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The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an unchartered paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a terrifying threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape. (From Fox’s official synopsis)

 Alien: Covenant
Back by popular demand, it’s Unpopular Opinions with Gabe Powers. Or at least I think it is? My finger remains as far from the zeitgeist pulse as ever. Anyway, my Alien: Covenant review disc arrived after its release date, so, in the interest of time, I’m going to pretend that enjoying this film is a particularly unpopular stance. As some may recall from my review of director Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012), I enjoy the bulk of the Alien franchise and all of the things that have come to define it – from the graphic violence and dingy, H.R. Giger aesthetic, to the B-horror/sci-fi storytelling, convoluted continuity, and characters’ history of bad decisions (basically anyone not named Ripley makes the worst choices in these movies, over and over). This enjoyment of every movie in the series that doesn’t feature Predators/Yautja/Hish-Qu-Tens (if I’m entirely honest, I don’t hate Paul W.S. Anderson’s first Alien vs. Predator, either) and even a multitude of blatant rip-offs from the 1980s. For those keeping record, that includes Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination (aka: Alien Contamination, 1981), B.D. Clark’s Galaxy of Terror (1981), Norman J. Warren’s Inseminoid (aka: Horror Planet, 1981), Allan Holzman’s Forbidden World (aka: Mutant, 1982), Harry Bromley Davenport’s Xtro (1982), and Ciro Ippolito’s Alien 2: On Earth (Italian: Alien 2 Sulla Terra, 1980). What I’m saying is that my opinion on the subject of Alien: Covenant might not be entirely trustworthy.

Covenant seems to better received than Prometheus by ‘classic’ Alien fans, because it dialed back into more familiar territory. However, I’d suggest that this was the film’s biggest mistake and that Scott (and likely Twentieth Century Fox executives/producers) are guilty of spreading the film too thinly by trying to appease these particular fans. With minor tweaks, Covenant could’ve either been a good Prometheus sequel or a good Alien prequel. Because Scott tried to have it both ways, it doesn’t entirely work as either. Personally, I didn’t want an Alien prequel, so I find the tacked-on fourth act the most objectively bad thing about the film. There’s no good reason to cram 15 minutes of shower scenes and shoving xenomorphs into the vacuum of space between the more logical climactic action sequence, in which the survivors escape the cursed planet, and the natural coda, in which the villain reveals his victory*. These sequences (among others) reek of the same pandering swill that J.J. Abrams has been peddling for the better part of a decade, rather than the more nebulous nostalgic value on display in Prometheus. If I wanted to see a well-made, modern replay of Alien’s major narrative beats, I’d just watch Daniel Espinosa’s Life.

...which I have done and it was pretty boring.

 Alien: Covenant
Overall, Covenant is a better Prometheus follow-up than Alien lead-in. It’s even a somewhat surprising one, given how long it takes before David shows up to explain the plot. Unfortunately, many of the story threads connecting back to Prometheus were delegated to brief flashback sequences, promotional tie-in videos, or deleted altogether. This isn’t really surprising, given the fluid, some might say insane storytelling approach that Scott has been taking with these movies. And, make no mistake, Scott is the key driving factor in the creation of both narratives, the credited writers – John Logan, Dante Harper, Jack Paglen (story by), and Michael Green (story by) – were, like Prometheus’ Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, probably acting as glorified stenographers and editors. His writing room dominance is made very clear in the behind-the-scenes documentary and subsequent interviews. I assume that Scott chose to remove of the bulk of David and Shaw’s post- Prometheus experiences in an effort to separate the two films. It was the wrong choice, especially because Shaw is an interesting character that deserves more than a cameo as a dead body (even the question as to whether or not David premeditatively murders Shaw or genuinely mourns her passing in his own weird way is too intriguing to be thrown away on a shocking reveal). For the record, several of Prometheus’ most interesting ‘mythology’ sequences were only included in the deleted scenes section of the home video release. In both cases, this was either a strange marketing choice, an attempt to make the already ambiguous plot completely obtuse, or, most likely, both.

The best thing about Covenant, besides its gleeful gore and Michael Fassbender’s wonderful dual performance (especially that homoerotic flute scene) is that it probably isn’t the Alien backstory anyone was expecting. Sure, there are many other ways Scott could’ve bucked the franchise ‘rules’ and turned out a truly smart, hard-sci-fi thriller with the action scope, real human connections, and emotional stakes. But, grandiose interview claims aside, Scott has never seemed interested in making anything more than another attractive, creepy-crawly, sci-fi horror movie. Covenant matches the other two Scott-directed pictures in the series as a simple and violent body-count movie that poses a lot of Big Questions it isn’t particularly interested in answering. Some people are understandably frustrated by this, as they have been with the director since the earliest days of his post- Alien career (for instance, Blade Runner, 1982, was generally considered daft nonsense when it was released). Maddening or not, I happen to find it fascinating that, when offered the chance to explain the story behind the purposefully enigmatic first film, Scott managed to make two even more cryptic and thematically messy prequels. Yes, the ‘answers’ given at the end of Covenant streamline the narrative tendrils between Prometheus and Alien, but they also stir up a hundred more questions – questions I’d personally be happy to see answered in future installments. Perhaps we should stop calling them Alien prequels, though, since the David the sexually frustrated android is clearly the more compelling unifying element. He’s the anti-Ripley for this more apathetic, emotionally frigid off-shoot of the original franchise. Perhaps the two of them can even face-off someday? Alien 5/Prometheus 3: Ripley vs. David? You probably assume I’m joking, but that sounds like fun to me.

