Alien: Covenant – A Messy Prequel-Sequel
Alien: Covenant (2017) stars Katherine Waterston as a colony ship scientist named Daniels, and Michael Fassbender, who plays dual roles as two androids named David and Walter, in a sci-fi horror film and the latest installment in the Alien franchise. It was directed by Ridley Scott and written by John Logan and Dante Harper. John Logan is an accomplished screen writer, but this was Dante Harper’s first screenplay. Michael Green (of Sex and the City and Green Lantern) and Jack Paglen are credited with writing the story.
So many different writers is probably why Alien: Covenant felt like so many different films. It was supposed to be a sequel to Prometheus (2012), but often felt like a reboot of Alien (1979). Minus the events on the planet’s surface, Alien: Covenant was basically an updated version of the original. It flirted with its roots as a horror film, but lacked tension and suspense.
Alien: Covenant begins in a sterile room with Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his synthetic creation, David. They muse on the nature of creation before the film shifts to the colonization ship Covenant, which is heading toward a remote planet, Origae-6. A neutrino burst damages the ship as it is recharging, killing some colonists as well as the ship’s captain, Jacob Branson (James Franco). The crew wakes up and Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) takes command. While making repairs, pilot Tennessee Faris (Danny McBride) hears a strange signal. The crew tracks the signal to a nearby planet and decides to investigate.
There they find the ruins of an ancient civilization, a crashed ship, and one survivor: David. After a few of the landing party die from a mysterious biological weapon, the survivors gradually discover David was not only responsible for the deaths of the planet’s former inhabitants, but also the creation of a dangerous xenomorph. A xenomorph manages to get onto the colony ship, with the usual results. Eventually, Daniels, a ’90s tomboy (ala Single White Female) and the remaining crew members trap the creature and eject it into space.
If Alien: Covenant was just a reboot of the 1979 original, it would have been much better. The space scenes were even terrifying at times. Unfortunately, the effort to shoehorn this movie into a Prometheus sequel fell flat. The plot was convoluted and nonsensical. It completely ignored franchise cannon and was, frankly, boring. The film’s run time was over two hours. Cutting at least 30 minutes could have greatly improved it, especially from the opening scenes. No one watches an Alien movie to be treated to a philosophical treatise on the nature of creation.
In the original Alien, as well as its immediate sequels, the audience assumes the alien xenomorphs are just some terrifying life form encountered in deep space. It spoke to human fears of the unknown. No one was asking for a convoluted origin story. I agree with RedLetterMedia’s Mike and Jay when they asked, “Who cares?” Part of what makes these creatures so terrifying is how little we know about them. Any origin story, let alone one as Baroque as this, undermines that.
There were some highlights, including genuinely disturbing and terrifying scenes. Danny McBride added much needed color and liveliness to the film. His was the only character that wasn’t morose, depressed, and dispassionate. Despite some unfair comparisons between Katherine Waterston and Sigourney Weaver, I thought she gave a solid performance. Overall, Alien: Covenant could have benefited from liberal editing, but is thrilling enough for a Friday night on the couch.