.

Covenant aims to right the wrongs of Prometheus by skewing closer to the Alien formula, and the movie’s terrific red-band trailer promised plenty of blood, viscera, cussing, and even a little skin. Alas, Covenant opened to those less-than-enthusiastic reviews and grossed a measly $34 million on its first weekend. By the time word got around that Covenant is light years better than Prometheus, the film had already darted out of cinemas quicker than a scuttling xenomorph.

That’s too bad, because Covenant accomplishes a splendid course-correction for the franchise, and doubles down on all the series staples fans expect: nightmarish images, Giger-esque production design, icky facehuggers, gory bits of body-bursting, skittering xenomorphs with acid for blood, a sinister android, a tough female hero, the obligatory fake ending, and even a little gratuitous T&A. Then the story finishes off with a devious plot twist that will have fans begging for Scott to do at least one more movie to tidy up the prequel story and finally achieve what he’s been promising to do from the get-go: link up to the events of the original 1979 Alien.

Maybe I’m biased because I’ve seen Alien: Covenant (twice, in fact) and therefore know how good it is, but the film deserved to be a bigger hit.

Not since Dredd in 2012 has a gritty, hard-R-rated futuristic sci-fi thriller satisfied fanboy lust so efficiently and thoroughly and yet—somehow—failed to generate any sparks at the box office.

Maybe audience apathy for franchises in general is beginning to take its toll, but I fear it will become a regular occurrence that a solid adult-oriented movie worthy of being a blockbuster will slip through the cracks and get lost among the shuffle of generic PG-13 formula garbage and competing shared universe episodes.

There’s no denying the sharp drop in box office gross for Alien: Covenant ($232M global) as compared to Prometheus ($403M global), but the comparison isn’t entirely fair because the films’ release patterns were different—Prometheus benefited from higher 3D/IMAX ticket prices whereas the filmmakers (wisely) abandoned the 3D format entirely for Covenant and so its gross was not inflated by 3D upcharges; IMAX was also a non-factor this time, thanks to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hogging up most available large format screens. Since Covenant was produced on a tighter budget than its predecessor, it will be easier for the movie to turn a profit. All this to suggest a big splash on home video for Covenant could be the deciding factor in whether 20th Century Fox will trust (indulge) Ridley Scott and gamble another hundred million dollars on a third and final Alien prequel.

Alien: Covenant arrives on DVD and Blu-ray August 15 and, if you’re a fan of the series, is worth a purchase. I rank it at number three on the list of best Alien movies, right behind the first two films.

Soon fans will discover this movie at home, watch it over and over and, I suspect, mentally kick themselves each time for not having seen it in a giant theater.

 

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