Film reviews aren’t normally my kind of thing, and I rarely see films on opening weekend/week. Today (13th April 2017) I had the chance to go see Alien: Covenant less than 24 hours after it’s release in the UK. After hearing generally positive murmurs, and having read a good Alien heavy SFX, myself and a friend found a fairly empty showing at a local cinema.
We have both seen the original Alien and the rest of the quadrilogy, as well as Prometheus and at least one of the Alien Vs Predator films, so we have a good working knowledge of the franchise. We share similar views on the many films, and on Prometheus in particular, and went into the Covenant showing with high hopes.
A quick note that there’ll be no spoilers of Covenant here, but possibly a few references to the previous films. You’ve had plenty of time to watch the original Alien, and it’s been five whole years since Prometheus. Fair warning. My thoughts on Covenant are fresh from viewing as I write this.
Like its predecessor, Covenant opens with some stunning landscapes and a quiet, but tiresome, prologue. Despite the lovely scenery, I feel that Covenant on the whole has taken a step back in terms of ‘graphics’. It doesn’t feel as visually impressive as Prometheus. Alien: Covenant was shown in 2D, and whilst I’ve seen Prometheus in both 3D and 2D, I felt it was visually superior in both dimensions. Covenant started feeling lacking, and we had barely started. Lacking turned out to be a good description for how I felt about large parts of the film.
The characters, for me, lacked any aspects I identified with. To me, that’s an important part of a film such as Alien. If you don’t feel like you’re going through the plot with them, or as them, and you don’t root for them to survive, you aren’t scared. You aren’t sad when they suffer losses, and you don’t care if they die. Given the franchise’s kill count, I expected deaths. Did I expect so many so quickly into the film? Er no. Did I care about any of the deaths? No. The star of the show, instead of being any of the ship’s crew, becomes David, the creepy android from Prometheus. As the viewer, his plot is predictable to say the least, and only leaves you asking if we really sent a crew that stupid into space to help spread the human race. Daniels is no Ripley.
Unlike the original Alien, where the real threat makes an appearance quite a way into the film, Covenant plays its monster cards relatively quickly. The lead up and reasoning for the team’s arrival on the Alien planet is illogical at best, and only gets stupider as it goes. Once they’re there, the Alien/Xenomorph/mutant creature is more funny that it is scary. We see various incarnations of it until the ‘big reveal’ of the more familiar Facehugger/Chestburster/Xenomorph sequence. I can’t say the film truly answers the old ‘where did it come from, Cotton Eyed Joe?’ question, but at least it tried. Our other feature creature makes a short-lived appearance, and answers none of our questions, only adding more to the pile. The terror that Giger’s original Xenomorph design brought to the first Alien is lost in Covenant. The terror filled, torturous sections of Alien have been lost through the years, and in Covenant the Xenomorph seems not to bother with hunting its prey in a sneaky sneaky jumpscare kind of way. The big final boss fight of the game is anti climatic and not at all the adrenaline filled sequence we’ve come to love in the Alien franchise.
In fact, the film generally proves to be less a thriller-horror film and more of a slasher-gore action film. Whilst the UK release has been awarded a 15 certificate, removal of the blood from the scenes could easy give it a tamer 12 or 12A rating. The tense horror of the main franchise is dropped in favour of quicker, bloodier fight and chase scenes. In fact, the only part I was scared at was more a jump when a quiet scene was interrupted by sudden gunfire. The best thrills come from a series of quiet periods disturbed by one of two things. Sudden and unexpected horror, or a constant, uneasy threat that eventually is revealed. Build up, and release. Covenant was just constant action, and where there was a calmer period, it made little sense or was too short to gain that sense of safety ready for the next shock.
I walked out the cinema feeling disappointed, unsatisfied and frustrated. Questions from Prometheus (who were the Engineers? Why and how did they create the alien goo?) remained unanswered. More questions were asked (why is David the way he is? Why is the captain stupid?) How do we get from here to Alien – even with the next film, I fear there are too many things to solve. I was disappointed with what was presented to me – weak plot, weak characters and an excuse to play with the Xenomorph forms. I was unsatisfied because it wasn’t what I wanted from the film. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t disturbed and I wasn’t impressed.
Khin wants to make it clear that all the opinions in this post are hers and hers alone. Her ticket to Alien: Covenant was bought by the aforementioned friend in exchange for dinner. She still prefers Alien and might go watch it just to satisfy everything Covenant didn’t.