Movie Review: “Alien” breaks its “Covenant” with the audience

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“Gladiator” may have been the movie that won Ridley Scott his greatest acclaim. “Blade Runner” gave him enduring cult appeal. And “The Martian” proved he still has it, even as he pushes 80.

But “Alien” was his masterpiece. A gritty, lived-in sci-fi horror tale that held us in gloomy dread before its string of shocks left us slack-jawed and exhausted, it’s a movie that fans (like me) would drag friends to, just so we could hear them scream.

And it’s a damn shame the old master won’t leave it alone.

“Alien: Covenant” continues the chest-busting terrors in the equally-muddled, revived “Prometheus” storyline“Prometheus” storyline, a ridiculously illogical sequel that builds on the secondary threat that’s always existed in the corporate “Alien” universe. It’s not bug-eyed (and bodied) monsters we have to fear, it’s our own technology.

But when “Covenant” is not head-slappingly obvious and perfunctory — Suspense? Surprises? — it’s just laugh-out-loud ludicrous.

Ten years after the Prometheus (with Noomi Rapace and “synthetic” robot Michael Fassbender) disappeared, the crew of the Covenant, a colonizing ark, is jolted out of hibernation by a deep space storm.

The captain (seen in flashback) doesn’t survive the awakening. The movie’s most terrifying death comes in those first seven minutes.

So command falls to the deer-in-the-headlights, quote “the book” first officer, Oram (Billy Crudup). There’s barely time for the captain’s widow (Katherine Waterston of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”) to weep, when the indecisive and faith-based Oram makes his first and deadliest mistake.

They’ve heard a “distress call.” Actually, it’s John Denver’s “Country Roads” emanating from what looks like an “ideal” planet for colonization.  Wonder how “the Company” missed it? Wonder what’s down there?

Not-quite-everything that follows is EXACTLY what we’ve seen before. This crew, comprised of couples and a Next-Gen synthetic (Fassbender, again), would supposedly be more wary and professional than the blue collar gang from that long-ago freighter, Nostromo. But no. They drop to the planet, sans space helmets, and immediately and repeatedly stick their necks out and their noses (and ears) in it.

With too-easily-anticipated results. The “infection” takes different forms, as indeed it did back in 1979’s “Alien.” And faster than Danny McBride can radio, “Babe, are we talking quarantine protocols?”, said protocols are abandoned, the women have weepy meltdowns and scream (very unprofessional) and the crew of 15 is sliced, burst, chewed and gutted. One by one.

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It’s a pitiless picture lacking much in the way of tension or urgency. But Scott and the John Logan/Dante Harper script set us up for something more cerebral than “In space, no one can hear you scream” with a prologue that has Last-Gen synthetic David (Fassbender) pondering “I think, therefor I am” with his “father” — an inventor played by Guy Pearce in a serene, austere designer future-mansion in that under-populated Earth that sci-fi often presents as our future.

That’s a “2001” promise this silly movie cannot keep.

McBride, as a drawling straw-cowboy-hat wearing space jockey named “Tennessee,” has a couple of the best lines.

“We didn’t leave Earth to be safe.”

But Scott and Co. want this to be a meditation on the machines we’re building that will someday, Stephen Hawking and James Cameron say, wonder what they’re keeping us around for. So it is that David has survived the Prometheus on this planet, and had a lot of time to think and misquote poetry. And Walter (Fassbender), the newer model on the new ship, gets to listen to David’s pitch, making us question what they’re planning and what we’re doing, giving so much control of civilization to gadgets.

As a thriller, “Covenant” is strictly low-brow horror, eye-rolling scenes where you can shout, “Wait? WHAT? Don’t go in there/out there/OVER there ALONE!” Nobody listens. Or wears a helmet on this alien planet, which once had a civilization that we see traces of, in addition to the familiar horn-shaped ship that the first “Aliens” were found in. Instead, everybody is dragged into a dank castle straight out of Grand Guigonol. And what happens in Grand Guignol castles? Ask Edgar Allen Poe.

The great Scott entrusts his movie to the great Fassbender. But whatever higher debate was intended in his scenes with himself, he cannot overcome the laugh-out-loud stupidity of “David” teaching “Walter” something he’s learned in his ten years on this lonely planet — how to play the recorder.

Thus, the tag line is all that’s really changed in 38 years of “Alien” pictures. “In space, no one can hear you giggle.”

1half-star

 

MPAA Rating: R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Cruddup , Danny McBride, Amy Seimetz, Demian Bichir

Credits:Directed by Ridley Scott, script by . A Fox release.

Running time: 2:06

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22 Responses to Movie Review: “Alien” breaks its “Covenant” with the audience

  1. Joe Paluck says:

    says the guy who gave SNATCHED a positive review. You’re a joyless moron.

    • Joe Paluck, is it? Who hasn’t seen either film? You have my sympathy. Middle school must have been pure hell with a name like that and no taste.

    • billted says:

      “You’re a joyless moron.”

      Whats to enjoy about bad media?

