Alien: Covenant (dir. Ridley Scott, 2017) – The crew of a colony ship decides to abandon route in favour of an uncharted planet, where they encounter a fatal parasitic threat.
Alien: Covenant strikes a neat balance between Alien’s horror entertainment and Prometheus’ conceptual ambitions.
Fifteen years after Alien: Resurrection ended the well-loved franchise, Ridley Scott took a bold chance. With Prometheus, he reinvented his familiar story with provocative revelations, complicating a slash-and-dice formula with layered philosophical mythology.
This alienated some fans, who baulked at reduced body horror and potential answers to the unknown. The creature’s unexplained origin is after all partly what had made Alien terrifying in the first place. Others however find joy in dissecting theological implications, savouring consequent food for thought.
For a fan who stands in the middle, Alien: Covenant feels like a satisfying compromise. The film draws from the best of both worlds, serving up the original’s blood fest with the prequel’s intellectual fodder on the side. An elegant opening plays to the latter, reiterating the complex dynamics between man and machine.
We go back to a time before the expedition of Prometheus when a young Weyland (Guy Pearce) is getting to know his synthetic creation David (Michael Fassbender). He claims fatherhood over David in name, but asserts ownership in his commands. Here, David realises his subjugated position despite his superiority. His words quietly reveal his desire to surpass his creator.
Ten years after the crash of Prometheus, we meet a new crew. Android Walter – a David 2.0 – chaperones colony ship Covenant en route Origae-6. Tragedy strikes when a shockwave ends their stasis and kills their captain. Against the objections of Daniels (Katherine Waterston), new captain Oram (Billy Crudup) abandons their route and chooses to follow a signal transmission to a seemingly habitable planet.
Needless to say, Oram is dead wrong, much to the delight of original Alien fans. Visceral gore takes centre stage when the crew ventures straight into uncharted territory – without their spacesuits. Sadly, such illogical decisions are abundant and grate on nerves.
Most end up as part of the body count as the violent onslaught unfolds at full speed. Low stakes fail to measure up to the carefully crafted suspense in the 1979 original, where the late H. R. Giger had first birthed the iconic creature. The lifeform had been unnerving in its design alone, not to mention the novelty of practical effects.
Still, the carnage remains a thrill to watch, back to its horror roots with a spare-no-mercy policy. Credit goes to Daniels, who holds her own as an emotionally vulnerable yet resolute heroine, one worthy to root for.
At its best, the space slasher pauses for a return to the prequel’s big ideas. Walter meets David, revealing his inability to create – humanity’s limit on AI out of fear. Things come full circle as David becomes convinced of his initial notion. References to Ozymandias and Götterdämmerung unveil his persistence in playing God. In Fassbender’s scene-stealing dual role, the duo’s seeming bond spells cause for trouble and felt tension.
In this risky shift, we see how Alien: Covenant commendably never settles for the conventional. The result may be divisive. Yet instead of turning out formulaic, the horror-driven Alien story is made all the more interesting by its fusion with the ideas spawned in Prometheus. And there are few things more we can ask of a sequel in any franchise.