ALIEN: COVENANT and the Search for Ridley Scott — A Gehenna Post Review

Nearly 40 years ago, 38 to be precise, audiences were stunned with a film that would not only spawn a franchise, but also create an entire science fiction legacy, atop of the fire that it would breathe into the life of one director’s career–none other than Ridley Scott, who would go on to craft such films as Blade Runner (1982) and Gladiator (2000).  The film aforementioned was Alien (1979).  Though the love for the film initially was not nearly the peak at which it is today, the film still effected a lot of people and brought passion into exploring the darker sides of science fiction.  Without Alien, there would be no Aliens (1986), no Event Horizon (1997), no Pandorum (2009), no The Thing (1982), the list goes on.

Fast forward to 1986 and James Cameron, who would go on to direct Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Avatar (2009), took the helm from Scott and gave us Aliens, a film possibly neck-and-neck with Scott’s original vision. Then the journey withered a bit as sequel after sequel released with none of the same passion that Scott and Cameron put into the franchise.  Not until a few decades later, when audiences were given Prometheus (2012).  Critics can say what they will about Prometheus–most complaints deriving from its lack of Xenomorphs–but the film was unique.  Scott wanted to create a universe that was not reliant on his iconic beasts.  He wanted to delve into the mythology and show that the world could stand on its own without giant phallic monsters tearing people apart.  More than anything, his idea and concept to explore alien creatures that created mankind, was exhilarating and refreshing in a genre that, as of late, seemed to rely on Michael Bay action and special effects.

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When it was announced a few years back that the sequel to Prometheus would be titled Prometheus: Paradise Lost, many fans were excited.  We would see the home world of the engineers!  We would find all the answers surrounding the mystery of our creation.  A whole new planet, ecosystem, civilization, and culture awaited us on Paradise and we were enthralled to experience it.  Yet somewhere along pre-production, something happened.  Ridley Scott announced the change of title to Alien: Covenant (2017) and spoke further and further on the film being more directly related to the Alien franchise.  It appeared to many that Scott did not like the backlash received for his decisions for Prometheus and wanted to cater to audiences more than stay true to his craft and vision.

Many interviews and quotes from Ridley Scott erupted throughout the past two years leading up to Covenant that had many fans worried.  From his interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, where he told the interviewer that he wanted to do up to six more Alien films, to his interview with Express, where he stated that he would consider having a CGI de-aged Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley) in future films, it seemed that Scott’s desire for box office numbers outweighed his passion for creating artistic interpretations of this universe.  The 79 year old may be encroaching upon the end of his life, hoping to relish in any success he can muster.  Considering the untimely death of his brother Tony Scott in 2012, the same year Prometheus released, it wouldn’t be crazy to think that Scott might be experiencing a crisis of sorts as far as his own mortality is concerned.

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Nevertheless, Alien: Covenant holds none of the wonder that Alien, Aliens, and Prometheus boasted.  A gory action bonanza that shallows in the terms of character development and festers inside of plot holes, the film not only feels underwhelming throughout its second and third acts, but it also spells a saddening fate for a beloved franchise.  In the previous three films listed above, audiences cared about the characters, felt their pain.  From Ellen Ripley and her stunning transformation to badass heroine, to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her unbelievable perseverance, Scott has shown an incredible talent of portraying lead characters that science fiction fans not only love, but want to see more of.  Even in recent memory, with Scott’s Oscar-nominated science fiction film The Martian (2015), based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, Matt Damon received many nominations and accolades for his titular role, further proving Scott’s ability to create memorable characters.  No characters in Alien: Covenant had these aspects, not even David (Michael Fassbender) who was the standout performance of Prometheus, had nearly the amount of charm that the character is capable of possessing.  Even the synthetic felt . . . well . . . synthetic.

The opening act of Alien: Covenant was thematically relative to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The stunning visual effects were breathtaking and the technology so advanced yet believable.  Initially, it was with much pleasure that the film felt as though it were going in a direction that would grasp the audience’s attention and thrill with the same mysterious and terrifying deep space themes that riddled the original two Alien films and Prometheus.  By the time the second act starts, the movie steps into puddles of tropes consistently, becoming formulaic and hollow.  Part of what made Scott’s Alien so effective when it first came out, was the fact that the little bit of blood and gore that was in the long run time was depicted discreetly and/or effectively.  Alien: Covenant has over-the-top gore that becomes so ridiculous at points that fans may find themselves laughing at the absurdity before them.  Ridley Scott has always made bloody films, but this may be the first time he made a film that was bloody for the sake of being bloody.  The CGI of the Xenomorphs and their relatives compare to CGI from 2004, consistently pulling viewers out of the universe as compared to Prometheus which was a visual spectacle in every way, the few instances of creature CGI always authentic and believable.

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As far as plot, the story unfolds in an interesting way early on but quickly falls into pits of lazy plot devices and tropes that are identical to previous installments.  As soon as the crew of the Covenant vessel land on the foreign planet, the film nosedives into a poor-written oblivion.  The dialogue is boring and any efforts at character development are either emotionless, lazy, or briefly explored before being dropped off completely.  There are several moments in the film’s climax that will make fans of the Alien franchise think to themselves, “Are you serious?”  Despite a few interesting plot twists, the film ends with–start drum roll–a setup for a sequel.

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There was a time when Ridley Scott was respected for his passion and ability to craft beautiful landscapes with remarkable characters.  Now, this aspect of the legendary director seems to be faded, filling his most loyal fans with disappointment.  There were two possible titles for this review that we considered before sitting down to watch Alien: Covenant, the first being Alien: Revenant (with hopes that the film would revitalize the franchise even further), the second being Alien: Covenant and the Search for Ridley Scott.  Clearly the latter was chosen and the title holds true.

Where is Ridley Scott?  What happened to one of science fiction’s most beloved directors?  Will we find him again?  Clearly Scott vanished during the directing of this film, because not a single aspect, despite the cinematography, echoes of the legendary filmmaker we have all come to love so dearly over the past four decades.

RATING: 2/5 STARS

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