Alien: Covenant, the sixth entry in the Alien series (if you don’t count the two dire Alien Vs. Predator pics) and the third handled by producer/director Ridley Scott, is a slightly knowing, slightly desperate return to the formula that proved so successful for the original in 1979.
It’s not entirely free of the ludicrous ponderousness that so damaged Prometheus, and the chronology of these epics is now so convoluted that only hardcore fans could make proper sense of it all, and yet it is still scary… sort of.
Although the main action happens 10 years after Prometheus and before the events of the first Alien, this opens with a slightly baffling but eventually vaguely explicable sequence that actually takes place before Prometheus (got that?), complete with Michael Fassbender’s ‘synthetic’ David and the uncredited Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland. We then cut to 2104 and find synthetic Walter, who’s also played by Fassbender, aboard the Covenant, a transport ship full of cryo-sleeping humans and frozen embryos all making a years-long voyage to a faraway planet capable of colonisation.
A solar storm awakens the crew and they discover that 47 people are dead, and this means that the unpopular Oram (Billy Crudup) must step up to take command. A strange signal is then intercepted (just like in Alien), and it’s revealed to come from a nearby planet just as suitable for human habitation as the one that’s seven years away, so a group of characters straight out of the Alien rule book make their way to the surface, which looks awfully like New Zealand and proves eerily silent.
They seem like a tough bunch, with Oram and Walter alongside Lope (Demián Bichir), Daniels (Katherine Waterston doing a satisfactory Sigourney Weaver impression) and others, while Tennessee (Danny McBride good in a straight-ish performance) and pals monitor them back on the ship. Naturally they find several plot points and one character left over from Prometheus and quickly run into trouble, with blood-drenched mayhem erupting as floating spores breed ‘Neomorphs’ and later ‘Xenomorphs’. Here Scott stages violence that proves stronger and messier than the first three Aliens simply because he has the budget and trickery available. There also isn’t much else for the series to do but get more and more gory and graphic.
There’s a lot here that deliberately echoes the first Alien: the actual title credit; the music by Adelaide’s Jed Kurzel that offers occasional riffs from Jerry Goldsmith’s original score; and the fair cast that consciously try to replicate the first film’s cult ensemble. There’s also some tension, whether you especially like the characters or not, and gross-out highlights sure to please splatter fanatics.
Yet perhaps the biggest problem here is the fact that the screeching, acid-bleeding, H.R. Giger-created Aliens themselves are seriously overexposed and all CG FX, therefore no longer particularly frightening.
But that won’t stop the indefatigable Scott, who has stated that this is the second part of a pre-Alien trilogy that will answer all the burning questions that fans have supposedly been pondering for decades.
Rated MA. Alien: Covenant is in cinemas now