I had the good fortune of being invited to London to attend the world premiere of Alien: Covenant on the 4th of May 2017. It was a great experience to be able to walk down that green carpet and sit in the same theatre as the cast, director and crew and watch the film on the big screen.
Before I get into this, you need to know that this is a review from a fan on a fan site. Alien vs. Predator Galaxy might be the best fan site but it is a website run by people who are dedicated to the Alien franchise and are very invested in the series. I wanted to put this out there because the issues I have with the film (and I don’t want to start off negatively) come from that angle.
Alien: Covenant started life as Prometheus 2 before it seemed to transform into an Alien film, in the same way Prometheus originally turned from Untitled Alien Prequel into Prometheus.
Don’t let that fool you, though, this is still Prometheus 2. It may have Alien in the name and we may get Aliens but this is still a film following Prometheus’ legacy, just not full of questions with no answers and much more focused on one central theme.
The film is largely focused around the themes of creation and life. The crew of the Covenant are on a mission to start a new colony, they’ve got the life of 2000 colonists and hundreds of human embryos in their hands. And David is obsessed with being able to create his own offspring (in a fashion).
The marketing for Alien: Covenant might not be putting a massive emphasize on it being more than a simple straight forward horror film, but creation (and destruction) is fairly constant throughout.
There was a scene I was somewhat surprised at with some very overt rape implications that fed really strongly into David’s change of disposition and as a bastardized view on the theme of creation.
Once again, Michael Fassbender just knocks it out the park – as both Walter and David. David continues to be such an interesting character. There’s some definite differences with his behaviour between Prometheus and Alien: Covenant but I think it works really well.
However, due to this there are questions left hanging about David, primarily about what happened to him to change his motivation after Shaw went to cryosleep. Perhaps Scott, Logan and Dante are leaving that to Alan Dean Foster to expand upon?
While he still retains a lot of that snarky, sly personality from Prometheus he’s also quite focused on what he’s doing and he has developed a more overt superiority complex. It still worked for me though.
As with Prometheus, there’s lots of little moments with David that are just gold. There’s one particular moment I really enjoyed where David is just sat throwing stones while waiting for the birth of a certain creature that just really stuck with me. It sounds lame written down but I thought it worked so well on screen.
I was also a fan of Walter and how Fassbender portrayed him. It was really fun to see the interactions between him and the other characters, especially Daniels. Having him portray both synthetic characters really highlighted the differences between the two. It was also a real treat to see Fassbender interacting with himself, especially during the quieter moments between David and Walter, as well as the physical scenes.
The rest of the cast was also great. Their dynamics and interactions really worked in establishing a rapport between all the characters in much the same fashion as the crew of Nostromo or the marines of the Sulaco. I don’t think there’s a single character or actor I didn’t like in the film despite everyone obviously not getting the same amount of screentime.
With that being the case, we don’t get to know everyone very well which I think is somewhat detrimental at times – specifically the death scenes, especially the earlier ones that kick off the action because it was harder to care in the same way that you might have when Kane finally burst.
However, I did really enjoy sticking around with all the main characters. I think Katherine Waterston made a really effective lead. I know there was a lot of concern over her being a Ripley clone but I only really picked up on superficial similarities to Ripley (being the third in command who has to step up, tank-top with a gun). Personality wise, I didn’t think she felt like Ripley at all. I could really just get behind her character and cheer her on.
I loved Danny McBride in this. While he has funny lines, he is not the comic relief people were worried he would be. I do feel like he was really under-utilized though. I would have loved to have seen more of him.
The only character I was somewhat disappointed in was Oram – and that’s just because how he meets his end. We all know from the trailers and some of the preview footage that the press was able to see that he is led to his death by David.
Throughout the early film Oram had been a really interesting character. He was someone thrust into leadership and was fighting to maintain it. Billy Crudup spoke previously about how Oram had originally been antagonistic but he was more interested in bringing some more dimension to his situation and I think that really worked well.
And then Oram disappoints me by going Prometheus on me and letting the dubious android lead him to his death, though he should have known better.
As expected the film looks absolutely gorgeous. I don’t think that would ever be doubted. I loved that Covenant took us to such a green world. How many barren waste worlds can we set these films on? It was such a visual breath of fresh air and I really appreciated it from the moment we set down.
I thought the Covenant sets looked really great. Definitely leaning more on the Alien side of set aesthetics than Prometheus’ flashy science-fiction. It still looked a little advanced with holograms but I don’t think Scott has any interest in going all the way back to CRT monitors or old school graphics which is a shame. Rogue One showed us there was still success to be had in looking old and grubby.
Though we spend so little time inside the Juggernaut, the additional hallway set they added was also great to see. It looked so like the original, even feeling a little like the hive in Aliens. It was nice to see a little more of a Giger aesthetic in the film but there was room for so much more.
Considering one of the more alluring aspects of the Derelict and the Space Jockey in the original Alien film was Giger’s design, it was still disappointing to see less of his style in the films that rotate around those creatures. I know that Ridley and Author Max talked about edging into more of that style but even Prometheus had some of the same sort of shapes and patterns.
And while I think the Engineer citadel that a good portion of the middle of the film takes place in looked amazing, I couldn’t help but wish to see more of that Giger-esque style, even if it was just the more rocky looking shapes and patterns. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to see more of that. I’m still holding out on the hope that I will eventually get to see a Giger-esque landscape stretch across the big screen.
While I mentioned earlier that this was very much a Prometheus sequel, the Engineers are noticeably absent of any meaningful inclusion. The big question left over from Prometheus – why did they want to kill us – is still left unanswered.
We’re also left with the question of this disconnect between this gorgeous looking city that seems to have been scooped from ancient Rome and these incredibly advanced starships with a genetic weapon aboard them.
