Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Guy Pierce, James Franco, Noomi Rapace

Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), is one of those seminal horror films that changes the face of a genre so much, that it marks the way the genre will be for years and years to come. How many movies have imitated the style, the look of Ridley Scott’s original monster movie? Many that’s how many.I could write a list of films that look and play out exactly like it: Alien Contamination (1980), Galaxy of Terror (1981), Outland (1981), Leviathan (1989), Event Horizon (1997)…and the list goes on and on. Ridley Scott left that Alien franchise after having directed that first film and the sequels that followed were directed by talented directors that took each film in totally different directions, which is why I love this franchise, each director has put his stamp on each film, so they are all extremely different. Now if we fast forward a few decades, things have come full circle. Now Ridley Scott has retaken the franchise as if saying “this is my baby and I’m going to make it my freaking legacy to the world!” Which is what Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are, these films represent Ridley Scott’s reclaiming the franchise he started. Does Ridley Scott still have it?

Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel to Prometheus (2012), just in case you had your doubts. This is the story of how the xenomorphs came to be, those nasty sharp teeth, perfect killing machines with acid for blood. Alien: Covenant is the second film in a planned trilogy of prequels, they tell us the story of how the infamous aliens came to be. When Prometheus came out, audiences complained about the lack of xenomorphs, audiences wanted more of the creature that frightened them so much in Alien (1979), they wanted the horror element amped up, the wanted that nail biting, heart pounding suspense they got that first time around. But I like Prometheus for what it is, part of a trilogy of how these creatures came to be, it’s the back story. With Alien: Covenant we can definitely see a story unfolding. There are some surprises in store for fans of the Alien franchise, my mind was blown. I mean, yeah, these prequels are deeper and more profound, but that has to do with the fact that Ridley Scott has grown as a filmmaker, he has a lot more to say about life, hence, the difference in tone between these new prequels and the classic Alien films.

And speaking of depth and themes, what I enjoy about these prequels is that they explore the origins of man. Who would’ve thought that the Alien movies would end up touching such heavy themes? But here we are considering themes about the origins of man, about death, about who made us. The exploration of these themes begins with the introduction to androids, synthetic beings who are capable of thinking and feeling like humans. Similar to us in every detail save for one: they can outlive us. Questioning death and begging the universe for more life is a theme that Scott has been exploring since Blade Runner (1984) a film in which we have renegade androids begging their creator, their “father”, for more life. So yeah, Ridley Scott’s exploration of heavy philosophical themes continues in Alien: Covenant. These are questions that need answers, and Scott knows they cannot be ignored. After all, these are "the big questions" in life. It doesn’t surprise me that these are themes Ridley Scott has chosen to explore now, at the end of his career and last half of his life. Scott is probably feeling extremely identified with the themes explored in these films, questioning life, questioning where we came from, who made us and ultimately: why must we die? As I write this, Sir Ridley Scott is 79 years old!

Ridley Scott does not forget that the franchise started with what is essentially a monster movie, a horror film, and a very good one at that. When we go into top horror movies ever made, there’s no doubt Alien (1979) will make the list. And Ridley Scott knows that. So with Alien: Covenant he seems to want to go back to that horror, the spine tingling, nail biting suspense. And I have to say that Scott nailed it. There are some genuine scary moments here, there’s gore, there’s blood. Yes my friends, this one amps up the terror. But the great thing about Alien: Covenant is that it doesn’t forget that it is a sequel to Prometheus. So it’s like we get half of the philosophy and deep themes of Prometheus (2012), and half of the horror and suspense from Alien (1979), so it should satisfy both camps.

The film works even better because it has an awesome cast, and a very eclectic one at that. Here’s Danny McBride doing a serious role, he doesn’t do bad at all I have to say. But if one performance stands out it has to be Michael Fassbender in the dual role of David and Walter, the androids of the film. I simply love Fassbender in anything he does, but here he clearly plays two different roles and it is magnificent. But then again, so many things are magnificent here. The screenplay is so poetic, so good, the dialog sounds beautiful with many references to classical music and poetry. By the way, you’d do good in reading Percy Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’, it comes into play at one point in the film. Finally, the production itself is gorgeous looking, the sets, the ship designs, the alien designs I mean, this film is simply beautiful to look at, which comes as no surprise in a Ridley Scott film. So go see this completely satisfying sequel! Here’s hoping this one makes some cash at the box office so we can get to see the next and final film in this prequel trilogy!

Rating: 5 out of 5      



Mr Papafakis said...

I'm sorry, I completely disagree with your critique on The Covenant. If they'd replaced Ridley Scott with an unknown director, but kept the same story, same budget....everything except the "Alien", it would be rightly panned as a overblown teen horror flick.

