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Alien: Covenant Movie Review – To “Ridley Scott” Will Soon Enter Common Usage

It’s been five years since Prometheus, and while the bonkers Exodus: Gods and Kings and The Counsellor didn’t offer a lot of hope that Ridley Scott was going to improve on the sad and boring road he’d taken the Aliens universe down, The Martian did manage to ignite a spark of hope. Unfortunately, it seems The Martian had enough source material behind it, and owes its positives far more to Andy Weir, Drew Goddard, and Matt Damon.

Alien: Covenant manages to redouble all the misguided efforts of Prometheus, and worse still, is even more convinced that audiences are both brain dead and have never seen any other films.

We kick off with the hapless crew of the colony ship Covenant, who are en route to a well-researched planet where they plan to offload some 2,000 colonists to start a new life. The familiar android Walter (Michael Fassbender) patrols the ship, but an unforeseeable disturbance in space causes the crew to be brought out of stasis, though the crew suffers a casualty. Now without their leader, Branson (James Franco), Oram (Billy Crudup), Daniels (Katherine Waterston), Tennessee (Danny McBride), and the rest of the alien food must figure out a way to make repairs. But, when a transmission comes through of a woman singing, they decide to check out another planet, one which curiously eluded their detection before they left.

After giving the unknown planet the all-encompassing safety check of looking out the window for a few seconds, the crew begins to wander around the planet and we soon learn that they have indeed arrived on the world of Prometheus. Our heroes are armed with bedrolls and GoPros (sorry, they don’t update in the next 100 years… interstellar travel be damned), but forego masks or other environmental protections, and so we soon have aliens popping out of people.

We meet David (Michael Fassbender), who has been stuck on the planet for ten years, and we learn that he’s been busy carving flutes and upgrading death toxins into a new species, because… well, no, for David’s activity to have any purpose or reasoning behind it would be a giant leap into the sensible that the film itself has no interest in.

Photo Credit: Mark Rogers TM & © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

You might take issue with how poorly the film is constructed, being obviously worked backward with little attention to the characters that are forced to carry us along. There is a place this film has to get to in the end, lest it make no sense as a prequel, and as long as we move toward that ending, nothing else matters. It is, by the way, the most obvious ending in film history, but is delivered as though the film actually thinks its going to surprise you. You might also find fault with the fact that everything about the plot is predicated on the idea that the crew are all morons. In order to get through the film’s stages, you have to assume that there was virtually no training necessary to qualify for this crew, nor even a High School diploma. Oram, our newly minted leader, isn’t even clever enough to avoid the old “Hey, stick your head in this,” routine. You might even fault the film for its distractingly unrealistic dialog, or the massive time it spends on off-putting, condescending philosophic babble.

Depending on your particular take on the franchise, horror films, and/or movies generally, none of that may really matter in the face of the fact that the thing is just mind-numbingly boring. It’s gorgeous, in its own way, but putting these actors, this world, and this budget together to create something that actually rivals the worst films ever for pure tedium is a feat of its own. You couldn’t do it if you tried.

The film doesn’t even give you the slightest connection to anyone involved because it only wants you to know them in terms of their stupidity. Once they start falling victim to the aliens, your only potential interest comes by way of rooting for a new and exciting version of gory death.

Even that wouldn’t quite be the complete kiss of death, except that Scott clearly believes he’s working together an opus on the human condition here, and audiences are all meant to achieve enlightenment once he’s finished having his say at them. It isn’t even clear if Scott is more afraid of A.I., or is chiefly interested in a wool-gathering session on how “we did it to ourselves,” and since this is as uninteresting to ferret through as Hegel, it’s doubtful anyone will bother trying to piece it together. Either way, it’s becoming more and more difficult to convince a new generation that there was ever a reason to be interested in Scott’s films. Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans, however, have much to look forward to.

 

0.5
Horrendous
Written by
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.
  • John

    Marc, you obviously didn’t get what you expected story-wise from “Alien: Covenant”, but that doesn’t justify your unfair and personal attacks. The consensus is different: “Prometheus” and “A:C” got positive reviews and are both commercial successes. Are they flawed? Yes, but it’s not as bad as you would like to make people believe. For a monster-in-space-movie these films have a lot more to offer than most films of this kind.

