ALIEN: COVENANT: “What do you believe in, David?”

Alien-Covenant-cenario


After directing ALIEN in 1979, Ridley Scott stepped away from the mammoth series initally created by Crohn’s Disease victim Dan O’Bannon (a story you should read about in the terrific book SHOCK VALUE). This move allowed other artists to have their way with the material, such as James Cameron, who made its bigger and not-so-much-better sequel, ALIENS. After newcomer David Fincher and visionary director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s third and fourth entries failed to appeal to critics and audiences alike, the franchise seemed dead on arrival, which is why the studio opted to just pair a Xenomorph against the Predator, a steeple of 80s action cinema (and still one of the coolest movie monsters ever created).

Talks of an ALIEN prequel series had been around since the early 2000s, after the colossal failure of ALIEN: RESURRECTION. But amid the swarms of ideas and conversations, it got lost and the franchise was instead greeted with two ALIEN V. PREDATOR movies, in which two of Hollywood’s most iconic monsters faced off in what would eventually become two of Hollywood’s worst action movies.

As the ALIEN sequels and the AVP movies released, Scott kept making movies. In 1992, his film THELMA & LOUISE earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination, and years later, he would be nominated again for GLADIATOR and BLACK HAWK DOWN, the former of which won Best Picture. The mid-2000s was a good period for Scott’s filmography as well, as films such as KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, AMERICAN GANGSTER, MATCHSTICK MEN, and BODY OF LIES resonated well with audiences, if not always critics. But after a decade of early talks and negotiations that fell through, in 2012, Scott finally made his return to the franchise that made him famous.

When Scott made PROMETHEUS, he took the beloved but butchered series in a new direction, a direction which seemed completely off the table after the abrupt chaos that ensued after David Fincher was raped during the production of ALIEN 3. With PROMETHEUS, the iconic director took “returning to the roots” a little more seriously than anyone expected. What started as a Hollywood creature saga in the 70s had now become a living, breathing franchise with themes of life, death, and the meaning of it all. Where did we come from? If man made robots, then who made man? And who the hell are the engineers? With PROMETHEUS, the director asked questions he wasn’t ready to answer.

ALIEN: COVENANT doesn’t do this, and that’s part of the reason why it’s so good. Here, we see a new Ridley Scott; *the* Ridley Scott, wrestling with the themes and filmmaking styles he uses today while setting up a film that hearkens back to techniques used all those decades ago. It’s a fascinating film, one that left a smile on my face on more occasions than I care to admit, and much of it came from seeing Scott put his vision on the screen, and to see how much he’s grown since 1979, all in the form of a 2017 passion project disguised as a summer creature feature.

Not to give the illusion that COVENANT is strictly an ALIEN movie. It isn’t. It takes a good hour before we see a Xenomorph, and the film is all the better for that. The setup, which sees a new crew on a new ship, The Covenant, heading to a new planet carrying thousands of new colonists and new embryos, focuses on said crew after they discover a transmission from a nearby planet and decide to check it out in a typical don’t-go-there-and-do-that-you-idiots setup. When they arrive, they discover the remnants of the Prometheus mission, which occurred ten years ago. They find the only living survivor of that expedition: David.

David was the best thing about PROMETHEUS, and nothing has changed with COVENANT. He is an unpredictable force, and the script by John Logan and Dante Harper does more for him here, giving him more humanity than he had in the first while also making him more of an uncomfortably eerie presence. Of course, when I say David is the best thing about the film, I’m talking more importantly about Michael Fassbender. The script introduces a new android named Walter, who is the android accompanying the Covenant. Walter is also played by Fassbender, and the script presents an entirely new dynamic between the two characters which takes the ALIEN mythology present in the film and makes it almost uninteresting when compared to the story Scott is *really* interested in telling in these new movies.

The new crew, also, is great. I cared more about the characters on the Covenant in the first few minutes of seeing them than I did about any of the characters in the entirety of PROMETHEUS. I liked Katherine Waterson more as the film went along, and I think she made for a stronger lead than Noomi Rapace in the first (still, no one can compare to Ripley). The standout cast member that isn’t Fassbender, though, is Danny McBride, the wild card of the movie who completely owns it. After seeing what Jordan Peele did with GET OUT earlier this year, I’m more than excited to see more comedians make the transition to horror, and I can’t wait to see what McBride does with the new HALLOWEEN movie.

The tone of COVENANT is something that may throw some people off, sometimes being more in the realm of PROMETHEUS, while other times being more of a straight-up ALIEN monster movie, but for the most part, I think it was handled well enough. I really loved the first half of the movie, which contained some of the best tension-building filmmaking I’ve seen in a very long time. The initial transition scene into “btw-yes-this-is-an-ALIEN-movie” is one that is marketed in the trailer, and I vividly remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, “that looks bad.” Whether it was the style or the editing of the trailer, I don’t remember, but this sequence in question comes forty minutes into the movie, and believe me when I say, it fucking rules. The sound design is masterful in sequences like this one, and they aren’t overtly scarce. If you go into this wanting lots of chest-bursting violence, be assured that you will walk out satisfied.

But what makes the film so good is how well it handles its subjects. It’s a massive film with big ideas and not enough time to deal with them all. Amidst all the blood and gore and aliens bursting out of people’s chest and backs, Scott’s intimate focus on the meaning of life reigns supreme, and it’s what sets this far above PROMETHEUS, or, in my opinion, any of the ALIEN sequels.

COVENANT goes all over the place, but tends to find its footing when it needs to, enough to support the weight of the themes and bizarre concepts Scott is attempting to delve into. Personally, I think this is the best ALIEN movie since 1979. Whereas James Cameron’s popular 1986 sequel tends to land in the top spot for many enthusiasts, what Ridley Scott is doing with these new movies is more of what I’m looking for in an ALIEN movie.

