TL;DR – Beautiful sets and locations, fantastic suspense, interesting action, and some characters that make some really odd misstates.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
P.S. – There is No after credit scene
Wow, this was kind of unexpected, to be honest, I’ve not watched an Alien film since Aliens and from what I have heard the quality of the movies since have been not that great. So I didn’t have high hopes when I walked into the cinema, but honestly, this is one of those times when I’m glad to be wrong because Alien: Covenant was really great. In today’s review, we are going to break down the acting, set, music and action before looking at Alien: Covenant’s big problem. So we are going to avoid spoilers as best we can but given it is a part of a franchise there may be some inadvertent spoilers and also some general assumption that you will probably already know before going to see an Alien film. Now there will be a section a bit later when we go full spoiler but that will be clearly marked so you can avoid it if you wish to do so.
So let us begin with where the film begins in 2104 with the colony ship Covenant on a mission to deliver 2000 colonists to their new home on the other side of the galaxy when tragedy strikes and the mission synth Walter (Michael Fassbender) is forced to wake the crew out of hypersleep early. As they repair the ship they discover a rogue human transmission from a nearby planet, a planet that should not have any humans because they are on the first ship to make it this far into space, and a planet that is more habitable than their destination. So the crew decided to check out the source of the transmission and see if this planet could be a better candidate for colonising. Thus the crew descends to the surface of the planet and chaos ensues.
Now I may have an issue with some of the decisions the character make in the film but I have to give props to the whole cast for their wonderful performances. I have to give full credit to Katherine Waterston who has to give a very difficult performance, showing great lows and highs and a determination I’ve not seen in quite a while, she was great in Fantastic Beasts, but here playing Daniels I think she has shown that she will be a force to reckon with in the future. It’s also great to see Michael Fassbender shine after a couple of less than stellar films, boy can that man do charming and creepy at equal measures. Now the big surprise for me is Danny McBride, this is the first dramatic role I have seen him in and he really excels. The rest of the cast, sure a lot of them are just there to die, this is an Alien film after all, but each creates a believable person, this is not just an actor but a real person with wants and desires … that sometimes does really stupid things. Indeed, it is the acting that helps back up the tone and feel of the movie, which has moments of great lows, moments of great highs, and lots of really creepy moments in-between.
So when you come to an Alien film there are a couple of things you expect, and one of them is that at some point an alien is going to burst forth from someone and wreak havoc. In many respects, the movie lives or dies on these moments of high tension, that realisation that you are not on the top of the food chain and that now you are the one that is being hunted. Thankfully this is one area where Alien: Covenant shines, those long moments of tension where something is wrong followed by carnage. The design of the xenomorphs have updated quite a bit heading towards the Aliens we are used to, they are also incredibly well realised and animated. This is important because as people found in games like Alien: Colonial Marine, if the xenomorphs are not terrifying then the whole house of cards falls away. But the creaking sound, ok let’s be clear all the sound mixing here is amazing, the attacking in long grass, the vicious extermination of … well, now we are getting into spoilers. The only thing I will say is while most of the action is really great in the film, there are a couple of brawling fight scenes that are a little to cutty with the editing.
Having good action is one thing, but it works even better when you can set it in interesting soundings, and boy does Alien: Covenant pull that off with style. One of the reasons that this film is as compelling as it is, is through the realness of everything. The sets feel tactile, the planet is a real location, and the CGI blends seamlessly with the physical elements. While it is clear that CGI is being used to expand the sets, it is nice to see people walking around real sets interacting with real props, and you can see that with the acting, it just gives the film a level of authenticity. The big standout is, of course, the ship Covenant itself, and a lot of care and attention has been put into making it feel real. This is expanded to the expansive locations shots on the planet that were filmed around Milford Sound / Piopiotahi in New Zealand, and what a beautiful location it is. All of this is supported by some of the best CGI in the business, honestly Animal Logic has outdone themselves here. Visuals are not everything, but when they come together here you have to applaud it. Also, it has to be said Ridley Scott knows how to frame a scene, that cold open immediately draws you into the narrative, you know something unsettling is coming.
Another big technical area that Alien: Covenant excels in is the entire soundscape of the film, from the orchestral score all the way to the use of silence. I was honestly surprised to see there was a bit of a rocky start with the score for Alien: Covenant because it might be one of my favourite scores so far this year. It referenced some of those older musical sci-fi themes, an homage to the work of the great Jerry Goldsmith, it almost had a Star Trek feel to it, only for it to get twisted and manipulated as the horror unfolds. I loved the use of the violin in Alien: Covenant it really shows off its versatility of the instrument from serenades, to ominous, to the musical equivalent of a hunter stalking its prey. I mentioned the sound mixing and editing before but I want to bring it up again because the sound work here is some of the best in the business. Sound is one of those things that you tend not to notice, unless something is wrong with it, like that line that was added in post-production that does not quite match the rest of the dialogue, or a misapplied sound effect that can undercut an entire performance … Man With a Golden Gun. But here, every creak of the ship, click of a xenomorph, scream in pain, wind blowing through the grass, the lack of insect chirps, it all comes together to heighten our engagement with the story.
Now all this being said there were a couple issues that I have with Alien: Covenant that does sort of affect my overall view of the film. [Spoilers] Ok the first big issue I had was that it felt like some of the crew just wanted to die, because their actions make no sense from the perspective of self-preservation. For example, the whole movie was set in motion because two of the crew released the spores that caused aliens to grow inside them, but let’s look at that for a moment. One of the crew became infected when he poked the spore pod, dude you’re on a new planet don’t poke things, the other crew member was infected when he accidentally stepped on a pod whilst sneaking a cigarette. Now while this is more understandable it does lead to the next question, why were none of the crew wearing any protection when landing on an alien planet, just because there was a breathable atmosphere does not mean that is nothing that could kill you in the air/dirt/water, bacteria, viruses, pollen that could cause allergic reactions, alien bioweapons lying dormant waiting for people to disturb them. Yes I know, like the plank Rose was lying on in Titanic, why were they not wearing suits or protective gear?, because the plot needed to happen, but it could have been done in a more thoughtful way. We see this again when Oram (Billy Crudup) who has just witnessed David talking to the Alien that just killed one of his crew, instead of killing the now clearly untrustworthy synth he follows David of his own free will right down into the heart of the building past a plethora of evidence that David in unhinged and actively looks into what is clearly an egg/pod thing and with something pulsating inside. Look this is not a big deal but when we see movies like Get Out where people are acting with intelligence, it is just frustrating to see lazy characterisations here. As well as this, while most of the time the slow parts in the film are masterfully used to build tension, there are a couple of times during the second act when they felt a bit less like a slow build and more like the film dragging a bit, but thankfully it does not last long. [End of Spoilers]
In the end, while it is not a perfect film, but boy is Alien: Covenant a compelling film. The actions is great, the technical side of things is outstanding, the locations are amazing, and if you get through the fact that some of the characters engaging in some of the stupidest decisions in cinema you will be engaged from start to finish, and what a finish it was.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Ridley Scott
Screenplay by – John Logan & Dante Harper
Story By – Jack Paglen & Michael Green
Music by – Jed Kurzel
Cinematography by – Dariusz Wolski
Edited by – Pietro Scalia
Starring – Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby & Guy Pearce
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; NZ: R; UK: 15; USA: R