Alien: Covenant (2017) (Blu-ray film review)

In many respects, it looks like director Ridley Scott has gone back to his original idea of a haunted house in space with ‘Alien: Covenant’. There’s even a hint of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ where the Discovery was originally going to have extended solar panels, making it look more like a dragonfly but with the starship Covenant having it surrounding the fuselage. Shame It got disrupted by a neutrino burst causing massive ship damage causing an emergency awakening of the fourteen strong crew. As neutrinos are finer than the light radiation it was supposed to pick up, I’m surprised it didn’t just float through the entire starship. Let’s see how far I can go without giving away too many spoilers.

There are a lot of plot holes. Even though it’s supposed to 10 years after the Prometheus in 2104, there is no explanation how Earth has the technology to detect an inhabitable planet so many light years from Earth let alone know how far it would have aged, given the speed of light. Even the hint of a ‘jump’ suggesting hyperspace is suitably vague.

None of the characters other than David, whom we meet much later, are that well developed. Without reading the ‘Making Of-’, you would miss the relationships in a flash. It isn’t as though there weren’t opportunities to develop these connections but this lacking is even worse than ‘Prometheus’. All the crew is seen as cannon-fodder and you don’t really care what happens to them. In that respects, ‘Alien’ was better developed 40 years ago. To service 14 crew members on the Covenant was always going to be problematic but although this might have been regarded as the true number of active crew needed, from a film point-of-view there was too many for a decent script. Just once, I’d love to hear the music of something more current to their time period than a couple centuries before them. On the planet, having them all wearing identical caps and such does little to tell them apart. This might be a reflection of real life but gives you no one to root for.

Add to this the landing of the shuttle on water when there was plenty of dry land around. Granted they were filming in New Zealand and had to obey their permission in not damaging the national park, you would have thought there would have been ways to resolve this problem than them getting their feet wet.

The first victims were infected by a spore than the traditional way. You would have thought that David would have laid traps to capture any visitors. Speaking of David, since when do androids grow hair? In one of the extras it shows how Walter is ‘built’ and reveals the synthetic nature of this. In the audio commentary, Ridley Scott points out that David was a prototype and growing hair was one of the advances.

David’s removal of the ‘Engineers’ is also problematic. With such a big planet, why is there only one city? Of course, this might not necessarily be their home planet or they don’t have colonies elsewhere. After all, there is still the matter of their downed spaceship on LV-426.

Much of the action after that is in the city late at night and, clearly, Ridley Scott hasn’t learnt the problems of ‘AVP2’ when you can’t see much on the screen. David might be able to see in near darkness but surely he would have constructed a lighting system to do his work in.

Likewise, the xenomorphs are purely murderous. If the idea of them was to create more of them from human hosts then keeping them alive and cocooned would have made more sense. Do I need to discuss where do the eggs come from without the need for a queen xenomorph?

The rescue of the survivors with another xenomorph clinging to the shuttle appears to be done solely for an action sequence. Surely it would have made more sense just to accelerate back into space and let friction burn it or lack of oxygen in orbit to kill it. Fighting one of these creatures in an atmosphere is insane when there are other options available.

The difference between David and Walter depending on the latter sustaining damage is also underplayed. Only one of them spots the damage. It isn’t as though it couldn’t have been picked up on. Also, considering that David had his head ripped off in ‘Prometheus’, his repair would have a scar around his neck at the very least.

Once back on board the Covenant, the plan to remove the final xenomorph actually follows the same plan as attempted in ‘Alien’ ie get it out the airlock. Think about what was ignored on the return shuttle. At least they didn’t try to blow the colony ship up.

There are more extras on the blu-ray than the DVD version. There are 17 minutes covering 17 extended/deleted scenes. The most significant of these is the introduction with Weyland educating David and covers more detail here. I would have thought that all David had to do was consult his memory banks about human conception to discover where humans came from.

The 2 minute advert of the Walter model is interesting but makes it appear like magic how androids are created. One can only hope that is advert hype than the real way it was done. If androids were created that way then it would mean mankind was a lot more advanced than the displays shown of their space technology.

Oddly, the section from ‘Phobos’ ‘Psyche Test’ and ‘The Last Supper’ shows more of the crew’s characters than the film itself.

