Keeping The Faith
♦Tripwire gave its Editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS an acid-proof space suit and a big flamethrower and the job of reviewing Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, out from tomorrow in UK cinemas. Warning: Major Spoilers ahead…
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bechir
It has been five years since Prometheus and a staggering thirty-eight years since Alien was released. Scott has always been a stylish director so even this less satisfying projects like Kingdom of Heaven and The Counsellor still look incredible. It is pretty unlikely that when Scott, O’Bannon and Shusett made Alien all those years ago, they would have assumed there would still be films featuring the characters and concepts they created.
Prometheus, designed as a prequel to Alien, looked amazing but it suffered from a poor script and some stupid plot decisions. It was only really rescued by Michael Fassbender as synth David, who was still totally wasted in the film. Alien: Covenant, and it doesn’t take a genius to assume that Scott probably didn’t want to have the word Alien in the title, is set soon after Prometheus. We have a new ship, the Covenant of the title and a new cast of characters. Fassbender is back, both as David from Prometheus and also as new synth, attached to the new crew. Katherine Waterston plays Daniels, one of the crew members while Billy Crudup is first mate Oram. They are drawn to an alien planet which is supposed to be lifeless but it contains lifeforms. When they land, they meet David (Fassbender) who has somehow survived his destruction at the end of Prometheus. Seeming benevolent at first, it is obvious that his intentions are anything but helpful. He has become obsessed with the lifeforms that become the aliens and has been breeding them to perfect the species to create the ultimate killing machine. So he sees the crew of the Covevant in the same way that he sees any human, as test subjects for his increasingly twisted experiments. Walter, the good synth, tries to help the crew of the Covenant but he seems to be no match for the malevolent David.
It is impossible to write a review of Alien: Covenant without revealing any of the plot points or key moments. Prometheus expanded the world of Alien, sometimes more elegantly than others. John Logan and Dante Harper, who penned the screenplay here, have made a much better fist of things than Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, who wrote Prometheus. What was frightening about the original Alien and to a lesser extent Aliens was the idea that the aliens were like this unstoppable virus, hellbent on destroying humankind. This idea is well-realised here with the psychotic David playing Doctor Frankenstein, facilitating their place in the universe and propagating their species. Fassbender is excellent here as he manages to carry off the two parts he plays with subtlety and nuance. David is sinister and cold while Walter is sympathetic and protective. He dominates the film.
The second half of the film is stronger than the first with Daniels (Waterston) showing that she can act and Danny McBride, who plays the ship’s navigator Tennessee, carries things off with style. The rest of the cast including Crudup as Oram and Bichir as Lope aren’t bad, if a little bit generic. What begins as a haunted house movie in space ends up as a treatise on the nature of humanity and the inevitability of fighting against things that are so much larger than yourselves.
Visually it is rich and ambitious with the kind of cinematic flourishes that Scott has become well known for. It feels very much like a proper film, in an age where many big budget movies look impressive but are rather empty. We are left with a cliffhanger which could be resolved with another Alien prequel and interestingly Scott has stated that the next Alien will actually be set before Covenant and between Prometheus and this film.
Ridley Scott is 80 years old this year and it is a testament to his ability as a director that he is still able to impress after decades in the business. Alien: Covenant makes up for Prometheus and makes me feel hopeful that the next Alien project we see will be as intriguing and as cerebral. In some ways it feels almost as fresh as Alien did when it was released in 1979.
Alien: Covenant is out in UK cinemas from this Friday and in US cinemas from Friday 19 May 2017.