To watch it is to experience severe cognitive dissonance. Ridley Scott’s film has some individual great moments which totally fail to mesh into a satisfying and tonally-cohesive story, and it almost tricks your brain into believing you’ve watched a good movie. But you haven’t, and you know it. You’ve almost watched two good movies.
One of these potential movies is a stomach-churning horror, a stand-alone Alien film we’ll call Alien 5. It tells the story of a group of space travellers (lead by Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup) who land on a lush, habitable planet only to find that their presence has awoken a hideous alien carnivore.
The twist is that the travellers are attempting colonisation; they are all happy couples intending to populate their new world. When the native monster attacks, these couples are torn apart (in both senses) by the unfeeling quasi- or asexual alien. Group dynamics shift interestingly, and every death is doubly agonising. It’s a film that uses the emptiness of space and a deep-seated fear of predation to thematically explore relationships and loneliness.
The second potential film is an epic science-fiction sequel to the Alien-prequel Prometheus. We’ll call it Prometheus 2. It’s about a human-made android (Michael Fassbender) seeking out the ancient beings that originally engineered the human race before trying his own hand at playing god. It’s a more thinky-talky movie than Alien 5; its register is awe rather than dread, and its genre trappings are very different (cloaked figures in ancient cities rather than hungry beasties in dark corridors).
By all accounts, Prometheus 2 is the film that director Ridley Scott wanted, and Alien 5 is the film that his fans and producers wanted. The result is Alien: Covenant, a film that nobody wanted.
Michael Fassbender has some Big Questions about life, the universe, and everything
The problem is that, in order to share a sub-four-hour running time, both Alien 5 and Prometheus 2 have to be squeezed into half-films. We barely get to know the couples before they’re rent asunder, meaning that the sense of pathos is minimal; Scott presumably skimps on the character introductions to leave time for his philosophising, which – denied any context by the monsters-eating-lovebirds set-up – feels arbitrarily dumped into the middle sections of the film.
It’s actually generous to suggest that the film’s two strands are equally intriguing: there’s every indication that Prometheus 2 would have been unbearably indulgent. The director who touched on similar themes with Blade Runner has attempted a late-career Tempest-like musing on the nature of creation, but the sight of Fassbender playing the flute and reciting 'Ozymandias' provokes only derisive laughter. Look upon his works, ye mighty, and guffaw.
Conversely, the Alien-like
bits show great
potential. Scott is very adept at thrills, and his body-horror play on
contamination, incubation and evisceration is still fiendishly effective. Alien: Covenant isn't actually two good films, then. It's a good film hiding inside a bad one. If only it had burst out and grown into something fiendish.
|What||Alien: Covenant film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
12 May 17 – 12 Jul 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|