Get Off My Face! – Alien: Covenant

10 08 2017

Out in deep space, the ship Covenant is on its way to a distant planet on a colonization mission. After a tragic accident takes place, the crew of the ship discover a planet much closer by which appears to be an untapped paradise with more potential than the planet they are heading for. Upon landing on the planet’s surface however, they realize something odd about this new world, and that more importantly, they’re not alone!

Confession: I have not seen Alien. I have seen bits of it, from John Hurt looking at Eggs, to something strapped to his face and the attempts to remove it (plus the deleted scene where one crew member is being turned into an egg; which sort of lowers the uncivilized level of everything else in the world of the Xenomorph). I have though seen other films in the Alien franchise; I have seen Aliens (as close to watching the whole thing without doing it in one sitting), tiny bits of Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection (in the same capacity as Aliens), Alien vs Predator, Alien vs Predator: Requiem (again much like Aliens) and Prometheus. In fact, Alien: Covenant is the first time I have seen an Alien film on the big screen that features the word Alien in the title. But this does not explain much as to why I have not seen the first film.

It’s not like I have not had a chance too or lack of it being on either. It’s the case that the bits I have seen are the result of it being on TV. There was also the opportunity to watch it at The Dukes in Lancaster too, but I turned it down. So why have I not seen it: because I am not really a fan of gross levels of horror. I am actually rather squeamish, this is particularly true anytime and every time I have walked into a hospital or needed an injection. When it comes to these films, I know what I need to be getting myself into with its Chestbursters and its Facehuggers, but part of me is not really looking forward to those bits. But now you must be thinking; OK, then why watch any of the films in the first place then? Simple answer, I can’t help myself: thing is, I am actually, although rather grossed out by it, very interested in the Alien creature. I am a big fan of Monster Movies as anyone who knows me will testify with an especial passion for Godzilla films. While my Monster movie love though is mainly tied to giant monsters, I am still very interested in the Alien. This mainly comes in the form of its biology and how it comes to life. In the week leading up to the release of Covenant, I spent quite a bit of my time in a philosophical head space as I thought about the creature and came to the conclusion that the Alien creature is actually a rather tragic creation; but that is a story for another time.

Released in 2017 by 20th Century Fox and Directed by Ridley Scott; Covenant is the latest film in the mythical series of Horror/Action films that began in 1979 with the release of Alien. Covenant looks backwards in time, as it looks to continue to tell the tale of the events leading up to the original film, as well as look into how the species was possibly created. The film acts as a direct sequel to Prometheus, but also looks to set up its own future and possibly lead into something bigger.

First thing I would say about this film is something rather obvious from the get go. While the series is technically more of a horror series of films, Covenant lends itself more to that of an action film. It does have its shocking moments that will make you launch a bit, but there is not really a lot in terms of big out of the dark surprises. It’s more like the film makers decided to go from the launch pad that as we know what the Alien is, there is less need to surprise people with what they already know. The film does contain its fair share of visually disgusting moments that we have come to expect from the series such as its facehuggers and chestbursters, but at the same time also weaves in some new little bits to keep some bits of the series fresh. This aside though, it’s content and pacing really does lend itself more to a mini action movie than a horror movie. It comes with chase scenes, tense moments, and events involving large vehicular instruments as well as gun totting characters with a trigger happy attitude when confronted with something that wants to kill them.

The film’s story is nicely brought together as it looks to less provide a ride for the ages and to introduce the series and its elements to a new group of fans with help from those of the past (sort of on a level similar to the release of Jurassic World). On that note though, you do begin to wonder how this film is helping its own series continuity, and how far back the film makers can go in both setting and technology without the events of these films unconvincingly surpass the films that they are meant to be leading up to. The story in itself does have some very interesting use of characters, although those that do stand out early on do feel rather wasted and you are left with one character whose introduction early on shows that he is just going to be un-sympathetic and rotten and thus do not care the slightest what happens to him, in some manner of form it’s actually rather pleasing. Those that remain do their best on their own as much as they can to continue to provide (though it’s hard to mention whom exactly as I don’t want to ruin who gets a feasting). Characters of note include Faris (Amy Seimetz), Karine (Carmen Ejogo), Rosenthal (Tess Haubrich), and Upworth (Callie Hernandez), however my particular mention goes out to the three main stars of this film in my opinion, those being Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Tennessee (Danny McBride) and the combination of David and Walter (Michael Fassbender).