It plays like a re-shoot of Prometheus. Same inept crew (for some reason Ridley seems to like putting incapable people in positions of responsibility in most of his movies) arguing over nothing, losing the plot in minor situation, going catatonic when faced with a bit of stress, not fearing scary looking creatures!

Ridley is not a great director, barring the recent Martian, but that had a water tight script that didn't need to be played with.....he couldn't stuff that up. I'm waiting for people to notice that the King has no clothes.

Covenant 0/5

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, we totally disagree for sure. In my opinion, Ridley Scott is one of the best directors alive. This movie is well crafted, with beautiful production values. It didn't play out exactly like Prometheus, rather, it continued the story it started in Prometheus. It gave audiences the scares they were looking for and didn't get in Prometheus, while still continuing the story of the gods who created us, yet reject us. It's actually quite epic in my opinion. You mention the Martian as one of his best, but to me it was tepid.

Horror movies always have people doing stupid things, its part of the formula of a horror film, its why people scream don't go there, don't do that, don't open that door. It's part of what makes a horror film a horror film. Teen horror flicks do not have the depth that both Prometheus and Covenant have I'm sorry.

Crew not scared of scary looking creatures? Did we see the same movie? Did you not see the scene in which they are in the operating table, was there not fear in the woman who gets trapped inside the room with the Xenomorph? But you contradict yourself, you say the go catatonic when facing stress, then that they don't react in fear to the creatures?

Ridley remains a great filmmaker in my book.

Mr Papafakis said...

I didn't contradict myself, just didn't elaborate enough on the detail that's all.

What I meant by them freaking out at the slightest thing was a reference to the scene when the female pilot of the landing ship won't open the door to the operating room to let her friend out. Her friend is totally calm, but realises that she better not be in the room any longer. Her pilot however, just runs screaming back to the control panel screaming for the inept crew to come and rescue her "you better get back here quick!!!!" She could have easily just have opened the door to let her friend out. She was in no danger whatsoever! And then, to make it even more sappy, her husband mentions that his wife never gets scared. WTF! She just freaked out over someone looking like he was having serious convulsions. Fail.

Oh, and the gullible Captian, just lets himself be lured into a dark basement, obviously a trap, by an Android who moments before just made friends with an alien. The one who just brutally killed one of his crew! And then decides to look inside a large alien egg with something unknown writhing inside? Stupid!

And as for your assessment of what constitutes horror. Jump scares do not! That's just lazy, unimaginative directing and it gets very old very fast. Suspense and the impending threat of something unknown that's out to get you....that's horror. And that is why the first two Alien movies are timeless.

But, this is your blog, and your opinion piece. But I suggest you have a look at the amount of rant videos on Youtube atm doing Covenant. I'm not the only one who thought it was dross.

Cybolic said...

I will also have to completely disagree. While I'm glad you enjoyed the film, for me it was a complete travesty. The plotline felt muddled, the dialogue overly grandiose and self-important but completely vapid, the action scenes were a frantic mess of quick-cuts which meshed badly with the underdeveloped characters to the point where I had no idea who was supposed to be present during several scenes, who had died, who were wounded, who anyone's partner was, etc.

The handling of the continuing plot from Prometheus felt almost like a retcon. Prometheus left us with the questions of who engineers are, why did they create the black goo, why did they feel the need to destroy humanity, what is their homeworld like? The answer we got was: Never mind, David killed them all (yes, all; because they were apparently all gathered in one single square around that thousands of years old ship that had appeared, which presumably didn't answer their communication attempts and might possibly be flagged as carrying weapons; sounds legit).

The handling of the Alien lore just felt confused and almost as if no-one bothered to go back and check the older films. The gestation period was wrong, the chestburster was gone (replaced with the Jesus-mimicking, puppet Alien *sigh*) and the final Xenomorph seemed more fragile than the Proto/Neo-morphs, not particularly clever and moved even more like a guy in a suit that in the 1979 film.

Fassbender was great as David/Walter, but that whole plotline felt like something that really belonged in Blade Runner (including the "That's the spirit" line) and didn't really seem to fit with what else was going on. Why did David consider a parasitic, destructive species as "the perfect organism" (yes Ridley, we get the reference *sigh*) when he seemed to otherwise be obsessed with the ability to create?

Add to all this the same absent-minded character traits from Prometheus, the overly advertised trope-kills (which sucked all suspense out of their respective scenes), the glaring gaps in logic (how did David genetically engineer anything in a moist cave; how did he create and know the specifications for the cryo-eggs; why did a colonisation ship only have one shuttlecraft and why did it have a series number if there was only one, etc.) and the last 20 minutes of lifeless rethreading of the original Alien in the set decoration of Aliens and there really wasn't anything apart from the visual design left for me to enjoy in the film.

