Monday, May 22, 2017

Alien: Covenant

"Don't let the bed bugs bite."
-Something our parents and grandparents, generations warned us about-

Alien: Covenant (2017) certainly has a lot on its mind for an Alien film and much more so than the 1979 original, a classic.

There are even little visual nods to the original film peppered on the ship. See if you can spot them. But it all begins with a signal and a lure like that original. We know how that goes. Sort of as Alien: Covenant repurposes elements from the original and heads in some new directions. Michael Fassbender is crucial to it all. The remaining cast and those that remain underscore humanity at its most vital against a backdrop of horrific extermination.

I'm pleased to report the trailer did little to spoil the film despite still giving us too much information as the tendency of trailers is to do. There are still a few pleasant story surprises to experience.

Suggestions about a lifeless planet in the trailer give way to some explanation in the course of the film.

There is much regarding intent left to the viewer's discretion in director Ridley Scott's latest intelligent weave for the Alien franchise.

Why did the crew arrive on this planet? Was it part of a grand design? Is Weyland Yutani at it again? These are just a few of the questions.

There's a tendency to repeat some elements from the franchise but much of it is reconstituted and feels just as fresh as it did in 1979 especially given the familiar ground the mythos necessitates it to cover.

In law a covenant is a promise to comply or refrain with a specific action. The crew of the Covenant, a colonizing ship of 2000 plus, are beset or tasked with a strict mission and a set of guidelines. Are they breaking or complying with them? There is enough ambiguity to make you wonder about a number of things in play here for the latest entry in the series.

In religion a covenant is an agreement or compact with God made with humanity. Much is in play regarding this component of the film. David is the embodiment of breaking that covenant with man despite ironically being the creation of man himself.

This film manages to expertly craft a worthy sequel to Prometheus (2012) whilst further drawing from the Alien life form, the original film, as I mentioned, and the mythology that has preceded it from the original film to Prometheus cleverly weaving aspects from both pictures.  There are both familiar and refreshing components to the newest chapter.

The latest installment further delves into the idea of men and gods and creation leaning upon the return of David to carry on the story following the events of Prometheus. There is magnificent allusion to heaven and hell and good (God) and evil (the Devil).

In a sense we have the downfall of the creators, engineers who created man, by their very creation, man himself, and by man through the idea of technological man controlling our fate. The Engineers create a flaw in man. Both fatally misstep with technology. And of course do these mistakes in creation leave room still for God? The character David aspires to be as much, once again making the mistakes of Engineers and Man, by pursuing creation with which he cannot control in an attempt to supplant man. Another important character in the film highlights the flaw of David and his wild odyssey.

Alien: Covenant is entirely respectable within the cannon created by director Ridley Scott.

With auteur Scott behind the camera you know the vision is singular and the film rarely strays from the focus of its principal characters and furthering the story. This is an alien life form film with intelligence, a monster movie with brains.

Conversation is certainly mixed regarding the film with some claiming it bests Prometheus in some fashion, but it's a different film. Much like the newly discovered organisms it is a changing, mutating beast. In truth, Alien: Covenant provides Prometheus with even greater power as both expertly extend upon this universe in unique ways. The next alien film will likely have the effect here on Alien: Covenant.

Prometheus remains an exceptionally high quality film and one this writer enjoys revisiting. Likely the same will hold true here for years to come.

With age I frequent the theatre far less than I did as a younger man and one franchise that brings me home and excites me is Alien particularly with Scott involved. Alien: Covenant did not disappoint despite its imperfections. It takes a lot to impress this writer nowadays and Scott continues to awe me. Revisiting this film before it leaves multiplexes isn't out of the question at all.

My biggest complaint, though small, over the film was the cinematography or lighting. Scott employed Dariusz Wolski for this film as he did for Prometheus, but I found this film to be much darker to the eye (or it was the theatre?). I found the lighting made things less discernible. It was not as inviting as Prometheus in parts as a visual film. The Blu-Ray may one day change my opinion on that.

