Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) are true classics of the science-fiction / horror genre — although they are wildly different movies. They have inspired two direct sequels, two indirect sequels and now two prequels, the second of which is Alien: Covenant. There will be at least one more prequel, possibly two, produced and probably directed, as this one is, by Ridley Scott, who helmed the first Alien nearly forty years ago. It’s amazing that the first film has led to so many tangential versions.
Scott’s new film follows a colony ship (the Covenant) as it endures an emergency and then explores a nearby planet which might prove to be a better fit for its two thousand sleeping colonists. That planet, of course, is populated by Xenomorphs (the wicked Alien creatures) and a surprising human-like host. Soon everyone is running for their lives.
I like the premise and the parameters for this film, but Scott doesn’t take full advantage of them. The film isn’t as immediate, or claustrophobic, as the original, and its kill scenes are more inevitable than frightening. Scott eschews closeups in favor of less involving two-shots and action set-ups. One really top-notch action sequence occurs late in the proceedings but even that sequence doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, cool as it is. And its last big surprise is not a surprise at all.
While I am disappointed that the film never reaches its potential, I was into it all the way through. The humans’ penchant for bad decision-making and resilience under pressure are convincingly authentic. Unwise decisions that make sense at the moment only give rise to chaos and destruction later — and we, the audience, knows darn well what is coming. The future scenario that this film posits can be explored later — or not, as Scott sees fit. In the meantime, we’re getting ever closer to learning how the Xenomorphs arrived on the planet where the Nostromo finds them, as first detailed back in 1979. It’s a fascinating story. ☆ ☆ 1/2. 3 June 2017.