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Friday at the Movies: Alien Covenant Review

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At a certain point, many horror franchises follow a simple formula.  This is especially true of the Alien franchise, which has pretty much followed the same key points since the first.  Ridley Scott, director of the original, returned with Prometheus in an attempt to break that mold, but many fans were displeased with the fact that it wasn’t really an Alien movie.  Well, Scott has done it again.  This time, instead of sending you to a movie not marketed as an Alien film but taking place in the same universe, you now get a flat out sequel to Prometheus with the Alien label.  Not only that, but this film’s actual plot is basically omitted from the trailers, which is why this review is completely spoiler free.

It’s a delicate balance that Scott manages to dance within both the concept of Prometheus and the cannon of Alien without having to make concessions.  That said, for all his clever weaving, Alien Covenant does get trapped into what begins as the basic franchise formula.  Sure, it’s not actually that, but you’ll still be forced to watch nearly an hour of setup that tricks you into thinking that’s what is happening.  This begs the question, does it really break the formula or merely hide behind it?  What results is a tried and true origin story that in areas delves into the philosophical but doesn’t forget you’re here to see a hideous creature rip people to shreds.  On that point, it does not disappoint.

It will help if you’re familiar with Prometheus, especially when characters from that film receive a subtle reference, but it’s definitely not required.  In that same vein you don’t really gain much by knowing the Alien franchise outside of the iconic moments from the first film, and again this merely enhances your understanding without requiring it.  It’s a risk, but one that succeeds.  You get to learn of the events following Prometheus, receive the continuation of the xenomorph origin story, and it all wraps with breathing room to either shift to Alien in the timeline or insert another iteration.  In fact, my gripes are minor to the point that they seem like they’re digging.  I still don’t like the fact that the pacing of all of Scott’s films is a crawl, which is only further exaggerated when you look back and realize nothing much happens in the story arc.  It also leaves much to be desired of a sequel, should they do it, because not only is the plot wrapped in a pretty tight bundle here but also because the formula needs to be tossed if you want me to get interested again.  These are so minor for what I feel is a decent potential swan song to the prequels of Alien and a somewhat higher ethical conversation that seems more relevant today than ever.

Casting was another point of interest, especially when you consider that stoner co-stars James Franco and Danny McBride are part of a horror movie cast.  You wouldn’t know it by watching the movie, despite the fact that Fraco isn’t really even present. Every movie has that character that represents the audience and without a doubt McBride’s character Tennessee is that character.  He demonstrates a range I would not have expected and properly conveys our voice on screen.  Michael Fassbender knocks it out of the park this time around in a performance that has so many levels.  For reasons I cannot reveal, you get to see this already talented performer play a character that is removed but parallel for those that saw him in the previous film.  He assists us in being our guide through the film, although I can’t say his character is completely relatable (nor is it necessarily intended to be).  While I was pleased to see Katherine Waterston (Daniels) and dawning a very different look that I’m used to, as well as Billy Crudup (Oram) who looks exactly like I’m used to, there just isn’t anything of note with their performances.  The same is true of the rest of the cast, who all deliver fine performances but really serve as meat for the beast.  All in all, you won’t have trouble believing what you see in Alien Covenant.

When you toss Alien and Prometheus into a blender, the clear hybrid is Covenant.  It doesn’t manage to capture the claustrophobic horror feel of the original film, but barring that limited scope all other aspects are present and accounted for.  It will spark conversations about philosophy and ethics if you have the right crowd with you, something I’m eager to experience when I see the film again with others.  It also tries to scare the hell out of you, which to me is always the main draw.  I don’t know where they go from here, but I think Scott manages to win back both the Prometheus fans and those that feel Alien should have stayed in line with the previous films.

Written by Fred Rojas

May 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

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