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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Alien: Covenant | Michael Fassbender, Kathryn Waterston, Billy Crudup, Guy Pearce, James Franco | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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Alien: Covenant | Michael Fassbender, Kathryn Waterston, Billy Crudup, Guy Pearce, James Franco, Noomi Rapace, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo | Review

It’s 2104, ten years after the ill-fated Prometheus lost most of its crew on a strange, hostile planet.  The colonization ship Covenant sets off on a 7 year, four month journey to the remote destination planet Origae-6.  The 15-member crew’s cargo is 2000 cryogenically frozen humans plus a few hundred human embryos; the mission - go forth and multiply.  

The crew themselves consist of several married couples, all of whom are in a suspended state, looked after by the capable, logical, synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender).  Walter communicates with “Mother” (Lorelei King, voice) the actual control panel of the ship, and all is neat and tidy until a solar flare creates an emergency situation, waking the crew prematurely and torching its captain (James Franco).

First Mate Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes command of the Covenant, and proceeds to make the first of a series of bad decisions that land part of the crew on a mysterious rogue-transmission-emanating planet, against the advice of captain’s widow and terraforming expert Daniels (Kathryn Waterston).  Does he listen?  Of course not.

And guess which planet?  Yep, that one.  Bad decisions abound after that, as one by one, the crew begins to walk among small, black pods that, when disturbed, emit spores that burrow into the mucous membranes of their new guests.  It’s a pity that among all these highly trained crew members there is not one ear, nose and throat specialist among them.

Then the unpleasant discoveries begin, and Walter discovers older model synthetic David (also Michael Fassbender) an original Prometheus crew member, living in a high-tech cave.  In fact, Alien: Covenant begins with David, soon after his creation by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and before his Prometheus gig, giving us some insight into his mindset and foppish British accent.  Walter and David are identical except for their speech and philosophy of creation.  What could possibly go wrong there?

The giant race of bald, roman-nosed Engineers has a part in the story which can be summed up by finishing the old saying, “The bigger they are…”

Classic alien Xenomorphs are joined by white Neomorphs, who look a bit different but are every bit as deadly.  You’ll see face-hugging, chest (and back) bursting, sizzling acid blood, and multiple sets of extending teeth. Don’t forget the dripping saliva, ever.  You haven’t been killed if they don’t smile at you with several sets of teeth.

Director Sir Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise) delivers a munch-fest of inelegant gore and splatter amid the stark, lavish landscapes and interiors of his pre-prequel. The various alien iterations lack mystery and thus, the suspense that made his original Alien a cinematic masterpiece (think Hitchcock in space). An abundance of screen time will desensitize an audience to a threat until the point becomes merely a special effects collection of ways to die.

In one scene, a crew member is coaxed into taking a close look at an opening pod, putting his face near the place where…you’ll remember John Hurt making that mistake once as well.  It does no good to shout, “Don’t!”  The scenario plays out exactly like you think it will and that’s precisely the problem with the story, a combination of “remember this?” and grisly mutilation.  That might be enough for some, but Sir Ridley is capable of considerable cinematic power through restraint, so much more effective than video-game splatter.

The talented Michael Fassbinder, in a dual role, is impressive in his ability to convey a range of subtle emotions as a synthetic, but the large ensemble cast (Demián Bichir, Jussie Smollett, Amy Seimetz, Carmen Ejogo, Callie Hernandez, Alex England, and Danny McBride) portray un-and-under-developed characters that spill from the Covenant like so many morsels of alien chow.  Noomi Rapace reprises her Prometheus role as archeologist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, former crew member of the ill-fated, titular ship. Rapace and Franco make tiny blink-and-you-miss-it appearances.

Here’s a switch:  along with CGI versions, some Xenomorphs/Neomorphs are humans with animatronic heads.  Javier Botet, Andrew Crawford, and Goran D. Kleut all scuttle menacingly from inside alien bodies for a change.

Perpetually ravenous, the creatures will need to feast again soon, so expect a cinematic bridge between this film and the original Alien (1979) coming soon.  Sir Ridley has said he’s got six more film possibilities for the franchise incubating within him.

We will just have to wait and see where and when they emerge.

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