by Jack Holman
RIDLEY Scott’s Alien (1979) is often considered one of the most influential science fiction films of all time. On the surface it’s just a slasher movie set in outer space, essentially a high budget remake of Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (1965) and Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958).
With excellent set design, well-developed characters and one of the most terrifying creatures ever committed to celluloid (the Xenomorph), Alien stands the test of time as a classic of horror and science fiction. Now, let me explain why Alien: Covenant doesn’t fit those criteria.
Alien: Covenant is not necessarily a bad film; if you’re simply looking for an enjoyable night out, you could do a lot worse, that said, Alien: Covenant is a bad Alien film. Ostensibly a sequel to Prometheus (2012), Covenant takes place in the year 2104 aboard the colony ship Covenant. Receiving a radio transmission from a nearby planet, they predictably decide to go check it out. This all leads to about as predictable a plot as you’d imagine. Crew members start getting infected, semi-xenomorph looking things start hatching out of people, blah blah blah…
Aside from the predictable plot (including an apparent twist which anyone could see coming a mile away) possibly the biggest problem with the film is the characters. At no point in the film could I not tell exactly what was going through a character’s head; every character feels the need to explicitly state everything they’re thinking. There is no room for nuance or subtlety, big chunks of the film are simply scenes of two characters sitting in a dark room explaining the plot to each other.
This film makes me think that Ridley Scott is only as good as the script he’s directing. He directed The Martian (2015) which was great. Of course, Alien was great. Blade Runner (1982), great. Alien: Covenant and Prometheus just haven’t been very good.
Overall the film is good on a technical level with some excellent visuals and great special effects, but it lacks the brilliant writing and fleshed out characters that makes the original films the classics they are. For the first 40 or so minutes of Alien, little to nothing really happens, but at no point are you ever bored. The weight of the characters alone keeps you hooked and waiting to see what happens. I can’t say the same about Covenant. The characters are simply uninteresting hunks of meat that seem to be there for the sole purpose of being killed.
The phrase that comes to mind while watching Prometheus and Alien: Covenant is: “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed”. That’s what this film is, disappointing. It has so much to live up to, and it could have been so much more. I’m sure none of these problems will affect the average movie goer just looking for a fun film to see on a Friday night. For that, I’d say that it’s just about enjoyable enough to warrant the price of a ticket. Just don’t go in expecting Alien, go in expecting Prometheus 2.
On a side note, why exactly is it that the technology in the Alien universe seems to improve the further back in time we go?