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Alien: Covenant review (spoiler free)

Alien (1979) is a seminal film. It is one of the rare horror films of its time to be made by a film director who was later welcome to produce films outside of the horror genre. This can not be understated – working in the horror genre at that time was literally the kiss of death for your career as an actor, or as a director. The prejudice against the horror genre permeated so deeply that many great movie ideas were simply never made. And many great directors like the late Wes Craven were never welcome to make movies outside of the horror genre. The late David Hess talked about the prejudice against him for playing villains in horror films. So making Alien was a huge risk for Ridley Scott’s career and for Sigorney Weaver and the rest of the cast.

Now you might think that’s where the story ends – no. We move to Aliens, and I can’t say why, but Aliens is a pure action film with no horror elements to it. Some people use the word “thriller”, but I think thriller can be split into two genres – there are action thrillers, which is what Aliens is, and there are drama thrillers which is what Silence of the Lambs, and Alien 3 are for example. So with Aliens we had a director that basically didn’t take chances. He didn’t want to advance the story, he just wanted to make a generic action based story in the Alien universe. Aliens works very well as an action film, and is actually quite a fine sequel.

Alien 3 brought the series back to its drama-thriller roots. It’s a good film, but it failed to live up to quality of the original. And many people were expecting another action film to follow Aliens, and didn’t want the film back in the horror genre. But it did have a strong cast, and a coherent story.  Alien Resurrection is a generic action film with few redeeming qualities. Disappointingly, Resurrection tries to re-make specific scenes from the first two Alien films with varying degrees of success. Winona Ryder as Resurrection’s android Annalee Call was bland, unconvincing, and uninteresting.

Finally we came to Prometheus. Prometheus restructured the narrative of the Alien universe. It brought the revelation that life on Earth was created by Engineers. Many critics scoffed at this, which I think is a mistake because these films are science fiction and need to have room to define their own rules. Many also didn’t like its unanswered questions, but I think those were fine. Prometheus brought the series full circle back to its roots. It’s true roots that is – including the exploration of unknown outer space. The film is not perfect and could have been improved by showing a bit more constraint and spreading the narrative elements so it unfolds more organically. Guy Pearce was completely miscast as Peter Weyland, and the make-up was unconvincing. However Michael Fassbender is absolutely amazing as the film’s android David, and Noomi Rapace was a very strong lead.

Alien: Covenant was fucking great! I am struggling to find some negative points to make about this film. The only negative I can say is it’s a bit formulaic, but I won’t hold that against it as it’s easier to see that in retrospect. Michael Fassbender is amazing, this time playing two androids – the original David, and Walter. Some incorrect reports have said they’re the same model, that’s not true – Walter is a newer model but looks the same. The very real problem in AI development of how do we realistically implement safeguards into AI so that we remain in control has not been solved to this day. This is the same premise behind Terminator, and the Matrix, and of course the original Alien where Ash was willing to obey orders above the safety, welfare, or interests of the crew. Remember though, even though Walter and David are very different, they are not as advanced as Ash – and Ash was happy to follow his orders and let the entire crew die to the Xenomorph.

This movie stayed on track from the first act to the final scene. It didn’t deviate or present unnecessary hyperbole to advance the plot and get its point across. It does still rely on people making stupid decisions though. David’s evolution from the curious android in Prometheus who distrusts humans to his new home where he has used the Engineers to continue his agenda progresses his character flawlessly. Walter rightly does not trust David, but perhaps perplexity he fails to alert his crew to his suspicions – he is after all only synthetic. The interesting reverence David has for Elizabeth is also worth an honourable mention, he holds nothing but love and admiration for her and it’s very clear why this is so, yet it’s a selfish love that he holds and he does not reciprocate it. I only wish that these nuances could have been teased out a bit further. Great films leaves you wanting a bit more in places, and these cognitive limitations that androids in the Alien universe are fascinating, and attest to the film’s ability to draw us into its world so deeply we want to find out more!

The film was not afraid to continue developing the new ideas presented in Prometheus. It would have been a great shame to see these ideas abandoned in favour of only pursuing the original Xenomorph and face-hugger. Even though there were some issues with Prometheus, expanding the Alien universe to include the Engineers and goo was genius. A very well made film and a fine addition to the Alien filmography.

5 Stars

 

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