Halfway through Alien Covenant Mrs L dug her finger nails into my right arm. Was this due to the visceral, splatter-fest gore of exploding spinal columns? Actually, despite the high offal content of the film, it was not – Mrs L being built of much sterner stuff than your brave nightmare prone reviewer… Mrs L’s arm attack was based on her literary ire at one of David’s (the oh so loveable android, so menacingly presented by Michael Fassbinder) mis-step attribution of a piece of poetry. If in space no-one can hear you scream, then, in a Burton multi-plex, the director cannot hear you tut at what becomes a vital plot point. Anyway, before I get into this Alien Covenant review, have a look at the trailer.
There are 2 schools of love when it comes to the Alien franchise. There are those who preach to slow build horror of the original and those weaned on the high-octane action of the shoot-em up second installment. Let’s just gloss over the various bits and drabs and franchise crossing destruction orgies. Scott’s last offering, Prometheus, split the crowd. It fell somewhere between “pretentious disappointment” and “engaging world-building” but seemed to piss off an awfully large section of his fanbase. Alien Covenant seeks to redress this – in the way that Ridley Scott tends to address things – by making some vague concession whilst simultaneously pointing out that the critic is probably wrong. Here we are given a compromise of building the legend of the xenomorph, and its steady march towards the Nostromo, whilst delivering the crowd pleasing sex and splat that Cameron brought to Aliens. The inclusion of the brutal slaying of naked characters during an unnecessary shower scene only really serves to make me think, who the f*** are those characters, what have they actually done, and why should I care about them.
Watching Alien Covenant, and during the car ride home, we came to the conclusion that Scott is probably bored with his Xenomorph child and is doing whatever he can to avoid it. Certainly it is not the horror monster of this film. That honour is reserved for Fassbinder, with his performance as both Walter and David. Where one is the acquiescent Roomba of space, the other is the hideous off-spring of Dr Moreau. Fassbinder is swiftly becoming one of those actors that actually make me want to make the effort to sit down and watch things – an actor who follows the less is more approach of the younger Michael Caine.
Where Alien Covenant disappoints is the lack of developed characters to build any investment in. Billy Crudup’s Oram is captain by default and displays the level of naivety usually reserved for anyone in a red shirt. He plays hopeless and ineffectual well – maybe too well – as he feels believably disposable. Katherine Waterston’s Daniels plays towards Ripley-lite and is as tacit a character as Dr Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in Prometheus. It’s a shame that there are too many, and too under-developed characters here. Less would be more – in the same way that one Alien always seemed scarier than multiple Aliens.
Alien Covenant was always going to have a lot to live up to, especially given the amount of internet love and anticipation that the now cancelled Neill Blomkamp option was attracting. It is not a bad movie. There are moments of genuine thought-provoking horror but these don’t come from the creatures themselves but rather that undercurrent of mad science that David brings. Whether the franchise can stomach another burst of Scott involvement is open to debate right now but based on where Covenant ends then the fan could probably fill in the empty space themselves – albeit with a silent scream.
You can still catch Alien Covenant on the big screen. Should you? We also saw the new Pirates of the Caribbean and avoided Baywatch – all 3 might have you hiding your eyes.