After directing ALIEN in 1979, Ridley Scott stepped away from the mammoth series initally created by Crohn’s Disease victim Dan O’Bannon (a story you should read about in the terrific book SHOCK VALUE). This move allowed other artists to have their way with the material, such as James Cameron, who made its bigger and not-so-much-better sequel, ALIENS. After newcomer David Fincher and visionary director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s third and fourth entries failed to appeal to critics and audiences alike, the franchise seemed dead on arrival, which is why the studio opted to just pair a Xenomorph against the Predator, a steeple of 80s action cinema (and still one of the coolest movie monsters ever created).

Talks of an ALIEN prequel series had been around since the early 2000s, after the colossal failure of ALIEN: RESURRECTION. But amid the swarms of ideas and conversations, it got lost and the franchise was instead greeted with two ALIEN V. PREDATOR movies, in which two of Hollywood’s most iconic monsters faced off in what would eventually become two of Hollywood’s worst action movies.

As the ALIEN sequels and the AVP movies released, Scott kept making movies. In 1992, his film THELMA & LOUISE earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination, and years later, he would be nominated again for GLADIATOR and BLACK HAWK DOWN, the former of which won Best Picture. The mid-2000s was a good period for Scott’s filmography as well, as films such as KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, AMERICAN GANGSTER, MATCHSTICK MEN, and BODY OF LIES resonated well with audiences, if not always critics. But after a decade of early talks and negotiations that fell through, in 2012, Scott finally made his return to the franchise that made him famous.

When Scott made PROMETHEUS, he took the beloved but butchered series in a new direction, a direction which seemed completely off the table after the abrupt chaos that ensued after David Fincher was raped during the production of ALIEN 3. With PROMETHEUS, the iconic director took “returning to the roots” a little more seriously than anyone expected. What started as a Hollywood creature saga in the 70s had now become a living, breathing franchise with themes of life, death, and the meaning of it all. Where did we come from? If man made robots, then who made man? And who the hell are the engineers? With PROMETHEUS, the director asked questions he wasn’t ready to answer.

ALIEN: COVENANT doesn’t do this, and that’s part of the reason why it’s so good. Here, we see a new Ridley Scott; *the* Ridley Scott, wrestling with the themes and filmmaking styles he uses today while setting up a film that hearkens back to techniques used all those decades ago. It’s a fascinating film, one that left a smile on my face on more occasions than I care to admit, and much of it came from seeing Scott put his vision on the screen, and to see how much he’s grown since 1979, all in the form of a 2017 passion project disguised as a summer creature feature.

Not to give the illusion that COVENANT is strictly an ALIEN movie. It isn’t. It takes a good hour before we see a Xenomorph, and the film is all the better for that. The setup, which sees a new crew on a new ship, The Covenant, heading to a new planet carrying thousands of new colonists and new embryos, focuses on said crew after they discover a transmission from a nearby planet and decide to check it out in a typical don’t-go-there-and-do-that-you-idiots setup. When they arrive, they discover the remnants of the Prometheus mission, which occurred ten years ago. They find the only living survivor of that expedition: David.

David was the best thing about PROMETHEUS, and nothing has changed with COVENANT. He is an unpredictable force, and the script by John Logan and Dante Harper does more for him here, giving him more humanity than he had in the first while also making him more of an uncomfortably eerie presence. Of course, when I say David is the best thing about the film, I’m talking more importantly about Michael Fassbender. The script introduces a new android named Walter, who is the android accompanying the Covenant. Walter is also played by Fassbender, and the script presents an entirely new dynamic between the two characters which takes the ALIEN mythology present in the film and makes it almost uninteresting when compared to the story Scott is *really* interested in telling in these new movies.

The new crew, also, is great. I cared more about the characters on the Covenant in the first few minutes of seeing them than I did about any of the characters in the entirety of PROMETHEUS. I liked Katherine Waterson more as the film went along, and I think she made for a stronger lead than Noomi Rapace in the first (still, no one can compare to Ripley). The standout cast member that isn’t Fassbender, though, is Danny McBride, the wild card of the movie who completely owns it. After seeing what Jordan Peele did with GET OUT earlier this year, I’m more than excited to see more comedians make the transition to horror, and I can’t wait to see what McBride does with the new HALLOWEEN movie.

The tone of COVENANT is something that may throw some people off, sometimes being more in the realm of PROMETHEUS, while other times being more of a straight-up ALIEN monster movie, but for the most part, I think it was handled well enough. I really loved the first half of the movie, which contained some of the best tension-building filmmaking I’ve seen in a very long time. The initial transition scene into “btw-yes-this-is-an-ALIEN-movie” is one that is marketed in the trailer, and I vividly remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, “that looks bad.” Whether it was the style or the editing of the trailer, I don’t remember, but this sequence in question comes forty minutes into the movie, and believe me when I say, it fucking rules. The sound design is masterful in sequences like this one, and they aren’t overtly scarce. If you go into this wanting lots of chest-bursting violence, be assured that you will walk out satisfied.

But what makes the film so good is how well it handles its subjects. It’s a massive film with big ideas and not enough time to deal with them all. Amidst all the blood and gore and aliens bursting out of people’s chest and backs, Scott’s intimate focus on the meaning of life reigns supreme, and it’s what sets this far above PROMETHEUS, or, in my opinion, any of the ALIEN sequels.

COVENANT goes all over the place, but tends to find its footing when it needs to, enough to support the weight of the themes and bizarre concepts Scott is attempting to delve into. Personally, I think this is the best ALIEN movie since 1979. Whereas James Cameron’s popular 1986 sequel tends to land in the top spot for many enthusiasts, what Ridley Scott is doing with these new movies is more of what I’m looking for in an ALIEN movie.

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