Review: Alien: Covenant (2017)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #637

Number of Views: One
Release Date: May 12, 2017
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $97,000,000
Running Time: 123 minutes
Director: Ridley Scott
Producers: Ridley Scott, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer, David Giler, Walter Hill
Screenplay: John Logan, Dante Harper
Story: Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Special Effects: Dan Oliver
Visual Effects: Neil Corbould
Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski
Score: Jed Kurzel
Editing: Pietro Scalia
Studios: 20th Century Fox, Scott Free Productions
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, Lorelei King, Guy Pearce, Goran D. Kleut, Andrew Crawford

Suggested Audio Jukebox

[1] John Denver “Take Me Home, Country Roads”

[2] AuroraNature Boy”

[3] Richard Wagner “Das Rheingold (Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla)”

[4] Jed Kurzel “The Covenant”

Certain cinematic events only come about once maybe twice in a lifetime. For me, the release of a bona fide Alien movie that can hope to scale the same lofty heights as the first two entries in its long-running legacy is one such rarity. I was barely five-years-old when Ridley Scott’s original hit the silver screen and twelve when James Cameron’s sequel achieved the unthinkable and further built on its delicious foundation.

Thus my primary introduction to both came courtesy of my trusty VHS toploader and I always felt a little cheated for not experiencing either as they were truly intended. By the time David Fincher’s Alien³ arrived in 1992, I had finally come of age, but neither that or Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection managed to reach the same beacon of brilliance set by their forerunners and, with that, the once flourishing franchise appeared pretty much dead in the water.

So when Scott announced that he was to return to the director’s chair once again for origin tale, Prometheus, I was understandably tickled pink. Granted, receipt of such news was not without its vague trepidation as it was announced that xenomorphs would play but the most miniscule role in proceedings. However, there seemed few universes more ripe for exploration than the one the English filmmaker had introduced over thirty years prior. While generally well received on arrival, it would be fair to say that the long-standing faithful were somewhat less than enamored by the philosophical approach Scott adopted.

By focusing on unfathomable posers such as “where did mankind come from?” and “who could possibly be responsible for our very creation?”, it alienated a fair number of its core audience straight out of the gates and the general consensus is that it fumbled the baton. To be fair, I’m some way less dismissive and still believe it to be an excellent motion picture in its own right. But even I have to admit that it felt like the entrée for a far more flavorsome dish.

All’s well that ends well though as it wasn’t too long before Scott stated his intention to return to the fray, only this time, he was prepared to let his freaks off the leash some. With Alien: Covenant inbound and ETA set for May 2017, I reckon they could hear my joyous screams in space, thus disproving his original theory in the best possible way. I believe my inner monologue voiced something along the lines of “enough of the cosmic conundrums, let’s get down to the real nitty-gritty!” and, while expectations remained realistic, the overriding emotion was pure unbridled glee.

Nobody knows his pet more than father himself, therefore it couldn’t be in any safer a set of hands. The teaser trailer eventually landed on Christmas Day last year and, while it has to be said that it did a darned sight more than bait by revealing far more than was necessary, all signs pointed directly back to deep space, assholes and elbows.

I’m not ordinarily one for going hot off the press on a film’s theatrical unveiling but feel duty-bound where Alien: Covenant is concerned to provide you good people with the spoiler-free scoop, thus anoint the baby’s head at its cinematic birthing so to speak. In next to no time, “respected critics” will have gotten their grubby paws on it, and no doubt, either misinterpreted it entirely or made an unfair example of it just to come across superior. I’m generalizing of course, but let’s face it, a fair number of them will be willing Scott to fail, refueling their own bloated egos while they’re at it. The Keeper of the Crimson Quill doesn’t roll in such an underhand manner as you should be more than aware by this point, so here’s the lowdown from the perspective of a lifelong fan, for likewise aficionados of film to get their chomping gear around, and make the only smart choice accordingly.

The stardate is 2104 and colony vessel Covenant is headed to a remote planet named Origae-6, carrying a precious cargo of two thousand cryosleeping colonists and a half that number in embryos. When an unexpected energy surge has seismic repercussions aboard the ship, its stunned crew (which consists entirely of couples) pull together and commence any necessary repairs and reconfiguration.

However, while it’s all hands to deck on the Covenant, a mysterious radio transmission then dangles a carrot far too tantalizing to pass up. Drawn to the uncharted but seemingly inhabitable planet from which they intercepted this curious conveyance, the crew ponder engaging landing gear and descending to the surface for some good old-fashioned observe and report. After all, how can one be expected to build a home without viewing all available land sites beforehand? It’s a no-brainer right?

Not entirely as it soon transpires. First mate and acting captain, Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) feels this kind of opportunity reeks of destiny and is prepared to undertake any leap his usually unshakable faith can facilitate, but his terraforming hot-shot third in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is some way less sold on the prospect, particularly given that his democratic approach to decision-making doesn’t take into account the vast number of colonists in frozen transit, for whom the decision is out of their hands.