The switcheroo between David and Walter is rather fun to watch as the two different forms of the same looking AI go head to head. On the one hand you have the now rather psychotic David and the more natural butler like machine of Walter. Walter is already a far more pleasing performance than David, but David really does carry that dark sinister sense, where as in Prometheus he is very much just a hindrance, now though he is fully on Badness. Daniels meanwhile is the sympathetic and strong second leader of the team, whose sole job is to make sure the mission is completed on time. Given a tragedy at the start of the film she feels broken, but then comes out strong and hopeful. While her scenes are actually rather enjoyable and strong, she does suffer from not being on-screen more often. She is on more often than other characters, but as the film reaches its central point she is sort of side-lined for a lecture of human philosophy between David and Walter. She comes back on strong and ends nicely that way too, but it’s still something of a miss. For me though the real attraction is Tennessee. This guy is just fantastic. Loyal and respectful, but always working hard to get things done. He shows real levels of passion in the middle stages of the film, and becomes a hard nut in the film’s ending. He is the character to root for the most as you really get attached to how nice but also how practical this character is, and from the beginning of the third act becomes the film’s lead, at least from an audience perspective.

The Xenomorphs meanwhile, although still pretty well done and cool, does suffer from a case of Missing Alien Syndrome. When Godzilla was released in 2014; there was a lot of press which highlighted that the film appeared to have very little of the title monster. Now while I did not necessarily agree with that, I would say however that such comments should definitely be directed this way. For a film that even has Alien in the title, there does appear to be a definitive lack of the Alien creatures. Now, while you could argue that in the same sense that this film is a potential new launch platform for the Alien series and it is of course important to introduce them correctly, there does appear to be large amounts of time between Alien’s being in the scene, and returning to the film. It feels like whole passages of time are passing by as we wait yet again for one to appear. It could be the case that the horror sense of what these films are meant to be is hiding their appearances, but seeing as on occasion, the scene breaks to a shot of the Alien approaching, then why is it taking so long for them to arrive? When they are actively in the scene, they do become the central focus yes; but when not in it, you begin to wonder why their name is even in the film title (maybe it should be called Human: Covenant instead)? Although: there is one big thing however that does sort of get in the way.

The film really likes to talk on the subject of life in a philosophical matter. Talking about life and death and the importance of life given to a species and whether or not they live to that potential. It is something to think on and the film really works hard to slot it in there, to get us thinking and does become the basis of some moments and decisions that characters get involved with. But this is a horror/action movie, not a scientific lecture. It’s good to see certain parts of this film and its series, important points in the creation aspect get covered, but if it’s slowing the films pace down is it worth it? This part, slotted in there really is the bug that is slicing its way through the film. You will have a moment where something is happening and going on, only to then cut to a classroom somewhere to receive a creation and zoology based lecture on creation and the meaning of life. It’s interesting yes, but is this really the time. I mean, here we are, stuck inside a building, fending ourselves off from something that wants to mercilessly shred us to bits, and you want to deliver a scientific lecture David?

The film of course does come packed with a host of visual and special effects but which frankly does not heavily rely on them. The SFX in this film are more on hand to cover and create things which cannot be done with what is available, doing them to a great level of detail, but also only producing what is needed for the film to work. The Alien effects still look pretty gross however, but in a sense are pretty more bearable in comparison to previous films in the series, once again allowing it to lean much closer to action films, not horror films. The scenes are ones that will horrify you still, however they have been done in a format that looks less like a heart transplant given by an unqualified butcher, and more like something is just spilling out of a skin coloured sofa. The shots of space craft and flying ships are pretty well done and cool too, with the Covenant ship looking a bit like the Pegasus front in Battlestar Galactica. These scenes sometimes do feel like a post off cut of Gravity, but these do not distract from the scenes in hand, and don’t want make you feel dizzy, so you can save those feelings for later. There is also a soundtrack but once again feels like it has fallen into that trap of not actually being needed for the most part. Like the SFX, it’s there when it’s needed, but several sections of this film don’t even have much in the way of music, your unlikely to spot it, other than the constant uses of the theme from Prometheus.

Despite some of its issues here and there, Covenant does not really have much in the way of issues that will make you leap out of your chair and want to tear the screen down in anger; except maybe for the film’s ending. Although it is a rather clichéd film practice which leads up to it, the end of the film creates an unbelievable shock that will leave you reeling. It make you think aloud, begging for there to be more, as it just does not seem right. It leaves you on a sinister twist that I think is very similar to the ending of Gone Girl. It is an unjustified twist that makes it feel like there is more to come, but you desire it now, because it just feels so wrong to end like that.

Altogether, Covenant is a very enjoyable film: it contains its core Alien values as well as a few shocks, but does lack surprises, but in the end does provide a rather sinister twist in a similar vein perhaps to an episode of The Outer Limits. It does have some character development flaws as early characters with promise are killed off, but does allow some good ones to live on, if only for a short time. The special effects are nicely made and blend into the film rather un-noticeably, as does the soundtrack. Alien: Covenant really is more of an action film than a horror film: yes, it will probably gross out some audiences and is definitely not one for everyone (especially those under a certain age), but there is a minimalist approach in its delivery however to provide an allowance for some to try it, without needing an instant throw-up break every now and then. On the whole though you are really getting your money’s worth and more with this one as it really does give the Alien series a bright looking future as well as provide thrills and Chestburster spills for this outing at least.

GENEPOOL (Does anyone else think this film’s plot contradicts that of AVP’s?).

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