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Alien Covenant
USA 2017
Directed by Ridley Scott
Running time 122 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
2 stars


Synopsis: In space, no one can work out why they’re still making Alien films

The curse of the science fiction prequel is that technology has marched forward, but your setting is earlier than the now-dated look of your previous film. So your super-slick production design full of GoPro cameras mounted on backpacks, touch screen displays and the like all feel weirdly anachronistic. The Star Wars prequels got away with it by telling the story of a golden age destroyed, leading to oppression and decay. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) and now Alien Covenant don’t justify their step away from visual continuity, and with the way the latter concludes, I wouldn’t be surprised if a later film explains that all this occured in a parallel universe. Though with luck this will be the end of it.

Is there a point making an Alien film anymore? The franchise has two films regarded as classics of sci-fi cinema: the original 1979  Alien and Aliens (1986) The rest is a series of disappointments. And after the unusual and underwhelming Prometheus, what’s left to say and do that won’t just be a pale quotation of tropes the earlier films either created or reinvented? Alien Covenant didn’t bother to answer the challenge, so why do it? Especially given the shipload of money that obviously was spent on the production design. One thing you can’t accuse Ridley Scott of is making crappy-looking films. Alien Covenant is gorgeous-looking. (Resulting in one of the two stars I’ve given it.)

The film stands in stark contrast to Scott’s previous extraterrestrial outing, The Martian (2015)  One is about facing a terrifying existential situation and rising to meet it. The other is about stupid people who detect a strange signal, go to an alien planet, and get murdered by creepy monsters because, dammit, this is what an Alien film does.

The first half  of the film is dull, with people you don’t know or care about arguing about whether to land their colony ship on a planet that looks too good to be true. Of course they do. And despite it being an unsurveyed planet they know nothing about, they decide that since the air is breathable they don’t need to worry about protection or that kind of nonsense. So of course people get infected with something, aliens burst out of them, and then in the second half  it’s shooting and panic, along with a huge amount of unintentional comedy as you laugh at people making ridiculous decisions designed to give you telegraphed gory payoffs. (There’s star number two. I laughed a lot.)

What would a good Alien film look like today? Is it even possible to make one that can escape the fact that the entire movie-going public knows everything there is to know about the alien? What’s left to surprise us with? To shock us? To thrill us? I can’t think of much and the makers of Alien Covenant obviously couldn’t either.

 

 

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