MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Michael Fassbinder, Katherine Waterston Rated R
While there are occasions when a sequel to a popular film adds value to a franchise (the recent Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 comes to mind, as well as Aliens), prequels never fare as well (Star Wars Episodes 1-3, for example). When you decide to take the time to create a backstory to a movie that clearly didn’t need one, you systematically begin to remove the mystery that made the first film so memorable.
Back in 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien told a simple story about a group of scientists who made the big mistake of bringing an extraterrestrial egg onboard their spacecraft, which eventually hatched and created all sorts of havoc. Sigourney Weaver played Officer Ripley, a character that became an iconic female hero. James Cameron would direct the sequel Aliens in 1986 as a full-scale action film featuring a return of Ripley, who risks her life to protect a child. Two mediocre films followed (not counting the Alien vs. Predator movies.)
Ridley Scott made the first prequel to Alien in 2012, the confusing Prometheus. The storyline begins millions of years ago and then jumps ahead to 2089 (still years before the first Alien film) with a tale involving the Weyland Corporation, giant alien Engineers and an android named David (memorably played by Michael Fassbender). It was one of those “what did I just see?” kind of movies. I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it and decided not to file a review.
Alien: Covenant is an easier film to understand, since the plot is a loose retread of Alien. This movie features a new spaceship, the Covenant, filled with hibernating passengers en route to a habitable planet. When a mechanical malfunction awakens the crew prematurely, they get to work repairing the ship. Now that everyone’s awake, the remaining time to their destination will be a bit of a slog. Fortunately, their computer indicates that there is a nice nearby planet that can also sustain humans. In spite of the protestations of scientist Daniels (Katherine Waterston) the crew decides to settle down on this new planet. What could possibly go wrong?
Without spoiling the film, let it be said that there is a controlling force behind the aliens, a God-like entity that namechecks Lord Byron’s poem “Prometheus” (which also invokes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus).
If you’ve seen the other Alien films, there are no big scares in store. More gore, to be sure, but this movie lacks the patience required to work up a real fright. All of the actors turn in good performances, including Michael Fassbender in a double role. The film looks great and moves along to recognizable beats. It’s Hollywood product at its best.
But can something so familiar be considered alien? I think not.
Two halos: Sufficiently entertaining but totally superfluous prequel to a classic film.
Three pitchforks: Scenes of death and torture; strong swearing; one brief scene of sexual calisthenics.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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