Bugs in Need of a Dirt Nap
A Film Review of Alien: Covenant
I cannot in recent history remember a time watching a film in a theater when I was more frustrated with my viewing experience than the dismal afternoon I spent with Alien: Covenant. I was offended by this film’s incessant need to apologize for and wrap up all the glaring plot gaps and nuggets of bewilderment presented to us in Prometheus. Doing so ate up so much of Covenant’s own runtime that it left precious little for character development and even less for intrigue and suspense. As a result, this movie presents an amalgam of minutia, cannon fodder and frivolous subplot that simply gets in the way of the true story of this film and that of Prometheus: David’s story. Having to sit through all this so as to be enlightened by the rather pedestrian origin of the xenomorph tried my patience at every moment.
The most frustrating aspect of this entire production is the story which is beyond curious when seemingly every plot point is, in fact, a “plot device” (a contrived twist of fate appearing out of thin air in order to push viewers over plot gaps to get from point A to B in a jagged, disorienting fashion because better writing and scenario mapping were out to lunch). The most obvious examples of this are when characters engage in every stereotypical horror trope made common by slasher flicks. [Dangerous things are happening around us so let’s stick together. Ok, I’m going over there for a coffee. Don’t mind me.] Someone should inform screenwriters Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan and Dante Harper that this kind of shtick is getting low brow even for jump scare films and the reason is because tropes telegraph scenes and dilute all manner of suspension down the drain.
More veiled examples of this screen story going rogue are when interesting moments referenced in this film happen off screen in favor of characters talking around them in expository fashion because everyone knows audiences would rather have their films told to them rather than seeing it for themselves, right? Perhaps the filmmakers were trying to outthink themselves to artificially inseminate a monster movie with more intelligence than necessary in order to explore profound concepts of fear and the purpose of life. SHOW the audience something profound and our emotions and intellect will coalesce to achieve the desired effect. Of course, the audience needs guidance and that’s what a director is for. I can insert a sequence of someone executing another person with .45 at point blank range in the middle of a teenage girl taxi cab confessional, but there still has to be a reason for it being there, otherwise, who cares about either scene? SHOW with purpose and not “just because.”
Another insurmountable hurdle for me was anyone in this cast not named Michael Fassbender. Their combined performances only exist to maximize extreme infuriation in the viewer for they all, truly are, the most inept and inconceivable collection of misfits to be sent out into space for any reason whatsoever. I cannot put all the blame on the actors because they are limited by lousy characters on the page (thank you screen writers), by bland motivation, undefined scope and shifting status (thank you director) and by the talent of your fellow cast mates (thank you casting director, Carmen Cuba). I knew Danny McBride was going to be in this film thanks to the TV trailers and as random and off-putting as accepting an all around funny dude in a movie like this, seeing his pal James Franco in there (as limited as it was) made me come very close to just walking out of the theater right then and there.
Seriously, what the hell is going on in this movie? Well, there are three reasons why this film doesn’t have the worst film rating in the history of “established media.” First, this film looks beautiful from a cinematic perspective, so good on you Dariusz Wolski. Second, the production design of the sets and overall artistic framework enhance the masterful cinematography, so congratulations Chris Seagers. Third, Ridley Scott is still named “Ridley Scott.” His name still has clout and his best films from the past have afforded him a certain laurel-resting-luxury that those of us, upon hearing his name, instantly overlook because Alien happened in 1979. Alien: Covenant is far away from that original greatness in all the wrong ways and here’s why.
Spaceships meander, gunplay is clumsy, hand to hand combat reminds me of the wire work from the first X-Men film, but there’s lots of running away from stuff.
Vibrant and diverse. Space gives cinematographers perfect context to play with dynamic angles and perspectives and this active frame does much to dress up the less than exhilarating content within the frame.
The gaze of Michael Fassbender is something that transcends the stage and the screen and I have not witnessed any performance where he wasn’t fully committed to character. His particular talents of presence, posture and precise diction are on display here, though he could use a bit more work on developing accents.
