Beautifully produced but very familiar entry in the Alien franchise. 3.5 Stars

Offering the origin story of its infamously designed and executed creatures, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant offers a few surprises while mainly covering some very well-trod and overly familiar ground.

Alien: Covenant (2017)
Released: 19 May 2017
Rated: R
Runtime: 122 min
Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Writer(s): Dan O'Bannon (based on characters created by), Ronald Shusett (based on characters created by), Jack Paglen (story by), Michael Green (story by), John Logan (screenplay), Dante Harper (screenplay)
Plot: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination, and must attempt a harrowing escape.
IMDB rating: 6.7
MetaScore: 65

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: Dolby Atmos, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DTS
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr. 2 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy
Case Type: keep case in a slipcover
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 08/15/2017
MSRP: $39.99

The Production: 3/5

When Ridley Scott premiered his brilliant Alien in 1979, he was completely unconcerned with explaining the origins of such fearsome creatures. His subsequent movies in this universe, Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant, endeavor to provide such an explanation. But Scott was right from the beginning. The story of their origin isn’t nearly as captivating or horrifying as the simple shock of their existence. Alien: Covenant, for all its technical wizardry and mind-blowing special effects, mines overly familiar territory now completely exhausted for its scares while its elaborate and somewhat sad backstory fails to entrance.

Interrupted from a years-long trek to Origae-6 to begin a new human colony by a solar flare that damages systems on the spaceship Covenant, its fifteen-person crew awakened seven years too early to deal with the malfunctions is distressed to learn that its captain (James Franco) has perished during the accident putting man-of-faith Oram (Billy Crudup) in command of the ship with Daniels (Katherine Waterston) now his second-in-command. A rogue transmission from a nearby planet that can support human life intrigues Oram enough to decide to land there and not send the crew back into hypersleep until the world can be explored to see if perhaps the colony can be situated there instead of Origae-6. The beautiful, ethereal world, however, shows no signs of bird or animal activity, and some spores released accidentally from some plants result in the formation of some fierce creatures with destruction on their minds. A synthetic named David (Michael Fassbender), the only survivor from the ship Prometheus which had landed here a decade earlier and a seeming duplicate for the Covenant’s own synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender), appears to offer the survivors sanctuary, but David has some surprises in store for the crew who only want to get off of the planet as fast as they can.

The John Logan-Dante Harper screenplay mixes philosophical diatribes about civilization and the worth of the individual (when your screenwriters use Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias” as their touchstone and quote it in the movie, you know the film is interested in more than just horror) with the patented and alarming shocks and gore that one expects from any movie in the Alien franchise. Between frequent aliens bursting from the bodies of the crew (the spore-based aliens burst from the spinal cord and appear to be a somewhat different species from the more familiar facehugger-induced creatures which rip through the stomach), these very naïve crew members are pretty much led down the garden path by David, and none of them (apart from his doppelganger Walter) seem the least bit mistrustful or suspicious. Without the obnoxious bravado of the more militaristic crews from previous Alien adventures, these less combative humans (many of them coupled to further the colonization on their new planet but a bad idea in times of trouble since naturally separated pairs are going to be interested in their own spouses rather than what’s good for the mission) are like lambs to the slaughter. Sadly, the script doesn’t use its early scenes before the scares commence in endearing these people to the viewer making their successive deaths register with less emotional heft than they might have. Director Ridley Scott knows how to keep the action moving once the attacks begin, but the film’s big climactic twist can be seen coming from a mile away and is a really disappointing wrap-up for this Alien installment. (Allegedly, Scott has two more films planned that will bring us full circle to the beginning of Alien, but the lukewarm box-office take of this outing may quash those plans utterly.)