Probably the most crucial extra comes with ‘Sector 87, Planet 4’ where we get the complete picture and footage of what actually happened when David and Elizabeth Shaw flew to the Engineers’ home planet. Reflectively, I know the Engineer version of hypersleep was the only way for Shaw to survive the trip but trusting David totally when he poisoned her boyfriend seems a bit odd. Likewise, David’s decision to poison the Engineers’ city on arrival. Would the Engineers really have had the same experiment being run across LV-233 and, if they did and in different stages, then surely some of them would have escaped than be attacked. There’s also a section called ‘David’ Illustrations’ allowing you to linger over the sketches found in his lab. Thing is, linger is right. Some of these only have one picture and you have to work your way through them manually as there is no auto-control to go through at a regular pace. These really need to be released in a book.

The 55 minute piece ‘Master Class: Ridley Scott’ is, to some extent, more a love letter to him from cast and crew. Looking at the material here, it’s almost as though he made two different films. Certainly, the reasons he chose some things don’t reflect well in what I saw. Although I doubt in any production that you’re going to hear any dissenting voices, other than the director about time and cost, this team does appear too gushing and that everything Ridley Scott says is right.

The audio commentary is with Ridley Scott alone. I don’t know if it was his voice or the dark film but I found myself dozing from time to time. I’m not that surprised about his comment that scientists pay attention to Science Fiction. You can trace that back as far as the original ‘Star Trek’. I do hope that South Island, New Zealand isn’t over-run by tourists now. Mind you, the thought of being attacked by the xenomorphs left there should give people a pause before going there. There is a hint that there is to be sequel to this film that should segue into ‘Alien’. Reflectively, unless Origae-6 is another Engineers outpost, the spread of the xenomorph eggs wasn’t solely from David. He doesn’t really cover how David can breathe as a means to communicate with the xenomorphs since he doesn’t actually breathe. Going back a little further and the genocide of the two million Engineers, Scott continually corrected himself about whether it kills all organic life by correcting that insects survived so the vegetation would survive. He also compares a lot to ‘Alien’ at the end. The false ending as he created in the original film is a mainstay in many films now. Not a reference to Walter losing his hand which would have been a dead giveaway as to who was on the Covenant at the end. Considering the massive sales and times the ‘Alien’ franchise has been on television, would there really be any novices going to see this film?

Looking reflectively and bear in mind this is only after a couple viewings, in many respects, elements of this film is worse than ‘Prometheus’ and I’ve been slowly getting used to it. If you’re going to compare to the original ‘Alien’, one major aspect missing is humour, which is often used in horror films to balance the scares. The failed attempt in ‘Prometheus’ was better than none at all in ‘Covenant’.

I’m not altogether sure I like the turn to David than the Engineers, whom I’m sure many of us would have liked to have seen more about and just what were they creating the xenomorphs to fight. If anything, their organic weapon was far too powerful and so you would have to wonder if they ever used it or their adversaries beat them. Would their race have truly stagnated in the millennia since they first created the organic weapons or not stayed as a space-faring race. It’s not as though the landing structure for their spacecraft still didn’t exist which meant they were still space-farers. There’s also a little matter of why didn’t David use it to disembark than crash in the woods.

As much as I’ve liked a lot of Ridley Scott’s films, the ‘Master Class’ extra tends to suggest he’s been surrounded by ‘yes people’ all the time when I really think he needs someone or more there to at least disagree and make him think of other options or at least embellish what he’s starting with. I don’t go out to be critical with anyone but in review mode, I balance good against bad.

I’m still very much undecided on ‘Covenant’. Ridley Scott says he learnt a lot from the mistakes from ‘Prometheus’ but I’m not sure if he applied them here. Changing the MO of the xenomorphs isn’t that necessary. As soon as anyone is infected or impregnated, we know their fate. Likewise, the purpose of the xenomorphs isn’t always to kill humans. If it is to propagate, it needs something to implant eggs in. Then again, we never see where David gets his eggs from. Let’s hope one of those embryos is one of them.

GF Willmetts

September 2017

(region B: pub: 20th Century Fox. 1 blu-ray disk 117 minute film with extras. Price; around £14.99 (UK). ASIN: 7848207001)

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