Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Spoiler Note: If you're like me, and would prefer to go into this movie without too many elaborate preconceptions, then you're probably not even reading this to begin with. Nonetheless, I will keep this review very light on spoilers, focusing more on overarching themes and my personal reactions than intricate plot details (because if you need to know who does what when, then you can just watch the movie, am I right?).

Alien: Covenant isn't the Alien movie I was hoping to see (although, to be fair, I think what I want is to be an impressionable kid discovering Alien for the first time all over again, and that's just impossible), but it's a thrilling and satisfying followup to 2012's Prometheus. Covenant is less the devastatingly raw horror of Alien (although it has some very tense moments), and more the high-concept science fiction of Prometheus, tackling such existential themes as creation and destruction, the purpose of life, and what happens when a life form meets its maker (and - like its immediate predecessor - for a movie with Biblical themes, it's not overbearingly preachy). However, the classic xenomorph does make its unambiguous debut this time around, and the movie answers many (if not all) of the frustrating questions that Prometheus raised, especially regarding the nature of the creature and how it relates to what we've seen in the past.

That having been said, I don't think I like the "broad daylight" CGI (the white-skinned "neomorphs" were a little too stereotypical del Toro-esque digital movie monsters; and the much talked about flute scene seemed to be trying too hard to impress the audience in a "look at me!" sort of way) as much as the bump-in-the-night practical effects that 1979's Alien was forced to employ. The xenomorph ought to be stalking its prey from the shadows, not being drawn out into the open. Furthermore, while learning about the genesis of the creature is a truly fascinating study - here's a clickbait title for the movie: who engineered the "perfect organism"? The answer may surprise you! - I think this is a case where mystery prevails over curiosity satisfied. Although it makes a lot of sense for the xenomorphs to be a kind of biological weapon, I find it scarier to imagine that they are a natural phenomenon, a dark force of nature existing in remote corners of the universe, to terrorize and haunt anyone who dares probe too far into the deepest reaches of space. Call it a Lovecraftian interpretation.

Regardless, for anyone who enjoyed Prometheus, Alien: Covenant is an exciting continuation of that story thread, even if I don't consider it the equal of the original series, which started with Alien, was expanded upon in Aliens, and concluded in Alien 3. There have been some more and less crappy titles in the interim (yes, I actually watched Alien: Resurrection again, and I still think it's a piece of crap not worth your time - nobody could say I didn't give it a fair chance), but one may be reassured that Ridley Scott's return investment in Prometheus/Covenant has restored some grace to the franchise. It is not clear yet precisely how these movies dovetail with the original encounter on LV-426 in Alien (there was a moment that was close in Prometheus, but then it was snatched away), leading me to wonder if these movies are not intended to be a fresh start - recycling some of the elements of the earlier movies, without being burdened by the limitations of connecting up with what's come before. But the timeline of these movies is marching towards the opening of Alien, and it appears that there is room for another potential title to follow Covenant. Only time, I guess (and box office figures?), will tell.

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