Michael Fassbender receives and earns his top billing etching two distinctly different personas for his synthetic clones David and Walter. Katherine Waterston is meant to be this film’s version of Ripley, but the actress is a fair ways behind the fierce and completely identifiable character so notably intoned by Sigourney Weaver. Billy Crudup’s Christopher Oram mentions his religious orientation on several occasions, but the screenwriters don’t really do much of anything with his faith making one wonder the reason for its inclusion from the outset (unless it’s to suggest that his innate faith and trusting nature are what led to his destruction; highly unlikely). Danny McBride as the good ol’ boy Tennessee does the best job of establishing a character (aside from Fassbender’s Walter, that is) that we want to root for. The other cast members played by Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Benjamin Rigby, Nathaniel Dean, Tess Haubrich, and Uli Latukefu never really establish strong characters in their on-screen encounters. Guy Pearce and James Franco make brief but enjoyable cameos.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is faithfully rendered in this 2160p transfer using the HEVC codec. Sharpness is really exceptional in this ultra high definition transfer with close-ups revealing facial features and details in costumes and hair that provide almost too much information. Color is wonderfully controlled and yet vivid when necessary in the back-and-forth nature of the storytelling. HDR is especially noticeable in the placid sequence that opens the movie with a bright, spare, and unsettling environment, but bright highlights appear effectively throughout the movie. Black levels are excellent. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The Dolby Atmos sound mix (decoded to the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core on my equipment) provides a thrilling environmental expanse whether on board the Covenant or on the planet where aliens are lurking. There are plenty of panning effects across and through the soundstage, and the spectacular use of the LFE channel gives a real heft to many of the most suspenseful scenes in the movie. Jed Kurzel’s music gets the full surround treatment in the fronts and rears. Dialogue has been rooted to the center channel.

Special Features: 4/5

Audio Commentary: director Ridley Scott provides the commentary for the movie, available on both the UHD and Blu-ray discs enclosed in the set. There is too much description by Scott of what’s on the screen and too few recollections and anecdotes about the actual filming process.

The remaining bonus material is contained on the enclosed Blu-ray disc:

Deleted/Extended Scenes (17:37, HD): twelve scenes may be viewed separately or together in montage.

Meet Walter (2:20, HD): a short infomercial detailing how Walter is constructed.

Phobos (9:09, HD): various members of the Covenant crew are given stress tests about handling fear.

The Last Supper (4:37, HD): the crew of the Covenant parties together one last time before entering hypersleep.

The Crossing (2:34, HD): the backstory of Elizabeth Shaw and David.

Advent (6:41, HD): David’s video diary of his activities on the planet.

David’s Illustrations (HD): step through galleries of five sets of illustrations of David’s mutations of the creature.

Master Class: Ridley Scott (55:30, HD): somewhat mistitled, this is the “making of” featurette for the film. In it, cast and crew discuss the movie’s aims, its themes, the characters and the cast who play them, the sets, and the array of creatures who inhabit this world. Speaking about these aspects of the production are director Ridley Scott, producer Mark Huffam, writers John Logan and Dante Harper, production designer Chris Seagers, costume designer Janty Yates, director of photography Dariusz Wolski, visual effects supervisor Charley Henley and special effects supervisor Neil Corbould, and actors Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Uli Latukefu, and James Franco.

Production Gallery (HD): step-through galleries with hundreds of photos in four categories: Ridley Scott’s storyboards, Conceptual Art, Creatures, and Logos & Patches.

Theatrical Trailers (2:26, 2:04, HD): must be viewed individually.

Blu-ray/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.

Overall: 3.5/5

Offering the origin story of its infamously designed and executed creatures, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant offers a few surprises while mainly covering some very well-trod and overly familiar ground. The UHD release offers exceptional picture quality and powerful Dolby Atmos sound to delight fans of the franchise.

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Tino

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Great review. I thought it looked and sounded tremendous too. I like the film more than most.
 

Neil Middlemiss

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Indeed, I think you nailed the film's strengths and pitfalls in your review, Matt. Alien film's are among the few movies that I will ALWAYS head out to the cinema to see, and like Tino, I enjoyed this one more than most. I purchased the UHD version even though I am not set up for it to be ready for when I am. And I can't wait.
 