    Ridley Scott is a master of design. Period. There is no other living director who has such a confident and inventive vision of how things should and could look in movies. I’m not tailing about story, screenplay or performances. I’m talking about creating believable, textured, detailed and convincing worlds. Scott is still the grand master here, second to none.

    Some people go to the movies because of the story or the actors or to waste some time. But people like me go to see them, because they want to go to another place and be inspired and visually stimulated.
    Scott’s films – even if the screenplays or released versions have flaws sometimes – never let me down when it comes to their visual design and world-building.

    I love “The Counselor” and “Exodus” could very well turn out to be great, when we’ll hopefully see the full version one day.

    People like you, who only care about story, probability, logic, characters-making-sound-decisions etc. etc. are not able to really appreciate the art of Ridley Scott, because they have no perception or language to talk about the complexities of visual design. You need to study art history and maybe the fine arts to really SEE what’s on the screen.

    “Alien: Covenant” is one of Scott’s better films simply because it has amazing visual design on top of a conventional, but still entertaining space-monster story.

    There are many wonderful design ideas and astonishing visuals – and sometimes you can see his visual references to painters, too. But it’s so subtle and non-verbal that it’s nearly impossible to talk about these things with people who are not trained. And most reviewers have simply not enough education in design and the fine arts to judge a Ridley Scott film, I’m afraid.

    It’s a visual delight & a great ride.

    • areyouscreening

      Well, you make a lot of points, and generally speaking, on the one hand I’ll give it to you, but on the other, you’re just plain wrong, and I don’t say that about much within the world of film criticism.

      Oddly enough, I actually have a lot of art education behind me, though I’m afraid I generally dismiss statements of the form, “well, you just don’t have the proper education to understand what’s happening.” It isn’t to have an argument, it’s just to not have an argument in an especially condescending and silly way.

      I’m willing to give you the idea that people just want escapism, or just want to be thrown into a rich world.

      I have to deny, however, that this relates to anything like a film’s “goodness.” This is just saying that there are movies that are bad in a certain way, and some people like movies that are bad in that way.

      You apparently believe that the design/visual aspects of a film lend value and/or “goodness” to a film beyond other elements. I think it’s no less nonsensical than to say that a novel is good because it has great descriptions of curtains. Being able to evoke scenery isn’t what writing a novel is, and making something pretty isn’t what making a movie is.

      Of course, there are some views that can’t be argued against and that’s fine. For example, Roger Ebert reviewed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and gave it 4 out of 4 stars, and said the movie was good specifically because it was completely stupid. Oddly, I’m not falling for that.

      Likewise, your argument would necessarily include the statement that every movie that is as pretty as this one is really good, no matter what happens.

      I’m well aware that there are people who don’t care about the logic of the plot and aren’t bothered by the fact that the story is dependent on the characters being morons, or that it telegraphs everything that happens specifically because it thinks its audience is no more clever than its characters. In my opinion, that does actually make a film bad. You can certainly say that none of it matters because if you turn the sound off it all looks really cool, but I’m afraid I’m unconvinced.

      By that standard you could just argue for the brilliance of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, right now, without bothering to watch it at all, because that movie is gorgeous.

      • Gil

        I agree with John, that Ridley Scott doesn’t get a fair critical response most of the time. It’s much harder to describe and judge a movie’s visual achievements than it is to talk about story points. Films are not novels & the visual aspects are much more important. Design is much more than only choosing the curtains: It’s everything you see and on screen, including the cast.

        While “Alien: Covenant” suffers from some improbable actions and lacks character moments, I still liked it. Most blockbusters suffer from this & they should do something about it. Fassbender’s scenes were awesome – it reminded me of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, which was probably an inspiration.

        “Alien: Covenant” looks and feels totally different from “Prometheus” and all the other films from the “Alien” series – quite an achievement in itself. That’s what I love about Ridley: He always comes up with a new way to show us something we thought we’d seen before.

        I really hope he’ll make one more “Alien” movie that succeeds at answering all the questions.
        They should show more of the Engineers. And freakier monsters. With David they now created such a great villain, that he needs a spectacular showdown.

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