      Thats sad that some people are so desperate for “joy” in their life that they’ll convince themselves to enjoy anything

      But I guess its better then cutting yourself or being a crack addict

  2. Hugo says:

    So TL;DR from the very start you wouldn’t give it a chance, just because you think it ruined the legacy of Alien. It was a good movie, it was probably the best movie since Aliens. No way does it deserve a 1.5, sorry Roger but I do not respect your opinion on this at all. For once it wasn’t just a slasher sci-fi horror. There was depth, and there was an excellent twist at the end (which I saw coming, but that’s besides the point). It’s at least a

  3. Anthony H says:

    Very much agree with the above review – a greatest hits amalgam lacking in tension. What a wasted opportunity (again!). Minor typo: Guy Pearce plays Weyland (as opposed to Guy Lucas).

  4. Wish he had just made another military science fiction move like Aliens. 80 years old? Game over man!

    • I thought, “Old Man’s Movie, happy to watch the world burn” when I left it. But consider “The Martian,” which was this film’s polar opposite. It’s like he curdled into a Trumpist in between movies.

      • Part of being an artist is to embrace the old and the new. Just look at Woody Allen.

      • Oh? Repeating one’s career-making movie’s storybeats/frights and characters ad nauseum is “hitting the same nail, over and over again”? AKA “the definition of an artist.” Um. Not in this case. No. Ridley Scott has a tiny and finite number of movies left in him. This is cynical recycling for cash.

      • Plus in The Martin I did not like how a China funded movie made China out to be the heroes. I hate product placement. Country placement is exponentially worse.

  5. Gowbo says:

    A slapdash review which doesn`t do this (admittedly flawed) film full justice. I too consider the first Alien a masterpiece & one of the most perfectly executed films ever made but `Alien Covenant` is pretty good in it`s own right. Aside from the visual richness & sheer beauty of the film which will surely reward repeated viewings it manages in just a few minutes to explain the narrative thrust of Prometheus better than that film ever did.
    In typical Scott style it`s also unyieldingly bleak & he once again shows he has few equals when it comes to scenes of brutal violence & human behaviour in face of danger. The film is all the better for it. There are no empty heroics here, just shit-scared people doing what they can to survive. My biggest disappointment about the film is the pacing and some of the character beats. Characters lose loved ones & go through horrible encounters with the creatures but often react as if nothing much happened in the very next scene. The slow build-up was commendable but the full-on action of the second half is so typical of modern cinema. Nothing really resonates as it fly`s by in a series of frantic battles & fast-cuts. The scene hunting a lone Alien was over all too quickly with no nuance or surprise which is a shame as it could have been a nice throwback to the first film. Overall I think history will be kind to this film once the dust settles

    • “When the dust settles,” this drivel will be forgotten — lost in the canon, not even NEtflixable. And you’ll be pretending you never liked it in the first place. Everything you mention I mentioned. As flaws. There’s nothing “slapdash” about that longer-than-average review, sport, just as there’s nothing succinct about your comment.

  6. Eshly says:

    Just watched the movie (Alien: Covenant). I am a fan of A1, A2 and to some extent A3. Covenant – truly big disappointment. Give me my 18 EUR ticket money back! And definitely killed the wish to go for the next one. Why?

    1. Philosophical (nonsense) talks/scenes take a lot of movie time!
    2. Flying powder virus – total fantasy (not scifi style)
    3. Aliens from powders – why??? No other ideas?
    4. Aliens exit human bodies already large (e.g. not like in A1, A2 or A3) and become larger faster (not consistent)
    5. Humanoid kungfu fight – LOL (for whom??? Alien fans? or Scifi lovers?) A big mistake to my mind.
    6. A blond guy in a large ship kills all human like creatures (total fantasy style again, not scifi style scene)
    7. All those white piano and room scenes, talks about creators and gay scenes (what is the true purpose?)
    8. And many more…

    I would put 4 out of 10 just thanks to some special effects.

  7. GOWBO says:

    Your unconstructively negative review is looking more & more awry with each passing day. The metacritic score is currently rising towards the 70 mark

    • Try again, last Morgan to use “hotmail.” “Unconstructive?” How about, “Hey, Old Man Ridley, leave it ALONE.” That’s constructive. A 67 on Metacritic isn’t exactly “Citizen Clone.”

  8. Luis Leitão says:

    If David had created a proto-queen applying his 10 years of genetic studies in to Ellen’s body, the movie would have been better.

    • The formula is hard to escape, and that being said, there are no more frights or shocks in beasties bursting out of chests or backs. It’s drably predictable in very cynical ways. The attempts to deviate from formula, the whole David/Walter “cogito ergo sum” sidebar, while appreciated, didn’t work. Wasting one of your last films on this, unless that was the deal he had to make to get some passion project filmed, was ill-advised.

  9. Pablo says:

    I just watched this film and have to agree. It was shite. How about next time paying someone to write a believable script. From the very start the crew members as a crying mess. Really. … that’s who a company would employ to be in change of a multi billion dollar space craft…..seriously. And then the script got less and less believable and more and more predictable. Absolute shite.

  10. John D says:

    I just saw the film and I give it an F minus. Totally predictable and the humans could not have been more stupid almost as stupid as the plot!

  11. Jacopo G says:

    Would it have been better with no Xenomorph at all? I mean, can you really call it a perfect organism when it get’s squashed like a bug in 5 minutes?

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