top of page

James Cameron Syndrome

Alien: Covenant Review

Alien: Covenant is the second film in the prequel trilogy designed by Ridley Scott. The plot follows the crew of the colony ship, Covenant, as it intercepts a strange transmission from a habitable planet. As they investigate the source of the transmission on the planet's surface, they discover the nefarious android David, who has been hard at work on something more sinister than the colony crew is prepared to face.

The acting was certainly on-par with the performances from Prometheus (which is a compliment because the issues with Prometheus weren't on the shoulders of the actors). This is particularly surprising to me because I loved the casting of Prometheus far more than that of Covenant. Fassbender, Waterston and McBride deserve the most accolades, as they carry the film amidst very respectable supporting performances. But like Prometheus, the acting couldn't save familiar flaws.

I found the script, character development and motif far less non-linear, ambiguous and moronic, respectively. But less isn't none. There were still a few character decisions that make absolutely no sense, in which a crew charged with the protection of a colony's worth of cargo seemed to lack any sense of safety protocol or critical thinking. The most disturbing gaffe comes at the tail end of the film, which makes its importance all the more impactful on the film's story as a whole, therefore all the less forgivable. But, there were admittedly far less of these moments than in Prometheus.

The traditional alien's inclusion felt obligatory, almost like spiteful fan-service in its rushed delivery. It reminded me in some ways of Sam Raimi's treatment, or lack thereof, of Venom in Spider-Man 3. Perhaps it's because Ridley Scott wanted to draw out the return of the infamous intergalactic creature in his prequel trilogy. But the poor reviews of Prometheus from fans and critics alike pushed the studio, and maybe even Scott, to bring the creature in earlier than he wanted. What followed was a climax that felt rushed and jagged.

The alien itself, and all variants therein, were beautiful in moments, then B-grade CGI in others. Say what you will about the debacle that was Resurrection (let alone the two "untouchables", Alien and Aliens), but its action set pieces and graphics were superior to Covenant in many cases. I felt duped in a similar vein to that of The Thing prequel. An HBO exclusive in which the cast and crew rave about Scott's commitment to practical effects made me more excited than I was before. But I couldn't recall a single scene in the entirety of Covenant in which practical effects were used. Which means one of two things...either the models were used only as examples, or the practical work was so over-polished by CGI that you couldn't see the book beyond its cover. Either way it was a disappointment, especially considering the overall quality appreciation in most other aspects.

The linear and familiar plot structure was relieved only by the story of David. This prequel trilogy has become Scott's plaything for the character of David, and it is interesting to say the least. In many ways it parallels Star Wars. We see one of the most iconic villains ever made (Vader/alien) take center stage through three films, then see the origin story divisively butchered through a prequel set. We didn't know what to expect, but subconsciously it wasn't what we received. I am beginning to warm up to the David character, however, as the masterful performance of Fassbender is bringing him into a realm of icon status with every film. But while that newlywed feeling comes in waves, I can't help but this what we wanted in an Alien prequel? Or did we just want an excuse for more extra-terrestrial carnage perpetrated by our favorite xenomorph, with some high-quality acting and directing to give us a visceral approach to the alien fodder?

Perhaps the bar has just been set too high, and I'm suffering from James Cameron Syndrome... Alien and Aliens are virtually impossible to top, Nothing including the classic "xenomorph" creature has come close to matching the claustrophobic atmosphere of the first and the incredible set pieces of the second. Not even the nostalgic soundtrack from Alien brought into Covenant was enough to salvage my heart's reminiscence for long. I am one of those fans that can't get enough of the alien. I will always see an attempt to recreate the image of my most beloved monster, at even the cost of tainting that image, for even the briefest of moments of remembering why I fell in love with it to begin with. And while Prometheus and Covenant have virtually eliminated my hope of having that feeling consistently through an Alien-themed production again, I will remain the bugger who shows up opening night for anyone willing to try again.

Covenant's attempt to bring us home to the place where no one can hear you scream was better than that of Prometheus, but at the cost of originality. The blend was almost as awkward as McBride in any comedy he's ever done. Yet, I feel it deserves a couple of repeat viewings to truly dive into the material. My critic brain aside, my fandom was enough to dismiss portions of the film because it didn't match the perfection I have in my mind. And that is unfair. Some day soon, like Prometheus, I'll be able to go back and watch Covenant again. And perhaps appreciate it more than I did when I wanted to hold it to an impossible standard.

Horror Qualifier: 9/10

Horror Quality: 6/10

Film Quality: 6/10

bottom of page