With Covenant being framed around the new characters and its focus on David and creation rather than continuing Shaw’s quest for answers, it isn’t as frustrating but it’s still noticeable and will likely leave some fans of Prometheus a little annoyed.
The film does leave some of its own questions open. What really went down with Shaw and David, especially after how he talks about her and what we saw in the prologue. What did David learn en route to Paradise that made him kill the Engineers on sight? And really, what is the purpose (other than being intended as weapon for us) of the black goo?
Alien: Covenant introduces us to some new Alien-like creatures, the Neomorphs. Though they’re not in a lot, I did really enjoy them. They’re an interesting take on Alien-like creatures and how that all relates to the black goo.
I would have liked to have seen more focus on exploring them as they weren’t quite so Alien. It was really nice to see a return of some of the older Beluga-Alien concepts from Prometheus for the Neomorphs too.
I was really enjoying the film until the last third and then it just made me groan. This is where you can see Ridley Scott felt the need to throw the Alien in there. Up until this point we’d been focused on the Neomorphs and the characters and we shift gear into the titular Alien.
And it seems like Scott, Logan or Dante forgot to go and rewatch Alien before they made Alien: Covenant. They’re pulling Paul Anderson levels of messing with the Alien lore, especially in the way they handled the Alien lifecycle.
We get a five minute chestburster which is a completely different chestburster. We don’t have a snake, we get a perfectly formed miniature Alien. Which, granted, I think looked fantastically creepy and was a great visual effect. I loved how it was translucent and how it was so disproportionately formed but that’s not what human chestbursters look like.
However, you may be able to explain that away depending on where Scott and co. take the next prequels. Something that we’ve long suspected was that David is somehow responsible for the creation of the Aliens in this film. He is.
But these Aliens don’t look the same. The eggs look different, the facehuggers are slightly different, the chestburster is completely different and the Alien is lacking the biomechanical elements. If it is a narrative point later on down the line that this particular batch is not quite the same or right, I could maybe buy into these seemingly random changes.
I’m still not sold on the idea of David being the creator of the Alien species either; I’m too married to the concept of the Alien being an ancient creature from some long lost war. It’s not definitively put across that these are THE Aliens. There’s still wiggle room for those theories about him re-creating the Aliens but until the later films, it’s still up in the air.
The most annoying and groan-inducing thing for me was the 10 second facehugger. One of the characters is attacked by a facehugger and has it on his face for barely any time at all before being cut off and injuring the intended victim (which in itself is pretty cool!) but this is apparently enough time to result in him being infected.
It’s not something the casual viewer may pick-up on but as a fan it really bugged me. And it all seemed in service of picking up the pace to make sure it all fit in. And that brings me to another problem with the film.
The last act of Alien: Covenant feels like the last two acts of Alien being squeezed into one. It felt tacked on and almost felt like this was Ridley being forced or feeling obligated to shoehorn Alien into the film.
It also moves along so quickly that the Alien portions of the film just didn’t feel effective. Nothing is allowed to build or sit. It just rushes right through it. In regards to the editing of the rest of the film, the earlier portions felt much better but when David is introduced, the film speeds along too much, speeding past parts that should have been held on to get to more of Fassbender, who I loved, but I would have liked more of stuff like the characters having more interest in the Citadel or more suspicion in David
Personally, I felt it might have served the film better to have focused on the Neomorph and make a single effective film than try and squeeze both Prometheus and Alien into one.
So let’s talk creature effects! I know a lot of you are probably really curious about this. There definitely seemed to be more digital effects than practical. The only piece of practical effects that I particularly noticed of the full sized beast was of a shot of the Alien head and the inner-jaw in action. I may be completely wrong but the majority of the other creature shots looked digital to my eyes.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing though. The effects are up to scratch! I don’t think there was any particular shot that stuck out as looking bad. And it looked to me like there was a good mix with practical and digital for the smaller creature effects. It’s just that the majority of the shots looked noticeably digital.
There were some lovely looking shots of the creatures, especially the Alien. There’s a shot towards the end of the film where you get a really good sense of just how alien this humanoid form actually is. It looked great on the screen!
Unlike Prometheus, I really dug Alien: Covenant’s score. I could have done without the Jerry Goldsmith refrains because Alien doesn’t have a series theme and I found it a little too referential, like it was trying to remind me from the offset that this film had Alien in the title.
One of Prometheus’ tracks does sneak in but it’s quite appropriate in its use. Until the film includes David playing the same tune on his flute. I just didn’t enjoy that kind of self-referential moment. It felt akin to Fassbender turning and winking at me through the screen.
What Ked Kurzel brings I really liked. It had a great sense of foreboding with some very chaotic sounds and ambience that I work really well as the score for an Alien film.
I enjoyed Alien: Covenant. I didn’t love it but didn’t I hate it either. I’m looking forward to seeing it again to try and digest more of it. There’s a lot going on and a lot of questions left but as Covenant didn’t frame itself around that kind of thing, it doesn’t feel as dissatisfying as Prometheus did.
I would say it also felt like a retry of Prometheus, except more successful. Alien: Covenant goes back to a lot of the structure of Jon Spaihts’ earlier Prometheus scripts when it was an Alien film, utilising not-quite Aliens and Aliens. It also still manages to bring in higher themes of creation that Prometheus was interested in.
I would rate Alien: Covenant as being my fourth favourite in the series (with Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 being tied for first place. I can never pick a favourite when it comes to the original trilogy) but definitely above Prometheus, Alien: Resurrection and the Alien vs. Predator films.
For a final score I’m stuck somewhere between a 6 and a 7. I really want to rewatch it to get a feel for anything I may have missed. But for now, from Aaron Percival at Alien vs. Predator Galaxy, I award Alien: Covenant with 6.5 out of 10.