Alien: Covenant

In the summer of 2012 my friends and I spent a few weeks re-watching and talking about the Alien series, in anticipation of Ridley Scott’s much hyped prequel Prometheus. When we did get around to going to the cinema for the new release, after our Alien revision, we all found Prometheus disappointing. But afterwards we went to a pub and talked about exactly why it was disappointing for several hours. Whenever I talk about the Alien series with somebody now, I usually cast myself as a Prometheus apologist: not because I think it’s very good, but because it fails while trying to do something interesting and because the failure itself is interesting.1

It’s shame to have to tell you then that Alien: Covenant is not an interesting failure. It’s by no means a bad film, and certainly better than Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection,2 but any Alien film has to be judged against the twin pinnacles of Alien and Aliens, and Covenant is nowhere close. One can imagine a better-executed Prometheus joining those films to form a trio of differently-shaped horrors: the suspense horror, the action horror, the philosophical horror. Covenant could never join these ranks, it doesn’t try to branch out in any particular new direction. It’s a solid monster movie, but not much more. The first two-thirds of the film follow the now-standard xenomorph discovery narrative: explore new planet, somebody gets infected, something evil grows inside them and eventually bursts out,3 there’s a terrible slaughter, the survivors are picked off one-by-one. This is nicely done of course (it is Ridley Scott), but we’ve been here before. The monster proper, when it arrives, is compromised by our long history with it. Overexposure neuters even H. R. Giger’s ingenious monstrosities in the end.

The final third of the film attempts, in places, to engage in philosophical horror as we learn what Prometheus’s David’s has wrought. But these parts are severely underdeveloped, and the final twist is clear from miles off. My guess is that these parts of the film were neglected because most criticism of Prometheus focused on its philosophising and the filmmakers wanted to avoid the same response. So instead David is only really used to drive the monster plot and we end up with a competent but boring film.

There’s a lot more that I could say, but I didn’t really find this film engaging enough to take the time to say it. I’m a fan of the Alien franchise as a whole, and I’ll keep going to see new films, but I’m starting to think that it’s impossible now to do anything interesting with the concept. Anyway, 3 stars, some gory bits.

  1. As Phil Sandifer says, “I’ve always preferred a noble failure to a cheap success”. ↩︎

  2. I personally rank Resurrection above 3, but only because I really fancied Winona Ryder in Resurrection and neither film has much else going for it. ↩︎

  3. The main innovation of Covenant is that the traditional xenomorph chest-burster exits violently through the chest: the half-breeds of Covenant exit, extremely viscerally, from all over the place. If it’s not the most violent Alien film overall, it’s certainly the most happy to revel in gore. ↩︎

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© Tom Harris 2015–2018.

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