Reggie W

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As a big fan of Ridley Scott I could not bring myself to go to the cinema to see this one after the disappointment I felt seeing Prometheus. I still have not seen it and am still debating if I want to and I really don't feel I should purchase it now based on the probability that I will regret having bought it once I have seen it.

What you mention in your review, that this film and Prometheus are about providing "explanations", is what I find to be the greatest downfall of these pictures. We did not need these explanations and they, in my opinion, greatly detract from the experience.

The thing I most hoped they would not do...

Have David be the creator of the Xenomorph...and I have to ask does this make sense to anybody that he is the one that developed this creature? I mean it seemed like the "engineers" knew about the Xeno before David arrived on Planet Black Goo in Prometheus and now suddenly he is the creator of the Xeno? Really?

...is exactly where they went and though I know they were not thinking of me when they did this it sure seems like the idea was to alienate me (see what I did there) from this franchise.

Honestly, I am glad others enjoy this stuff and I am happy you can continue to enjoy these films...but I think I have permanently checked out of this series. I'll watch the first film and Aliens and pretend the rest of this never happened.
 
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As a big fan of Ridley Scott I could not bring myself to go to the cinema to see this one after the disappointment I felt seeing Prometheus. I still have not seen it and am still debating if I want to and I really don't feel I should purchase it now based on the probability that I will regret having bought it once I have seen it.

What you mention in your review, that this film and Prometheus are about providing "explanations", is what I find to be the greatest downfall of these pictures. We did not need these explanations and they, in my opinion, greatly detract from the experience.

The thing I most hoped they would not do...

Have David be the creator of the Xenomorph...and I have to ask does this make sense to anybody that he is the one that developed this creature? I mean it seemed like the "engineers" knew about the Xeno before David arrived on Planet Black Goo in Prometheus and now suddenly he is the creator of the Xeno? Really?

...is exactly where they went and though I know they were not thinking of me when they did this it sure seems like the idea was to alienate me (see what I did there) from this franchise.

Honestly, I am glad others enjoy this stuff and I am happy you can continue to enjoy these films...but I think I have permanently checked out of this series. I'll watch the first film and Aliens and pretend the rest of this never happened.
The information in your spoiler is wrong. You have been misled.

And please let's not turn this into another Prometheus bashing thread.
 

Tino

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Alot of folks here at HTF liked it (myself included) so I was a little surprised to see the hate for it in other places (online, critics, people in the real world) that I encountered.
Most critics (71%) liked it.
 

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My disc (regular BD) arrived and I hope to watch it soon. I enjoyed my theatrical showing, but the presentation was seriously compromised by both technical presentation issues and audience behavior issues, so I'm looking forward to seeing this at home without any distractions or issues.
 
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Reggie W

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The information in your spoiler is wrong. You have been misled.

And please let's not turn this into another Prometheus bashing thread.
OK, I could have been easily misled because I have not seen the film and it seemed that much of what I saw about it was...

...indicating David spent quite a bit of time developing/engineering the Xenos into I guess what he felt was a perfect life form and that David has some sort of attachment to/affection for the Xenos. Some sort of idea that David too wants to be a "creator" or some such thing.

And come on, man, if I am saying I don't like or don't want to watch these films that is not bashing anything.

 

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Fox informed me that I'm getting the 4K UHD version of Prometheus to review in the next day or so.
 
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Fox informed me that I'm getting the 4K UHD version of Prometheus to review in the next day or so.
Heard it looks terrific. I bought it by haven't watched it yet.
 

Johnny Angell

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OK, I could have been easily misled because I have not seen the film and it seemed that much of what I saw about it was...

...indicating David spent quite a bit of time developing/engineering the Xenos into I guess what he felt was a perfect life form and that David has some sort of attachment to/affection for the Xenos. Some sort of idea that David too wants to be a "creator" or some such thing.

