I caught Alien Covenant last night as part of an ‘Alien Superticket’ – this covered a double screening on Alien Day (April 26th) of the directors cut of Alien, preceded by Prometheus and followed by an introduction to some Covenant clips by Ridley Scott himself. That ticket also gave entry to the preview screening of Alien: Covenant. Interestingly, there were probably only about 10 people in the cinema for the Alien Day double bill, but there were a couple of hundred people there for Covenant. Which makes no sense to me at all – if you’re a fan of the Alien movies, which you must be if you’ve gone for the superticket, why would you not jump at the chance of seeing such an iconic movie up on the big screen? Or maybe they were just put off at the thought of seeing Prometheus again?
To be honest though, if they had screened the movies in the order that my cinema had advertised them for that evening (Alien followed by Prometheus), I had actually considered ducking out early before or during Prometheus. But, they ended up screening them the other way around, in their logical timeline order. And you know what, I actually really enjoyed seeing Prometheus again! I think when I originally saw it, I’d gone in with such high expectations, expecting something more along the lines of the earlier Alien movies, and based on that I was ultimately disappointed. This time though, I found myself gripped by the origin of life story. The idea of another race engineering our existence and our fate was just fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing that being explored. Following the screening of Alien, Ridley Scott then introduced the ‘The Crossing’, which was the short movie that also went online around the same time as it was being screened in cinemas. The Crossing was a brief continuation of the Prometheus story as it followed Elizabeth and David on their journey of discovery, and ended with a huge lead into the Covenant movie. In it’s trailers and TV spots though, Covenant looked to be a return to the more traditional tone of the older Alien movies and, despite my new found love for Prometheus, I was all up for that!
Covenant begins with that distinctive Alien feel. The familiar score by Jerry Goldsmith, the whirring clicking noises of the computer displays, the return of the ships computer MOTHER and the slow reveal of the movie title. We’re in 2109, 10 years after the events of Prometheus and Walter (Michael Fassbender) is caretaker on-board the Covenant as it slowly moves through deep space. It’s on a mission to colonise Origae-6 and along with the crew of 15 there are also a couple of thousands colonists, all of whom are in deep sleep. Following a freak accident, the crew are brought out of sleep early, but unfortunately there have casualties. Origae-6 is still 7 years away though, and no one is keen to go back into stasis. So when the crew discover a transmission coming from a nearby planet, they decide to go and check it out. And when their readings show that this planet has even more chance of being habitable than Origae-6, they begin to consider the prospect of setting up a colony there instead.
After a hazardous drop down to the planet (obviously, this is an Alien movie after all), the crew set out to investigate. The planet has breathable air and there are rivers, waterfalls, forests, even wheat! But, as one of the crew members points out, there are also no sounds of birds or any other animals to be heard…
Crucially, the crew split up into groups, meaning that when the shit does eventually hit the fan on our seemingly peaceful planet, there’s all different levels of panic and intensity going on. The crew left up in space on the Covenant have no idea what’s going on through all of the distorted radio chatter, some of the drop-ship crew are doing their best to try and quarantine an infected crew member whose condition is deteriorating pretty rapidly and the guys still out on the planets surface have their only guy starting to feel a bit unwell. It’s been a slow but enjoyable build up so far and it culminates in some glorious moments of panic and terror. Sadly though, none of this is sustained throughout the rest of the movie and momentum regularly stalls.
The remaining team discover the Prometheus on the planet, along with surviving crew member David and what follows is an interesting continuation of the Prometheus story-line, particularly relating to the events within the short movie ‘The Crossing’. But it’s the expectation of a more traditional Alien movie that kind of tainted this for me once more. There’s nothing new or imaginative in the way the Aliens hunt and attack the crew, or in the way they are hunted and killed by the crew. What’s more, pretty much the entire cast are fairly dull and not at all memorable. It’s saying something when Danny McBride is a standout cast member and it’s left to Fassbender, expertly playing the roles of both Walter and David, to handle some of the best, most intense and awkward scenes of the movie.
In the end, there was plenty here to keep me entertained, but overall I was left disappointed and this wasn’t the Alien movie I was expecting. I can’t help thinking of recent movie ‘Life‘, which had plenty of similarities with Alien. Reading back through my review of that I remember the feeling of intensity I had while watching it – real edge-of-seat-forgetting-to-breathe stuff, but Covenant came nowhere close to that for me. It may be though that on repeat watching, with the low expectations I had when returning to Prometheus, that I find more to enjoy here.