 Alien: Covenant

Video


Alien: Covenant was shot using Arri Alexas digital cameras, yet, unlike Prometheus, it was not shot in 3D, which is too bad, since Prometheus was easily the best theatrical 3D presentation I’ve ever seen. In fact, Scott and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (who shot Scott’s last three movies) take an effort to make Covenant appear more organic and film-like than the very cold, hyper-detailed, and desaturated Prometheus. Actual grain is at a minimum, but the dynamic range, harsher blacks, and muddier compositions all add grit to the overall look. However, this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is consistently sharp enough that the important fine details are rarely lost in the gloom. In addition, the relatively eclectic style creates a very dynamic location-to-location look – from the sterile, blooming glass of Weyland’s offices, to the busy, electric lighting of the Covenant ship and the candle-lit catacombs of David’s homestead. The texture levels change accordingly with only minor halo effects and noise to contend with. The diverse palette is beautifully recreated, especially the vivid blue/teal/green highlights, and black levels are deep without absorbing too much of the colour around them.

Audio


Alien: Covenant is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound and meets the expectations of an Alien franchise film in terms of range, directional support, and unique sci-fi sound effects. Dialogue is clear and consistently centered, along with a number of incidental effects. The quiet moments are deathly silent, which supports sudden, startling, but often harmless sounds throughout the channels. This way, the aural environment is perpetually threatening, even before monsters start bursting out of people. Spaceship jet engines and explosions workout the LFE while the xenomorph critters zip and skitter in and out of the stereo and surround speakers wonderfully. Composer Jed Kurzel (who composed music for four of Fassbender’s last nine movies) utilizes pieces of Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien compositions and the major themes from Marc Streitenfeld’s Prometheus music throughout his unsettling score, which deftly underlines Scott’s images without leading or overwhelming them.

 Alien: Covenant

Extras


  • Commentary with director Ridley Scott – This is a typical Scott commentary, full of behind-the-scenes information and explicit explanations of implicit events, as well as somewhat annoying narration of on-screen action. The track is best when the director is rambling about his creative and narrative influences, and descriptions of ideas that were deleted from earlier versions of the story.
  • Twelve deleted and extended scenes (17:37, HD) – These are mostly brief character moments, rather than big plot pieces and mythology (don’t worry, there’s still a lot of that in the featurettes).
  • USCSS Covenant:
    • Meet Walter (2:20, HD) – A faux ad for the Walter model of android.
    • Phobos (9:09, HD) – Footage of the crew undergoing psychological stress tests.
    • The Last Supper (4:37, HD) – Footage of the crew (including James Franco) have a dinner party before going into hypersleep. It’s basically another deleted scene.
  • SECTOR 87 - PLANET 4:
    • The Crossing (2:34, HD) – These brief scenes of Shaw and David’s trip to the Engineers’ world was used as a promotional piece and include footage of not used in the final film.
    • Advent (6:51, HD) – In this gory video diary from David, the android explains his goals, his scientific method, and offhandedly verifies that he murdered Shaw when she refused to work with him, then stripped her body for parts. Given Covenant’s weak box office, this might actually end up serving as the third film in the prequel series, because it ends with the indication that Daniels will be the host for the first queen alien. This also indicates that David has sent all of this information back to Earth, which might be how Weyland-Yutani knows where to look for xenomorphs in the main series instalments.
    • David’s illustrations image gallery
  • Master Class: Ridley Scott (55:30, HD) – This relatively extensive behind-the-scenes documentary is split into four parts with a play-all option. The cast & crew discuss the production, the Big Ideas, Scott’s hand-drawn storyboards (aka: Ridleygrams), shooting scenes with two Michael Fassbenders, constructing/designing sets/locations, and costume/creature design. Once again, Scott is clearly in charge of the story and characters, as well as the images and tone.
  • Production gallery
  • Two trailers


 Alien: Covenant

Overall


Alien: Covenant is every bit as problematic as Prometheus and I agree with the objective consensus about its storytelling issues. But it’s also a full-tilt, blood-soaked geek show and that’s precisely what makes this franchise tick. The characters’ bad choices, the convoluted plotting, and the cynical cruelty all screams Alien. I’m disappointed that we probably won’t be getting another one anytime soon. Fox won’t abandoned the series, but they’re likely to abandon Ridley Scott’s version of it. This Blu-ray is a decent consolation prize, including near-perfect A/V quality, a typically solid director’s commentary, story-expanding featurettes/deleted scenes, and a full-bodied behind-the-scenes documentary.’

* I should acknowledge that the whole fourth act reveal that an alien made it aboard the ship after an otherwise logical climax is a long-standing franchise tradition, making an appearance in three of the original four films.

 Alien: Covenant

 Alien: Covenant

 Alien: Covenant
** Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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