And come on, man, if I am saying I don't like or don't want to watch these films that is not bashing anything.

You have not seen the film, so any information about the intent of the film is second-hand. I get you've read reviews and you saw the previous film and figure you won't like this one. Still, do you really feel you've got an informed right to explain why you don't like this film? I think you've got a credibility gap there...huuuuge gap.
 

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You have not seen the film, so any information about the intent of the film is second-hand. I get you've read reviews and you saw the previous film and figure you won't like this one. Still, do you really feel you've got an informed right to explain why you don't like this film? I think you've got a credibility gap there...huuuuge gap.
Not at all, mainly because I did not explain why I did not like Covenant. I only stated that I have not seen it and have been debating if I want to see it at all. I can't explain why I don't like something I have not seen. I can say I have reservations about watching it and what causes me to have those reservations. That's all I did.

As I said if I was misinformed about the film by others that have wrote about it I accept that and...

...if David has nothing to do with the creation of the Xenos...

Then great that at least causes me to be a bit more intrigued about the picture and may cause me to give it a shot at some point.
 

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I never said what is in your spoiler. Just that you've been misled. Either see the film or don't if you want the whole story. Some of what you said is true. Most is not.
 

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This was my most frustrating trip to the cinema so far this year. Prometheus is a far more ambitious and satisfying picture than what Covenant turned out to be. It's a side-show of a story that abandons all the achievements of its predecessor. Its two greatest sins are its token messy fate of Elizabeth Shaw and the shockingly lackluster screen entrance of the egg.
 

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I never said what is in your spoiler. Just that you've been misled. Either see the film or don't if you want the whole story. Some of what you said is true. Most is not.
I agree that if I want to post my thoughts on Covenant I need to watch it first. Right now the film is a curiosity for me and only the second Ridley Scott film I have not seen in a theater...the other being G.I. Jane which just did not appeal to me when I saw the trailers.

As Covenant is a "sort of" sequel to a film I really did not like and a "sort of" prequel to a film I love and a "sort of" do over attempting to get things back to Xenos after stating he was done with Xenos when he made Prometheus, made by a filmmaker whose work I tend to really enjoy...well...as you can imagine I am a bit torn about if I should watch it.

This is why I have read some reviews and also in looking at maybe purchasing the film on blu-ray saw comments about the film and special features...so I admit reading these comments or promotional materials has been part of the information I have weighed in going back and forth on it. At this stage in my life I have just lost patience with watching a film that I find horrible and do not want to waste my time or money (because there seems to be so many blu-ray releases I do want to purchase coming out) on doing this.

I also find it interesting (and disappointing obviously) when a director I like makes a film I really find...well...terrible. I am very much looking forward to seeing All the Money in the World and if he does it Battle of Britain.

So, I know I now have a reputation as a "hater" and any entry by me about a Scott Alien sequel or prequel is likely to be greeted with trepidation, can I just be clear I do not hate Mr. Scott and I do not "hate" his work...I just really found one of his films to be dreadful (NOTE: That is my opinion). I am also a fan of William Friedkin but I find his return to horror The Guardian to be an awful picture.

The problem for me is if I like the director I am going to be very tempted to watch whatever he makes. So, I am tempted to give Covenant a shot, because it is Scott, but I know I really disliked his last entry in the Alien franchise and I can't stand all of these explanations they seem obsessed with giving. Were this film made by somebody else I would not even be giving it any thought and would have just skipped it entirely.
 

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The problem for me is if I like the director I am going to be very tempted to watch whatever he makes. So, I am tempted to give Covenant a shot, because it is Scott, but I know I really disliked his last entry in the Alien franchise and I can't stand all of these explanations they seem obsessed with giving. Were this film made by somebody else I would not even be giving it any thought and would have just skipped it entirely.
Covenant has little in common with Prometheus. After all the complaints about Prometheus, it's like they decided to loosely remake the first movie and just have the alien running around killing people because they knew it would sell more tickets. That probably sounds more harsh than I intend since I don't mind seeing a movie where the alien just kills people but they did drop the bigger ideas that were presented in Prometheus.
 