Meanwhile, The Covenant’s friendly neighborhood onboard synthetic, Walter (Michael Fassbender), shows no signs of potential malfunction but neither is it in his programming to get ideas above his station so he watches on with quiet curiosity. With popular opinion suggesting there’s little to lose in a little harmless reconnaissance, chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride) drops anchor and the fun and games are all set to begin in earnest. That really is all you need to know as I feel I can tiptoe through the tulips now that we’ve touched down on terra firma.

Alien: Covenant wastes little time in swinging a wrecking ball which remains in steady motion for much of its 123 minute running time. This may be at the expense of a dash of characterization but it’s also precisely what the fans demanded after Prometheus left such a vast number of them unfulfilled. Personally, I’d have been all in pre-flop for more time aboard the Covenant getting on first name terms with my crew mates but also appreciate that you’re damned do or don’t in such circumstances.

What matters is that Scott hasn’t forgotten to leave his audience breathless and there will be numerous long stretches of supremely captured action frequently revisited once the initial hype dust settles I’m sure. Just for the record, the new breed ain’t messing when it comes to distressing and shit often goes down almost too fast to register. This isn’t a criticism, merely an observation, as this is precisely where those heartbeats skip most decisively.

Crudup is a logical choice to play the self-serious Oram and delivers just the kind of meticulously measured turn that casts relevant light and shade across his character. As for Waterston in a role that never has designs on cloning Ripley, well that’s some inspired casting right there if you ask me. Having recently had the Technicolor pleasure of drinking in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice then refilling my glass straight afterwards, I’m more than familiar with the kind of acting chops this young lady possesses.

When an actor can deliver a lengthy monologue fully naked without once flinching, you know you’re in the company of a truly magnanimous creative soul and, while it isn’t necessitated for Waterston to bare all in such a manner here, her eyes convey every ounce of Daniels’ fire and steel most exquisitely. Meanwhile, McBride shows a different side to his game and the shit-kicking Tennessee more than earns this easy rider a darn tooting tip of the Stetson. Then we have Fassbender and he predictably shuts shit down like a compromised airlock hatch, to the power of two no less.

Speaking of bankable characters, the planet itself does more than enough to earn itself a credit. Dariusz Wolski’s far-reaching photography does a grand job of framing this undiscovered country. Idyllic and inviting on one hand, it’s some way less hospitable a terrain on closer inspection and a simple dancing dust mite has the ability of messing up your afternoon plans. This is integral to Scott declining his audience or cast the opportunity to rest easily and adds a fresh level of consternation to proceedings which is more than welcome.

Interestingly, Alien: Covenant is the second film in as many months to tinker with the idea of creation after Daniel Espinosa’s Life reminded us all how insignificant a race we really are in the greater scheme of things. Scott gets it bang on the money when placing the most seemingly innocuous molecular structure beneath the microscope and watching it mutate at will.

Okay so here’s the nuts and bolts of it fellow rocketeers. Alien: Covenant is lean, mean and obscenely keen, of that there can be absolutely no qualm or question. In the universe that Scott himself augmented, it sits pretty in the upper echelons, just shy of the big two and to expect any more than that would be an unrealistic projection to set it. That said, should a director’s cut emerge further on down the line sporting an additional thirty minutes of meet and greet, then it could still achieve just that; which is testament to a job more than efficiently done in my estimations. For all its sleek streamlining, a little more meat on the bones could have brought this particular fanboy in for that all-important group hug of which it falls agonizingly shy. The eggs may be a dash over-easy here but you know what they say don’t cha? – In space, no one can decline an omelette. Garçon? Seconds please.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Alien: Covenant is a more visceral exercise in terror than many will have been expecting and pulls absolutely no punches with regards to on-screen brutality. Granted, any bloodshed is fleetingly observed, while blinking will undoubtedly lead to missing its blood-drenched tricks altogether. But Scott’s appetite for destruction is commendable, as is his tendency to fixate on the tearing and sharing of flesh. Furthermore, he even sees fit to shoehorn in a shower scene for effect, although it may encourage you to think twice about reaching for that loofah.

Read Prometheus Appraisal
Read Alien Appraisal
Read Aliens Appraisal
Read Alien³ Appraisal
Read Alien: Resurrection Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. Great review, Rich! I am dying to see this one. Prometheus was very interesting to me & I have seen it millions of times. As a true believer in ETs ( yes, I am Fox Mulder’s sister), I really liked Scott tackling the Annunaki.
    I have heard positive things about Katharine Waterston. She is an acting scion because her father is Sam Waterston.
    I want to see how Danny McBride does in a serious role. Also it looked like Ridley made James Franco become an actor again instead of an idiot.
    Looking forward to this one!

    1. Would love to know what you think when you watch it. It was a hard appraisal to write as I was determined to give nothing away and didn’t want to delve too far into it when some folk haven’t seen it yet. Will rewrite this one further on down the line.

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