(Not so) Alien ter­ri­tory Alien: Covenant

If it feels like you’ve seen Covenant be­fore, that’s be­cause you sort of have

Kingston Whig-Standard - - ENTERTAINMENT - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­night@post­media.com

There’s been a re­cent trend for long-awaited, so-called se­quels to func­tion as re­makes in ev­ery­thing but name. Think of Juras­sic World, which hit many of the same beats as Juras­sic Park; Ter­mi­na­tor Genisys, a do-over of the first Ter­mi­na­tor movie, with a new wrin­kle in time; or Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens, which even its most deliri­ous fans (guilty) ad­mit­ted was a lot like the orig­i­nal Star Wars.

Th­ese movies have tended to re­ceive grudg­ingly good re­views and gen­er­ous box-of­fice num­bers, which is enough for Hol­ly­wood to see the trend as a good thing that must con­tinue. And so here comes

Alien: Covenant, which com­bines a whole lot of DNA from the 1979 orig­i­nal with very lit­tle of the Char­i­ots of

the Gods mys­ti­cism from the most re­cent chap­ter, 2012’s Prometheus.

That one fea­tured a ves­sel of ex­plo­ration, and a fas­ci­nat­ing hu­manoid ro­bot named David, played by Michael Fass­ben­der. This one opens with a flash­back to David’s time with his cre­ator (Guy Pearce), to show us how the stat­uesque an­droid got his name. We then move for­ward to AD 2104; about 10 years af­ter the events of Prometheus, but still quite a few years be­fore the orig­i­nal Alien.

Yet an­other ship, the Covenant, is ply­ing the stars, this time car­ry­ing ter­raform­ing equip­ment and a hold full of colonists (some adults, oth­ers mere em­bryos) in sus­pended an­i­ma­tion, des­tined for a world they hope will be hab­it­able.

The ship also fea­tures a small crew, con­ve­niently paired off into mar­ried cou­ples. (A two-per­son trip to Mars might be sim­i­larly staffed.) Plus Wal­ter, a David look-alike but a newer model with fewer mega­lo­ma­ni­a­cal or mes­sianic tics. It’s as if your next iPhone didn’t do as much on-the-sly down­load­ing and up­dat­ing as your last one; I know, but this is science-fic­tion.

When a stel­lar event knocks the ship for a loop, the crew has a rude awak­en­ing — all ex­cept the cap­tain (James Franco in cameo), who dies in the disas­ter. That leaves Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. He’s a “man of faith,” an in­trigu­ing con­cept given that the screen­play takes the time to point it out, but frus­trat­ing in that it never elab­o­rates on it, even to say which faith it is.

Be­fore they can re­sume course, they in­ter­cept a hu­man sig­nal from a planet even nicer than the one they were headed to. Which is how they come to find David, sole sur­vivor of the Prometheus, ram­bling around in a cav­ernous home that looks like a mix of a Vic­to­rian gentle­man sci­en­tist’s study, a con­demned H.R. Giger bar, and Pom­peii circa AD 80.

Each an­droid is fas­ci­nated with his new­found “brother,” but be­fore you can say “frat­ri­cide is a gas,” the aliens show up, hav­ing found yet an­other way to in­fect hu­mans, as well as re­ly­ing on the stan­dard jackin-the-box egg pods.

Crudup does a fan­tas­tic, hes­i­tat­ing per­for­mance as a man who clearly wasn’t cut out of cap­tain cloth, and Kather­ine Water­son ex­cels as the cap­tain’s widow, a kind of nou­veau Ri­p­ley, even copy­ing Sigour­ney Weaver’s all-busi­ness hair­cut from the Alien se­quels. And the rest of the crew — Danny McBride as the cow­boy-hat-wear­ing Ten­nesseen, Car­men Ejogo as Oram’s wife, etc. — have just enough devel­op­ment to reg­is­ter as peo­ple, be­fore a num­ber of them reg­is­ter as alien snacks.

I liked Covenant, a lot. Even at a shade over two hours the pac­ing never drags, and there are some clever nods to the orig­i­nal (one of those drink­ing bird toys) and some marvel­lous new touches, such as David’s home­made flute and cabi­net of alien cu­riosi­ties. He’s like an ex­plorer of old whose fas­ci­na­tion with the jun­gle has slowly mor­phed into a kind of mad­ness.

And yet I couldn’t help but think in the days fol­low­ing the screen­ing that I’d seen 70 per cent of this be­fore. It’s a prob­lem with the Alien fran­chise, whose de­sign — flash­ing lights, dark cor­ri­dors, teeth-within-teeth, mois­ture ev­ery­where — has so seeped into our col­lec­tive SF/ hor­ror imag­i­na­tions that it feels like it’s al­ways been in there.

Scott de­serves a lot of credit for this; Alien and his next film, Blade

Run­ner, have be­come tem­plates for a cer­tain kind of fu­tur­is­tic dystopia. It’s hardly a crit­i­cism to note that he, like so many oth­ers, has cho­sen to crib from that style him­self.

TWEN­TI­ETH CEN­TURY FOX

A scene from Alien: Covenant.

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