Alien: Covenant is the best film in the Alien franchise since the original Alien. Considering Aliens is a beloved sequel, I say that knowing I’ve placed this film as the second best in the franchise, above James Cameron’s amazing sequel of action. Alien: Covenant is better than Prometheus, paradoxically making Prometheus better in connection to this film and weaker, as this should’ve been the first Alien prequel. Gore, philosophy and a genuine evolution of the franchise; Alien: Covenant might just be the best movie of the year so far- well, for me, at least. I do know there’s a divide between opinions of this film: those who say it’s an improvement and those who say it’s a really bad film. (Honestly, I feel like an outlier, as I do consider this my favorite film of the year at the moment.) I do get why people are genuinely angry about this movie, and maybe it’s the Alien film I didn’t ask for, but it suits my kind of Alien film needs.
My reason for enjoying this film comes from it being the mix of a gory horror film and the Lovecraftian nightmare fuel that this series hasn’t had since the original Alien, and that Prometheus only scratched the surface of. It’s why I prefer this over the action packed Aliens. Yes, Aliens is an awesome, amazing film, but it removes that existential horror the Xenomorph had and this film aims to give some of that back, while also adding a kind of philosophical thematic element I genuinely enjoy.
I know some will say this is a dumb statement, but I think the Alien prequel series might be one of the most expensive experimental film projects since Cloud Atlas (or The Hobbit trilogy, if you consider Peter Jackson’s forced shooting style on a compressed timeframe). Hear me out: This entire enterprise is Ridley Scott genuinely thinking about what his work means, when his usual approach was a reflex of emotional and technical storytelling. In Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, he thinks about metaphors and internal storytelling that he’d only achieved on accident with the likes of Blade Runner. I’d say his themes and interests lie in Christian iconography and biblical stories, down to even the base relationship between God, man, and the Devil, as well as Greek (and other pagan) mythologies. Remember- the original title for this movie was “Alien: Paradise Lost”. But as for the actual parts and text of the film…
Actually, I want to ask-
When did we start pretending B-movie genre films given a massive AAA budget were somehow high art?
Jurassic World, Kong: Skull Island, and even the MCU films are just pulpy B-Movies given the best budgets. So no, I don’t have a problem with dumb characters, because if we had smarter characters, we’d have a boring horror film. I’m not saying B-Movies have to stay low budget trash (like some critics think.) Movies like Star Wars, Jaws, The Godfather, Ghostbusters, Goldfinger, The Maltese Falcon, Jurassic Park, and even the original Alien can be some of the most important films in history beside their genre bases. The original Alien was quoted by Ridley Scott as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Space” and Alien: Covenant continues that tradition with a bigger budget, awesome gore and a more visually interesting film than Prometheus’s cold blue and grey color pallet.
So, Alien: Covenant’s narrative is basically a team of colonists bringing civilians and embryos to a new planet who instead end up on a different planet where things go wrong. But, pretty much, we’ve got 15 characters who are all given enough room (even the ones who will die) to be characters: Michael Fassbender, as both David from Prometheus and a new robot aboard the Covenant named Walter, is turning into the series MVP and kind of a reverse Ellen Ripley. He’s so charming yet intriguing that one scene where he’s basically acting opposite himself in a back-and-forth, uncut shot is a quiet highlight in this film. Danny McBride is a surprisingly strong dramatic presence (given his comedic career), and Katherine Waterson provides a different angle to the female lead of this film than Sigourney Weaver has done before. All of the cast give good performances, even if one complaint is that James Franco and Noomi Rapace have more screen time in their online videos than in the film itself (though that’s understandable for screen time and pacing).
Of course, this being a Ridley Scott film means the direction, cinematography, editing, production design, and production values are anything but weak. Even in his bad movies that’s a fact, but here he finally makes the blue/green/grey color pallet genuinely work in ways only David Fincher has before. Considering the monsters are mostly CGI as opposed to practical, it’s still good. That practicality removed now means Ridley can put the Alien in new places and do new more terrifying things with. Seriously, I’m sick of people saying that the xenomorph has to be hidden in shadows to be scary. This isn’t 1979 where the suit looks terrible in light and so they have to hide it. This is 2017. Ridley Scott is putting this creature in new and terrifying prospects that can’t beat the original, simply because no one saw the original coming. It’s a bold evolution only gamers of this franchise have seen somewhat, and it allows for inventive new sequences that prove his level of skill in horror and action. Also, I bet if this movie had been a point by point retread of Alien, those same fans decrying Scott’s mobile Alien would probably be saying he’d run out of ideas.
But as for the horror: well, this is easily the most violent and the goriest Alien film we’ve ever seen. Buckets of blood and visceral gore given the perfect treatment. Some may say it’s not subtle and isn’t scary, but I disagree. Previous scary movies have made me tense, nervous and shocked: but like last year’s Blair Witch- this ACTUALLY made me afraid. From one point onwards, to 30 minutes after I left the theatre- my heart was pounding. Ridley Scott wanted the goriest, scariest Alien film and he’s succeeded. Speaking of Blair Witch and Alien: Covenant, body horror’s come back strong since David Cronenberg stopped making horror, and found footage took over. But yes, this is a delightfully gory, yet shockingly terrifying scare-fest that even leaves some of the most terrifying moments to your imagination. Actually looking over the years of horror in cinema, this might be the best horror film in the past 10 years. The only truly terrifying horror films before that 10 year dead zone were Wolf Creek, The Descent, Silent Hill, and The Hills have Eyes. After years of the found footage genre, remakes and reboots sucking, Ridley Scott gives us one of the best horror films you’ve ever seen. And I’m willing to label it the best horror film of the 21st century so far.
Anything else worth mentioning? Well, the pacing, the effects, and the terrifying deaths are amazing, with an ending that’ll leave you wanting more. Plus, the thematic and contextual elements will make this a film worth looking over for a long time. The only complaints that could be given would be that like the original, the first act has pretty much no alien-based tension, and that’s fine, though I know some will just want gore from step one. (And even I don’t ask for that!) That, and that the climax of the film is an obvious reconfiguration of the first film’s end… though so was Aliens.
I will say, of course: this can never be the original. The original came out of nowhere, and became the standard for science fiction and horror, introduced the world’s most famous sci-fi movie monster, and has never been matched by any film in its genre. Ever. I will say, if you dislike or outright hate this film: I understand and accept that, I just don’t agree. I had gory fun watching it, and nerdy fun analyzing it. Maybe it’s just me who enjoys it this much. Whether it’s the changes, the plot, or the fact it’s still an Alien prequel for you guys; it’s fine to dislike. Disagreements and differing opinions are a part of humanity and film. So I just want to know what you think: agree, disagree, or indifferent? All opinions are valid, because everything’s subjective. Overall, it’s my favorite movie of the year, replacing Kong: Skull Island for now. I love this movie, you should see it, and if you need another reason, this is a $100 Million Dollar horror film. If you want Hollywood to give you more good horror films that have a deserved budget (like Guillermo Del Toro’s Mountains of Madness, that could still happen,) then financially support this.
Alien: Covenant is out now playing in a theater near you.