Friday, May 19, 2017

Alien: Covenant - Review

Alien: Covenant

Sir Ridley Scott, Director of “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Black Rain”, “Thelma & Louise”, “Gladiator”, “Black Hawk Down”, ‘Hannibal”, “Match Stick Men”, “Robin Hood”,  “American Gangster”, “Body of Lies”, and “The Martian”  brings to the screen his latest in “Alien Covenant”  the sequel to his 2012 “Prometheus”.

THE ALIEN FRANCHISE: Over a span of 38 years "The Alien Franchise" has become a bit of a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. If you try connecting these stories solely with the years they were released .i.e.  Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997), Alien vs Predator (2004) and Prometheus (2012), you will surely discover they are no longer chronological linked, with some no longer even relevant at all. Such is the case with the films from 1992, 1997 and 2004 who are not really worth any of your consideration going forward if you are an "Alien" purist as I am.

As it stands now Director Ridley Scott has offered up a new energized interpretive refurbishing of "The Alien Franchise" with the development of a series of cinematic prequels to tell the story i.e. “Prometheus and Covenant”, as well as for any future “Alien” films he may portend to deliver that will eventually take us back to the very beginning of the original “Alien” in 1979. Got it?

BACKGROUND No.1: In the film year 1979 “Alien” starring Sigourney Weaver, we find her as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley with a seven person crew on a mining spaceship called the Nostromo. On their way home to earth they receive a distress signal that results in them landing on an abandoned planetoid designated as LV-426. When the crew investigates they come upon a crashed derelict "horseshoe shaped" spaceship. Once inside crew member Kane becomes infected with a face hugging creature that kills him using him as a host to eventually evolve into a killing xenomorphic entity that eventual forces Ripley to both abandoning and destroying her ship. It’s the galactic year 2122. Got it?

BACKGROUND No.2: In the film year 1986 “Aliens” Ripley is discovered in her shuttle in hyper sleep for 57 years after destroying her ship the Nostromo. Awakened, she is told that the same Alien planetoid LV-426 that she landed on years ago is now inhabited with a large group of scientist working to "terra forming it" for sustainable life. The problem is they have not been heard from the workers there in a while. So a contingency of hardnosed Marines and Ripley as a special advisor are dispatched back to LV-426 to investigate why they lost communication with the people there. When they arrive Ripley discovers the scientists have been overran by the same “Aliens” species she previously battled on the Nostromo to be now embryonic host for “baby aliens”. Ripley narrowly escapes by nuking from orbit the entire LV-426 planet from the mother ship USS Sulaco.. It’s the galactic year 2179. Got it?

BACKGROUND No.3: In the film year 2012 “Prometheus” (A prequel to the 1979 "Alien") we find two archeologist as part of a science exploration crew landing on a distant moon now labeled LV-223 aboard the scientific vessel named Prometheus. Searching for “Engineers" who are believed to be the creators of human life on earth, the ship Prometheus is destroyed when it was discovered the Engineers wanted now to destroy life on earth with a “black goo” substance. Crew members Android David and Dr. Shaw survive the catastrophe by commandeering an alien “horseshoe shaped” spaceship to find the home planet of the Engineers to answer the questions …………. “Why they made us and then want to kill us?”. It’s the galactic year 2094, - 28 galactic space years BEFORE THE 1979 "ALIEN” story where Ellen Ripley begins. Got It?

“ALIEN COVENANT” PLOT: In "Alien Covenant" it’s the galactic year 2104, nearly 10 years after Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and android David blasted off from LV-223 to the engineers’ "paradise planet" in their commandeered alien "horseshoe shaped" spaceship.

On the ship Covenant we see a new crew on a deep space mission transporting sleeping 2,000 colonists in cryostasis to a paradise planet designated Origae-6 in order to start a new life. There is also a new synthetic android on board named Walter who is an identical look alike to the android David who was a survivor with Doctor Shaw of the previously doomed Prometheus expedition.

When they are almost to their destination the Covenant is alerted with a random transmission sounding like John Denver’s song “Country Roads” which alerts them to the presence of a nearer by planet that has better conditions for supporting life.

The Covenant crew takes the easy option by setting down on the untested and uncharted planetoid environment…………... “Wow!!! There is air here. There is wheat to eat. What could be bad about this place?”……………. Uhh, why are there no animals around?..........Gulp.

Shortly after arriving on this mysterious wonderful looking world things soon turn ferociously dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life-form becomes a terrifying entity for the crew to battle for their survival. Got it?

REVIEW: Smartly so, Director Scott draws his Covenant inspiration from his 1979 “Alien” and James Cameron’s 1986 “Aliens” while connecting in a satisfying way a link to his “Prometheus” and its conclusion.  That’s good.

Technically speaking, from both “Alien and Aliens” we see the return of the original elongated helmet head "alien” with bag pipes coming out of his back, acid for blood and slobbering drool to be the central menace that "Alien" Science Officer Ash once said was   …….. “The perfect organism, who’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility and purity as a survivor..............completely unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality”.

