Sunday, May 21, 2017

Alien: Covenant - Ridley Scott's Second Prequel Alien Film Gives Us What We Were Hoping For

Source: Twentieth Century Fox
                     *WARNING: Since This Is A New Release Parts Of This Review Could Contain Spoilers*

Acclaimed Director Ridley Scott has returned for his third time to the Alien franchise with his newest feature, Alien: Covenant. This film picks up after his first Alien prequel effort, 2012's Prometheus, both of which are meant to build up to the events of his original entry, 1979's Alien. While I found Prometheus to be visually spectacular but overall underwhelming, this film was pleasantly in tune with my expectations and delivered very well.

Our story tells us the tale of the space ship Covenant, destined to reach the planet Origae-6 with the intention of colonizing the planet for future generations to live. In the midst of their long journey the ship is damaged by the space equivalent of a rogue wave which damages some of the systems. When the crew members are awakened by the ship's android, Walter (played by Michael Fassbender) the ship captain's hyper-sleep chamber ignites in an electrical fire which kills him, leaving the crew distraught and scrambling to gather the composure needed to continue with their mission in lieu of this tragedy. While the members of the crew are repairing the ships damage they intercept what they believe to be an interplanetary transmission for help from a unknown planet close to their location. Since the planet seems habitable and is much closer than the original destination the acting Captain, Christopher Oram (played by Billy Crudup), makes the decision that they will set course for the planet to investigate the transmission and entertain the idea of colonization there (as we would expect they would do in a movie of this kind). Soon after landing on the planet they discover the remains of the Engineer shuttle craft which had been all that remained from the spaceship Prometheus, a ship that was destroyed years before under the command of Elizabeth Shaw (featured in the film of the same name). While none of the crew of the Prometheus have survived, their android unit, named David (also played by Michael Fassbender), has survived and is living in seclusion under the remains of the ship. Unbeknownst to the crew there is also a small parasitic organism living on the planet's surface that is waiting for a living host to infect and eventually spread. The parasite, once co-joined with the host, rapidly grows and becomes the creatures we have come to know and fear. Will the crew survive the encounter? Can Walter help the crew get off the planet safely by offering his knowledge and experience of living on the planet after the Prometheus crash? These questions are best answered by experiencing the film for yourself. 

Most people who will go out to see this film are pretty familiar with the Alien films since there have been four initial films (all starring Sigorney Weaver as Ripley) and now two prequel films. After a while these films lend themselves to a basic setting and story line which changes the viewer's motive to see the movie- it's not what is going to happen that most interests them, but it is how it is done. Fortunately for those viewers, Alien: Covenant delivers in a big way. As fan of Ridley Scott's work it is an absolute treat to see him continue the franchise with his visual style and amazing sense of spectacle. The suspense is genuine in spite of the viewer being well aware of what is about to happen and the writers, as well as the director, have done a wonderful job of showing the continuing evolution of the alien creature into what we know it will eventually become.It should also be noted that in keeping with the time the gruesomeness (and gore) of some sequences are tough to watch but for those who know what to expect that is all part of the experience. The characters used within the story are well developed and the viewer can easily relate to their fears and emotions as the events of the story unfold. While much praise can be given to Katherine Waterson for a wonderful performance as Daniels Branson, the Covenant's first officer, but the standout performance of the piece for me was Michael Fassbender. While Fassbender is already a great actor in his own right, his ability to be both android characters (David & Walther) and the various degrees of emotion, intelligence, and autonomy they bring as a new and older version of the same machine was truly impressive. Even though you know subconsciously you are seeing the same actor portraying two roles you can easily forget that fact by his masterful performances. His contribution to the film, and really to the two prequel films collectively, has really been the backbone to their credibility. I sincerely believe this film would have truly suffered if he was not cast to play the part(s). 

As previously mentioned, Ridley Scott's direction and style are once again top notch in this film, and his supporting members have also done an admirable job. Screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper drastically improved the story line and development for this entry on the heels of the first prequel entry (did I mention that I was not a big fan of Prometheus?).  Cinematographer Dariuz Walski gives us sweeping visuals and impressively makes huge ships and underground caverns seem claustrophobic in the scenes when the alien is on the attack. Editor Pietro Scalia does a fantastic job of creating suspense with an effective balance of slow and fast paced editing when both are called for respectively. Finally, musical composer Jed Kurzel provides a decent score that is effective for the film but it is tough to compare his efforts to some of the scores previously offered in the series, most notably the original film scored by Jerry Goldsmith and 1986's Aliens scored by James Horner. 

Bottom line- I thoroughly enjoyed Alien: Covenant. Although 2012's Prometheus was Ridley Scott's actual return to the alien franchise, it is truly this film that delivers the movie we wanted to see. By the time the lights came up after this movie ended I was even more disappointed in Prometheus than I was when I first saw it. Fortunately this second film connects nicely to the first movie which may offer some more credibility than the movie has on its own, whereas Covenant could easily stand on it's own without Prometheus. It could even be debatable that the majority of the first films' story line could have been encapsulated by flashback sequences in this movie, but that spawns the discussion about studios trying to get the most out of their film franchises even at the expensive of quality (clearly a discussion for another time). 

In the scheme of the entire franchise the second entry, James Cameron's Aliens, remains my favorite, but this entry is not far behind. If you are a fan of the Alien films than this is a must see. If you are not familiar with the series than I begrudgingly suggest you watch Prometheus to have a better understanding of the story, but if you choose to take the chance that you can figure it out on your own I wouldn't blame you. Either way, make a point to catch this movie. Twentieth Century Fox was smart enough to release this movie before some of this year's other big blockbusters get released so hopefully moviegoers will make the most of this time and catch Covenant.

Reel Rating (Out Of A Possible Four):



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