They only exist to show terror and sadness on screen, but somehow generate stupidity and confusion from the audience. They weren’t believable, charismatic or of any consequence.
Average effort that could have been elevated if this film was more dedicated to developing moments of suspense.
Decent, although the lack of sound is something this film is a bit more interested in projecting.
“Moving” = 18/33
Spaceship CG is pretty decent. The varying evolutions of xenomorphs move and attack quite gracefully which is what one would presume of an apex predator. Though, I feel something is lost minus the viscera of chest bursting and head boring via practical effects.
There’s a little bit of stunt/wire work and pyro, but I was really expecting to witness some cool moments featuring the alien bleeding, crushing and eviscerating its victims that never happened.
Clearly, the costume designers were going for practical over stylistic. This is fine, but not particularly memorable considering every human in every “Alien” film has worn the same type of utilitarian jumpsuits regardless of timeline.
Hair & Makeup
In space, no one can find a salon. Joking of course, but it seems like this department wasn’t required to do anything extraordinary here as characters either escape unharmed or are totally obliterated via CG death storm. There’s a bit shown of the infection transition, but this displays in very few onscreen moments for the audience to appreciate.
Good location scouting for the planetary surface as well as the CG wide shots of the “Necropolis.” I understand the color gradient (or rather lack thereof) for external shots signifying lifelessness or sterility, but it’s also the same as dealing with aliens on spaceships, prison colonies or LV-426 itself: i.e. every other “Alien” film.
I love the crisp, clean, white on high technology design of this film’s opening moments, but the transition to spaceship interiors and caverns of the planetary surface are plain at best.
“Picture” = 18/33
“A civilian colonization effort featuring married couples as its command crew run into an anomaly in space” seems interesting until it is instantly revealed as perhaps the worst idea ever and dismissed entirely by this film’s own script well before the first act ends. The hook is a complete bait and switch to get the audience to buy into characters that do or say nothing to deserve our sympathy.
The theme of the created fighting against its creator is common in science fiction as is creation through destruction and duty vs. desire. The problem here is that the thematic conflicts do not parallel with the external conflict of running away from a monster that’s going to eat your face.
Neither surprising nor satisfying in part because the audience knows these films come before the first Alien, but also because this film literally tells you everything as a matter of fact with no drama or suspense.
Any dialogue not featuring Michael Fassbender is serviceable drivel. Walter and David do, however, have more meaningful interplay that reflects the thematic conflicts in the only dramatic moments of this movie.
Walter and David are two sides of the same artificial intelligence coin. Every other character in this film is or eventually will be xenomorph kibble and bits.
It’s difficult to identify with either Walter or David because they represent extreme polarities regarding their roles in reality. It’s a bit easier to relate to doing anything, even the most reckless and unspeakable, to save someone you love. Unfortunately, the manner in which the supporting characters go about this is layered with far too much idiocy to be comprehensible.
“Story” = 12/34
Overall MPS Rating: 48/100
Alien: Covenantis a film so desperate to mimic the perfect blend of science-fiction and horror from the original film that it fails in such monumental fashion because it doesn’t fully commit to either genre. The “blockbuster” film ought to be considered its own genre because it does certain things like spectacle, massive set pieces, exceptional CG and larger than life characters, that other genres aren’t quite capable of delivering in one package. Alien: Covenant, like Prometheus, Alien vs. Predator 1 and 2, and Alien: Resurrection before it are blockbusters attempting to fool the audience with cosmetic references to horror and sci-fi, yet deliver the same, bland experience that breaks down to people fighting monsters in every case. The only covenant I’d like to make with “Alien” films is for them to never be produced again to save us all from more self indulgent, unfocused nonsense in a vain attempt at “entertainment.” Don’t see this film. If you are offered a free screening, turn it down and literally do anything else.