Alien: Covenant – Review

Alien: Covenant – Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

While the marketing implies a potential horror storyline and a crew having a family dynamic akin to the original Alien films – Alien: Covenant instead leads with the same style as Prometheus (2012); with less focus on the alien and crew, and more focus on the story building.

Alien: Covenant follows the story of a crew attempting to explore a nearby planet, events transpire in which a deadly organism is released, and the crew are thrown into a life and death situation.

With a host of different actors playing members of the crew; notable characters were portrayed by Katherine Waterson and Billy Crudup who are high ranking members on the ship, both of which receive the most screen time. These leading actors work well enough as characters for you to understand their motivations and mindsets, but not necessarily sympathize with them, as the film is quite abrupt in its character development. While the rest of the cast were partially underutilized, the film was dedicated toward exposition and storytelling rather than character development – with the exception of Michael Fassbender’s character, Walter. Fassbender provides an ambient yet eerie performance that only adds to the films tension, he is without doubt the films strongest character asset.

If you go into this film expecting an Alien throwback, you will only receive it in small doses, as this film is more like Prometheus than anything else. While it offers a fair share of tension driven moments, a decent portion of the film had predictable outcomes, despite having such a rich and complicated backstory. It’s clear Ridley Scott draws a lot of inspiration from classical literature and ancient history, much of this is seen through his poetic characters and symbolic story elements. One of this films stronger features is that it offers the audience answers to questions they may have had, but uses this feature as the entire film’s basis for existing. While I was satisfied with what I learnt through this film, I felt it could have been done in a less transparent way.

The film has frustrating moments that may break immersion for some, as the crew don’t wear helmets on an unknown planet (as seen in the trailer), while this may not bother some, it can have heavy significance when disaster could have been avoided if they followed common sense. Much of the film expects you to care for the characters instead of convincing you, it’s an issue that sadly carried over from Prometheus.

The editing was done very carefully, it holds shots at just the right time and is responsible for some of the films most atmospheric moments; pacing however is different, as the first act is tension based and you get a sudden drop off in the second act of the film. As expected from Ridley Scott, audiences are treated to a visual and tonal sci-fi experience, the colors and visual imagery he can capture on film are magnificent and they are only exceeded by the intricate production design of the sets and costumes. The use of grays and grittier earthy tones make the film feel cold and desolate, much of the color grading and film locations are responsible for this tone. But without doubt, this film’s strongest attribute is its cinematography – the planet feels alien, rigid and unforgiving despite having extremely similar earth like conditions. Prometheus and Interstellar are the only films that could match the cinematography in sheer scope, some of the shots that Ridley can achieve are the best in the sci-fi genre.

Ridley Scott is a seasoned director and no doubt a visionary in film, but his recent desire to overindulge in poetic themes and forget about the characters themselves is causing the story to lose momentum, the Alien films have always worked best with strong characters that the audience can relate to. His characters and world building have always been his greatest assets, yet it seems he is losing focus that it is the characters within the world that we relate to, not the world itself. I hope he can get back on track toward the more simple pleasures in the original films.

7/10

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