It is not always easy to make waves with a new horror film since the genre is so over-saturated, and it feels like we have seen every variation. But in 1979, Ridley Scott managed it with the release of Alien, his brooding and terrifying sci-fi horror flick that even 38 years later can still send chills down the spine of just about anyone. It spawned of course numerous sequels including James Cameron’s Aliens, which actually managed to top the original in thrills. Then there were the countless ripoffs and films “inspired” by what Scott and his collaborators had wrought — including Scott’s own 2012 dive back into the genre with Prometheus.
In fact, as I say in my video review above, his latest Alien: Covenant is really an Alien spinoff in name only — it is basically a sequel to Prometheus. But clearly Fox thought it might have more commercial potential going out under the Alien franchise. All that said, Scott’s latest effort in the genre is a decent, extremely well made but not startlingly different version of all that has come before.
The premise has the spaceship Covenant with 2000 humans and another 11oo or so embryos on board in deep freeze headed on a multi-year voyage to a distant planet called Origae-6, which is thought to be a potentially friendly place to continue the survival of the human species. Overseeing this deep sleep is Walter (Michael Fassbender), the humanoid butler who is sort of an American version of David, the similar character Fassbender played in Prometheus. When a disastrous storm causes damage to the ship, its captain (James Franco — blink and you miss him) dies, leaving behind his distraught significant other (Katherine Waterston) who is a key player in making the new Origae-6 planet inhabitable.
Taking over as captain is the unsteady Christopher (Billy Crudup), who eventually makes the wrongheaded decision to take a detour from their voyage and land instead on another planet which looks equally inhabitable. But if you know how these movies work that is a BIG mistake, as explorer Farris (Amy Seimetz), wife of the chief pilot (Danny McBride), soon discovers when she goes out to take a peek with another crew member who quickly finds himself gravely ill after what we have seen is a Tinkerbell-like alien traveling into his right ear.
At this point the picture started reminding me of Kong: Skull Island as a clueless group starts to get devoured one by one as they traverse a new and deceptively beautiful landscape. Soon David appears, as it turns out the only survivor of Prometheus, and Fassbender gets to play opposite himself — kinda like Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap. Those scenes, as well as the opener in which Fassbender’s Walter talks the meaning of life with his “father” (Guy Pearce), are the most interesting.
Like Prometheus, which wasn’t the huge box office success the studio hoped for, this prequel is meant to be one of several all eventually connecting somehow with Scott’s 1979 original. I certainly hope the 79-year-old helmer gets to make them as, even with the familiarity of this kind of film, he gives it such style that you know he has something special in store down the line. Writers John Logan and Dante Harper give their all in creating an intriguing enough script, and the ending is a real corker. Special effects, as you might expect, are superior.
Producers are David Giler, Walter Hill, Mark Huffam, Michael Schaefer and Scott. 20th Century Fox releases this hoped-for summer blockbuster Friday.
Do you plan to see Alien: Covenant? Let us know what you think.