Let Ridley Scott finish his little project with the third film, but I sincerely hope they bring in someone else to create actual sequels soon (Blomkamp, please?) instead of just these prequels.

Franco Macabro said...

Mr. Papafakis: The scene your making a reference to, where she locked the other woman in, in the first place, they should have never gotten on the ship because of quarantine protocols (which they do mention, they just don't follow it because of how quickly things escalate into chaos. She locked her in because she feared contamination of some sort, and she was right, the probability of contamination is real, the virus is in in the air.

The things you mention about people doing stupid things, well, it goes hand in hand with a horror film. I never mentioned jump scares, which I hate. This film by the way isn't about jump scares, the alien films have never been about that. I do agree with you when you say horror comes from not knowing, which is an element these films have lost because we already know the alien all too well. It isn't as horrifying as that first time we saw that first Alien film.

I will say, this film isn't as perfect as Alien (1979), in my opinion things happen much too fast when compared to the first one, where the camera could just linger on Ripley and it let us feel her fear...on this one it was cut cut fast fast, I agree with that. I chalk it up to Ridley wanting to keep up with the short attention span of modern audiences, or at least what he feels modern audiences want in terms of pacing. I personally prefer the slower burn of Alien (1979).

As for people thrashing the film on Youtube, a lot of people thrashed Prometheus and I freaking loved it, I mean, every time I watch it honestly gets better, which is why I dug Covenant, it was a sequel to Prometheus and continued with its themes. In a dark way, but it continued the story. I think people where expecting to meet the Engineers and see how they lived and have them answer all of our questions, but no, the film goes down a darker path and I dug that it didn't go where we expected it to in terms of the Engineers.

Thanks for commenting Mr. Papafakis, even if we don't agree, I enjoy reading your thoughts and comments about the film, I understand where you are coming from, I just feel like even though it is not without its faults, because I do agree if feels like Ridley was just giving audiences exactly what they wanted by paying homage to the original, I also thought it had original elements to it and a certain amount of depth. 50% the themes and depth of Prometheus (2012) and 50% the horror and gore from Alien (1979)

Franco Macabro said...

Cybolic: I don't know man, the plot was muddled how? I mean, I completely understood the story, there's no gaping plotholes, pretty much every question let unanswered in the ending of Prometheus was answered in Covenant. Why did they create the black goo? To destroy us, that is clear. Why did they want to destroy us? That answers itself. What is their homeworld like? Well, we saw it in Covenant. We even saw how their society was. The point was that they were this society who thought they were the epitome of creation and they too saw their end. I thought it was beautifully explained by the use of Shelley's 'Ozymandias'. I thought it was wonderfully ironic, that their own creation would bring their own downfall.

In regards to the Alien lore and gestation periods, I think its been established that these creatures mutate constantly, they are never the same. Gestation periods have fluctuated from film to film, in some it takes forever for the chestburster to come through, in others its a few minutes, my final take on it is that gestation periods change, depending on the host.

What I loved about David is that immediately as he is created, he realizes he is superior to his creators. He realizes he will outlast them. So he decides to be the superior race and eliminates even the creators of his creators. But he also wants to play god and create something of his own, the deadliest creature. The Xenomorph. He is a brilliant android with volumes and volumes of knowledge and instant retrieval of said information, engineering something of his own isn't that far fetched of an idea, if he has access to data about bio engineering as I'm sure he did, then I'm sure he would have been more than capable of doing his own engineering in that cave of his.

I agree with you about the film going over or rethreading of Alien (1979), specially when it came down to the thing about locking doors to trap the alien, and the hurling it into space, just like in Alien (1979), Aliens (1986) and Alien: Resurrection (1997), I guess hurling the alien into space at the end of the film has become a staple of the franchise.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the final prequel will play out, I'm guessing we'll see the prequels connect even more with the original '79 film. I wouldnt mind seeing other actors tackle the franchise, before Ridley Scott retook the franchise, what I enjoyed about these Alien films was the difference in vision and style we got from film to film, because there was always a different creative team behind them.

Thanks for commenting!

Sergei Kolobashkin said...

I love this film. Watched it two times in a row. I was really blown away by the cast and the whole look of the film was amazing. I read a lot of bad stuff on the internet about Covenant, but I don't understand, why people got so mad. Everyone treats Aliens like it's some sort of Gone with the Wind of science fiction when Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are much superior in the department of storytelling.

Franco Macabro said...

Sergei we fully agree on Alien Covenant and Prometheus, to me the prequels are superior in some ways. I mean, sure Alien is an amazing horror film, but when compared to Prometheus and Covenant, well, its paper thin. The prequels are decidedly more sophisticated in terms of storytelling. I'm not saying Alien is crap, don't get me wrong guys, it is one of the best science fiction horror films ever made. But from prequels to the originals, the prequels have a depth that the older films do not.


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