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 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.
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.
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.
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.