Serving as both a sequel to PROMETHEUS (2012) and a prequel to ALIEN (1979), Ridley Scott’s ALIEN COVENANT walks a tightrope between grand concept and familiar thrills, rejigging a number of big crowd-pleasing moments from not only ALIEN but James Cameron’s 1986 rousing sequel ALIENS while expanding on the theories of evolution and creation put forward in PROMETHEUS. The big problem I have with this is that, to me, a large part of my original fascination with the alien was it was so elemental and mysterious, and much more terrifying as an organic being that just exists. The original ALIEN told me everything I need to know about the xenomorph and it’s terrifying cycle of life…trying to explain every step of its evolution just demystifies it to me.
It seems that when Ridley Scott decided to finally return to the classic space terror saga which he was instrumental in launching back in 1979, he was only interested in doing so if he could expand on the concept to try and touch on many of the bigger questions in life. Which as a much older man who wants to try and create something different is entirely his prerogative. And certainly ALIEN COVENANT is hugely ambitious in many regards, but it is made largely ineffectual by the predictability of the scenes involving the alien itself which, as mentioned, are more like a re-tread of what was done – much better – in the first two movies, leaving very little in the way of surprise or suspense. And a lot of the sexual menace which the alien exhibited in the first movie, and made it so much more terrifying, is now gone (there’s no doubt that a lot of this sexual terror came from the nightmarish designs created by the late Swiss artist H. R. Giger). CGI also does no favour to the alien – in most cases, it moves far too quick to make much out. The man in a suit approach of the original was much more effective and impressive.
Like all of Scott’s movies, there is certainly lots to admire and enjoy about ALIEN COVENANT. Visually the film has some stunning moments (though it doesn’t look as gorgeous as PROMETHEUS) and Michael Fassbender delivers another remarkable performance. And Katherine Waterston is decent in what is clearly the Ripley replacement role. But beyond that, there are not a lot of characters to care about or even differentiate themselves from each other (also one of the big complaints about PROMETHEUS). The first two ALIEN films were populated with great actors who brought their characters to wonderful life – when they died, you really missed them. There’s sadly no Parker, Brett, Kane, Vasquez or Private Hudson here to care about.
ALIEN COVENANT is far from a disaster, and should easily do well enough to ensure the series’ continuity, but it’s not really the direction I like seeing it head in. The original ALIEN was a seminal moviegoing experience for me, and has forever remained amongst my Top 5 all-time favourite films. Sadly it seems that it won’t be Ridley Scott who brings the concept back to that pure, primordial frisson which I experienced back in 1979.