The second old codger complaint is the use of CGI specific to the alien. It is difficult to get past the fact CGI rules the day today even for Scott. Nothing can replace the beauty of those practical effects from Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986). Alien 3 (1992) began the trend toward CGI and sadly I think these films suffer for it. They feel rushed in their inability to mimic biological movement or authenticity of flesh. Perhaps my standards are too high, but I expect more. I do. Still forgiveness is in my heart. I would simply have preferred to see Alien: Covenant with the kinds of visual effects that still blow me away from the classics. Nevertheless, the visual effects, including the Alien scenes are still very good and mostly competent just not entirely successful in tricking my human eye and I quietly bemoan the loss of the good old days in this production arena.

It's by no means as poor as recent efforts to CGI human beings in the Star Wars franchise.

Today we simply have to accept CGI. Today we can expect it. We just have to like CGI Yodas, rebooted CGI apes for the Planet Of The Apes franchise or impossibly quick moving alien creatures in any number of science fiction pictures that defy simple physics. We have CGI now. It's great and you'll bloody well like it.

But in many ways the two aforementioned complaints are linked because the darker a film the more credible the CGI in some applications. Thus the two problems appear inextricably linked and perhaps would explain the grip for both.

And While Alien: Covenant does falter too on some rather wildly grand, Transformers-like action scales for a few minutes it is a largely wonderfully solid return. And what I mean is that it veers off into the incredulous for me despite being nonetheless exhilarating for just a few moments.

When Ellen Ripley did battle at the end of James Cameron's Aliens or even Scott's Alien by God all of it was entirely credible. When the marines escaped with Aliens pinned to their windows and acid splashes abound none of the action defied the physical limits of the human body. All of it thrilled and the suspension of disbelief remained intact. Here, Alien: Covenant crosses that line a bit for the summer blockbuster crowd, but it's minor for me. Personally reel it in and keep it real.

But I shouldn't complain too much, because there is much to love with every new storied Alien arrival. Alien: Covenant offers a quality tale with spores more information and a fine sequel ten years after the events of Prometheus. The conclusion to this film is equally solid, but should by no means be an M. Night Shyamalan surprise twist to anyone. It's not about the facts as much as it is Scott's style and delivery here. When it comes to human safety and final girl suspense this is disconcerting stuff in the final minutes. The last act will have you eager to return to the Alienverse soon enough.

Honestly, I'm truly scratching the surface on the level of subtext happening in Scott's latest film, but wanted to offer some brief reflections on a film and a franchise of which I have great respect.

Alien: Covenant is a smart, wonderfully thrilling film with a great, purposeful cast. It has a strong beginning, middle and end to complete its narrative. It gradually builds upon Scott's sure hand for mood and suspense. And it's a film that satisfies fans of this series in intelligent ways franchises like Star Wars have simply failed in every way imaginable. The latter has left this science fiction man behind. The former is intellectually and viscerally alive, incubating and well nearly forty years after its first gestation in the hands of its mother and guiding force, a true science fiction visionary like his visionary first Alien film--- thank you Ridley Scott.


Francisco Gonzalez said...

I was very satasfied with Covenant, I liked how it was both a sequel to Prometheus and also gave us the more horror like elements of the first Alien film, because people complained that Prometheus didn't have enough of Alien in it, Ridley complied and gave them what they wanted. Which is fine by me because Ridley has always been a crowd pleaser, right down to reediting Legend and giving it a new musical score just to satasfy the MTV audience. But thats good because to me it shows he wants to please us, he doesn't want to let us down. So yeah, I loved the look, I loved the depth, I loved that it continues the Prometheus story and that it was gory and violent and action packed. But I still think Prometheus is superior. Can't wait to think what he'll do with the final prequel, I hope Covenant makes its money back so we can see it.

SFF said...

I concur. I loved the originality of Prometheus too. There are things I enjoy about that more. Still as a film that bridges the two worlds it's another solid entry.
Thanks Fran. Enjoyed your thoughts here.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Been away for a while, but I think its safe to say I'm officially back as The Film Connoisseur! Expect to see me commenting a whole lot more! But yeah, Covenant was a sweet entry, super curious to see how he ends the prequel trilogy and connects with Alien (1979).

SFF said...

Well that is great to hear, the blogosphere and film world is not the same without you. I hope you received my email well wish. Glad to have you back brother.