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I agree that if I want to post my thoughts on Covenant I need to watch it first. Right now the film is a curiosity for me and only the second Ridley Scott film I have not seen in a theater...the other being G.I. Jane which just did not appeal to me when I saw the trailers.

As Covenant is a "sort of" sequel to a film I really did not like and a "sort of" prequel to a film I love and a "sort of" do over attempting to get things back to Xenos after stating he was done with Xenos when he made Prometheus, made by a filmmaker whose work I tend to really enjoy...well...as you can imagine I am a bit torn about if I should watch it.

This is why I have read some reviews and also in looking at maybe purchasing the film on blu-ray saw comments about the film and special features...so I admit reading these comments or promotional materials has been part of the information I have weighed in going back and forth on it. At this stage in my life I have just lost patience with watching a film that I find horrible and do not want to waste my time or money (because there seems to be so many blu-ray releases I do want to purchase coming out) on doing this.

I also find it interesting (and disappointing obviously) when a director I like makes a film I really find...well...terrible. I am very much looking forward to seeing All the Money in the World and if he does it Battle of Britain.

So, I know I now have a reputation as a "hater" and any entry by me about a Scott Alien sequel or prequel is likely to be greeted with trepidation, can I just be clear I do not hate Mr. Scott and I do not "hate" his work...I just really found one of his films to be dreadful (NOTE: That is my opinion). I am also a fan of William Friedkin but I find his return to horror The Guardian to be an awful picture.

The problem for me is if I like the director I am going to be very tempted to watch whatever he makes. So, I am tempted to give Covenant a shot, because it is Scott, but I know I really disliked his last entry in the Alien franchise and I can't stand all of these explanations they seem obsessed with giving. Were this film made by somebody else I would not even be giving it any thought and would have just skipped it entirely.
I don't think you have a reputation as a hater at all Reggie.

You do have a reputation of frequently stating your opinions as though they were facts however. I think that is what ruffled a few feathers. Not your dislike of Prometheus.
 

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Covenant has little in common with Prometheus. After all the complaints about Prometheus, it's like they decided to loosely remake the first movie and just have the alien running around killing people because they knew it would sell more tickets. That probably sounds more harsh than I intend since I don't mind seeing a movie where the alien just kills people but they did drop the bigger ideas that were presented in Prometheus.
Yes, to me they seem to be trying to "course correct" too much here.

First it was "Well, nobody in the franchise has touched on the big guy in the seat. The Xeno is cooked with an orange in his mouth."

So, they decide to do a film "explaining" who the big guy in the seat is. Then the complaints pour in but I don't think the issue was that they wanted to do a film about the big guy in the seat it was that you dropped the key things that made Alien great...it was mysterious and very strange. The creatures in the film were not explained. They were mysterious and strange...and of course dangerous. I don't think people liked that the big guy in the seat was really a smaller bald super white dude that is...well...mankind's daddy.

"They are us!"

Well, except without a tan and obviously a very nice gym and personal trainer.

So, then we get "Oh well, let's go back to the Xeno." which to me seems like a corporate decision to go back to what they think will sell, the monster. Space ship picks up strange signal, goes to investigate, monsters kill most of them. Really? Problem here is everybody knows you already did this better in the first film and smartly without trying to tack on an explanation of who or what made the Xenos.

All the while people keep complaining about the characters in these films and how bad they are...but that would seem to be because these later films are not about the human characters at all so of course they are just throwaway nonsense. These films are about monsters and androids...those are the feature characters in the films it seems. Again though, this is not what people who liked the first couple of Alien films really expected because they did create characters in those first two pictures you had an interest in.

Now the films seem stuck in this "We need to explain everything and have more monsters and androids." phase. I think that will play to dwindling returns.
 
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