You know, I have never figured out why the Alien's primordial instinct is to always kill everything that is human,........... Is he in some pain physically, need a root canal or an aspirin, especially with all of those endless rows of extending teeth of steel.........Maybe he is just "alien" lonely and has no real way of conveying his deeper more intimate emotional needs, so he lashes out................Ehh, I digress.

Structurally speaking, Covenant recaptures the infusion of the moody sense of ominous dread lurking about. In addition we see the balance of the film's uniqueness as both a science fiction story as well as a monstrous horror film. There is also the eerie evoking of isolation while trying to survive in space. And there are some crafty directorial moves for the feel of genuine raw tension that kept adding up to something bigger, faster, chaotic and more amped up to the very end.  That’s good too.

But the best and most interesting aspect about “Alien: Covenant” is Michael Fassbender, who clearly deserves Oscar nomination consideration for his David - Walter imagining. As stated he plays two virtually identical-looking synthetics as David from the Prometheus and as Walter on the Covenant with absolute brilliance. A performance somehow he manages to draw clear distinctions from on the surface as two identical characters who wear the same outward poker face personas and yet making enough of a subtle enough effort to be intimately different with different agendas and different alliances. It is astounding to watching him play off one another, especially when David teaches Walter how to play a flute for some odd reason (later explained in the film). That scene is so compelling and flawlessly drawn out we hardly stop to question were there indeed two actors actually on the screen; it just felt naturally that there were.  But the critical difference is watching Fassbender Michael Fassbender’s make David from Prometheus, into some Shakespearean mix of the erudite charming dashing hero of Lawrence of Arabia and a mean as hell Lucifer-esque Frankenstein-ish Monster. He will make you squirm.

"SO DAMN IT MAN THIS IS GETTING WAY TOO LONG, IS THE MOVIE ANY GOOD?" Well yeah and you notice it right a way from its visual look. From the set design, to its graphics design and to the special effects itself, Scott spared no expense in making this  story; it is a stellar looking film. And overall it is still just a fascinating concept that continues to work these many decades later that is gripping for those of us who like our science fiction with intellectual thought put into it...............AND YET, there were some obvious flaws as well

With the exception of Fassbender’s work and Danny McBride’s “Tennessee” as the pilot, the rest of the crew were kind of cookie cutter, man to woman, inter-changeable with nothing to make them really distinctive. They lacked the chemistry for some unifying camaraderie as was obvious from the “Alien and Alien” films. Oh I get it; a large crew on board, clearly they are the predictable assortment for a diversified crew, but in reality they are cannon fodder; - "the body count" if you will for the pending doom to come as we systematically watch them be horrifically dispatched by the “alien". 

Also, while the story is solidly connected from beginning to end it does go a little flat after David introduces the crew to his dark and damp home for the past ten years. While Fasssbender was great to watch, I got the feeling the rest of the actors were just hanging around the set waiting for their cue to see who was going to die next..........."Hey Ridley is it my turn to be gored or decapitated now?"

“Alien Covenant” is good. It is also crazy, kinetic, macbre, theological, loopy, creepy, poetic, operatic, Shakespearean, sinister and above all just plain fun to watch. Its a quality compliment - a quality companion to "Prometheus" and the "Alien Franchise". But I  suspect Scott will keep getting this story better probably in the two more films he promised to come. BUT WHAT I ADMIRED THE MOST was the taking of Alien Covenant in the direction of giving the fans probably what they wanted, ………an interstellar frightening gory tale that stays in its gory horror lane by delivering nonstop fear and terror whether it is completely plausible or not with some twists and turns you may anticipate and others you may not.

WARNING: I noticed with the ending screen credits that hockey masked wearing, machete toting and murderous sociopath killer Jason Voorhees of “Friday the 13th” fame wrote the screenplay for "Alien Covenant"……………Hell, I'm just kidding. BUT, this is a heads up for some of you that "ALIEN Covenant" is a gruesome display which Director Scott seemed to readily enjoy. Yes, “Covenant” is drenched in a lot of erythrocytes and thrombocytes (medical terms for red & white blood cells) as Ridley goes all Vin Diesel-ish “Fast and the Furious" on the slaughter factor holding nothing back, executing the carnage in very imaginative ways.

In the end Covenant clearly moves on to another film. It also moves on to creating more questions to be answered.  Who again are the engineers?   Why again did they create us? Why again did they want to kill us?  What is the black goo? Who and why created the “xenomorphic alien”? Why do humans who touch the goo turn into monsters? WHY? WHAT? WHERE?

“Covenant” does leave Ridley Scott with a plenty of plot possibilities for his two more films. To a larger point, while I have no direct script knowledge on how these series of prequels will link up to the LV-426 planet of the 1979 Alien,  I still have a pretty good idea as to what might happen going forward. But in the end, according to the timeline I laid out, Ridley Scott has about 18 more "galactic  years" to take us back to that crashed derelict "horseshoe shaped" spaceship on that cold uninhabitable planet with the crew of the Nostromo and it's Captain Dallas, Warrant Officer Ripley and their crew of Lambert, Kane, Brett, Parker and that creepy milk drinking android named Ash................... The Alien future looks sinisterly good and I cannot wait. 

Got it?

3.50 Stars

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