Killer queens back on top

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

THE stars of Ri­d­ley Scott’s Alien re­boot, quite rightly, are the acid-drool­ing ex­trater­res­trial crea­tures them­selves.

Prometheus, Alien: Covenant’s por­ten­tous 2012 pre­de­ces­sor, was long on ex­is­ten­tial rid­dles and short on par­a­sitic fauna. Scott rec­ti­fies this in the pre­quel’s se­quel (there are two more in­stal­ments planned to link up with the di­rec­tor’s groundbreaking 1979 orig­i­nal).

Each stage of the xenomorph’s un­usu­ally vis­ceral life cy­cle — ovo­morph, face­hug­ger, chest­burster, neo­morph and ma­ture, adult queen — is ren­dered in in­ti­mate anatom­i­cal de­tail.

The film­mak­ers take full ad­van­tage of re­cent ad­vances in vis­ual and spe­cial ef­fects tech­nol­ogy to cap­ture the vis­cous crea­tures in all their erotic grotes­querie.

We get up close and per­sonal with ev­ery one of the mon­strous it­er­a­tions. Not one of them dis­ap­points.

Aug­ment­ing the sense of bi­o­log­i­cal mys­tery is Scott’s dis­ci­pline as di­rec­tor. The vet­eran film­maker is an ex­pert judge of when less be­comes more. The eco­nom­i­cal shower scene, in which an alien ten­dril winds its way up the legs of a cou­ple mak­ing love, of­fers a good ex­am­ple of this pre­ci­sion at work.

Michael Fass­ben­der makes a wel­come re­turn as the ship’s reg­u­la­tion syn­thetic an­droid, now known as Wal­ter. He’s a slightly warmer, more gen­tle­manly vari­a­tion on Prometheus’s fas­tid­i­ous David — per­haps the mod­i­fi­ca­tion which ren­ders him in­ca­pable of ac­tu­ally cre­at­ing any­thing (while he can master a com­pli­cated piece of mu­sic in sec­onds, he can’t com­pose) means he’s less tor­tured.

Alien: Covenant also fea­tures a mys­te­ri­ous alien whis­perer — but that char­ac­ter can’t be de­scribed with­out spoil­ing the plot.

But the suc­cess of the sixth film in the sci-fi fran­chise was al­ways go­ing to rest on the shoul­ders of the new Ri­p­ley — Katherine Water­ston (Fan­tas­tic Beasts And Where To Find Them) — who proves her­self to be more than able to carry the load.

Scott de­scribes her char­ac­ter, Daniels, as go­ing on a “par­al­lel jour­ney” to Sigour­ney Weaver’s orig­i­nal char­ac­ter. The ter­raformist, while sim­i­larly re­silient, is per­haps more emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble than her muchloved pre­de­ces­sor/suc­ces­sor, partly be­cause the sto­ry­line gives her more op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore this side of her­self.

The Covenant is a colony ship car­ry­ing 2000 hu­man souls and trays of sec­ond gen­er­a­tion em­bryos, bound for a hab­it­able planet in a dis­tant gal­axy. Given the pi­o­neer­ing na­ture of the mis­sion, the crew is made up en­tirely of cou­ples.

When a freak ac­ci­dent trig­gers emer­gency pro­to­cols, Daniels awakes from cryosleep to see her hus­band, and the ship’s cap­tain (James Franco), die seem­ingly due to a pod mal­func­tion.

Billy Crudup’s sec­ond-in­com­mand, Oram, or­ders an ex­ploratory mis­sion to the hab­it­able planet that mirac­u­lously ap­pears on their radar. Scott doesn’t waste much time in un­leash­ing his se­cret bi­o­log­i­cal weapon.

Alien: Covenant is a wel­come re­turn to form for the beloved fran­chise.

The dra­matic en­ergy of the ac­tion se­quences over­comes a some­what pre­dictable plot that sets out to ad­dress some very big ques­tions, but ul­ti­mately falls back on a few well-worn an­swers.

The end­ing feels strangely rushed — and there’s a twist you can see com­ing from a gal­axy away — but Alien: Covenant is still more than space-wor­thy enough to trans­port mass au­di­ences to the next in­stal­ment.


Up close and per­sonal with an in­tri­cately ren­dered alien,

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