5/10 Watching “Alien: Covenant,” it’s hard not to think about the death of cinema, as director and producer Ridley Scott recently described with a remarkable lack of self-awareness. Like the dropping temperture and the smell of rain in the air before a bad storm, the telling symptoms of this process are all present here.
In 2104, the “Covenant” carries more than 2,000 colonists to the distant Origae-6. A poorly timed solar flare blasts the ship seven years out from its destination, triggering emergency wakeup procedures for the 15-man crew. While making repairs, they discover a signal coming from a planet just three weeks away from their current location, one perfect for colonization that everyone had bizarrely missed while looking for new homeworlds. They detour to investigate, and discover the apocalyptic Doctor Moreau freakshow that is the aftermath of “Prometheus.”
Woe is me and anyone else who rewatched “Prometheus” in preparation for “Alien: Covenant.” It’s just as infuriating and in many of the same ways. It’s still full of unanswered questions, the crew’s behavior is still questionable at best, it’s still filled to the brim with fire-and-brimstone, go-nowhere creation themes and it’s still cutting straight from setup to resolution in far too many scenes.
Watch any movie — I’m serious, any movie at all — and note the times when you’re most engaged. It’s the tense moments. It’s the moments of buildup. It’s the moments when you’re not sure what’s about to happen, but you’re waiting on the edge of your seat for it. Can you imagine how utterly lifeless “Inglorious Basterds” would have been had Hans Landa simply walked in and had his men shoot the floorboards, skipping this exchange?
Remember this scene in “No Country for Old Men?” See how the Coen brothers turn what is essentially a random act of violence into a riveting scene that adds depth to the lead character?
These are some of the best examples in the past 20 years, and I’m not asking for “Alien: Covenant’s” tension to be that good. I’m just asking for it to be there. Just like “Prometheus” before it, this movie seems to have been edited to actively minimize the tension in many of its scenes. Watching it is like driving in moderate traffic — every time you think things might get good, it all comes to a sudden halt for no apparent reason.
What scenes do linger in what should be their main bodies are cut to shreds in the style of a “Bourne” movie, one of several modern stylistic choices that betray a lack of understanding for that style. “Prometheus” did this too when it constantly cut to found footage shots, which were just falling out of popularity in 2012 in big part because horror movies were fond of shoving them in at random points when they really need an entire movie built around them. “Alien: Covenant’s” biggest offences are its cheesy, B-movie splatter gore and the random point-of-view shots the alien gets toward the end.
POV shots like that are becoming commonplace for monster/slasher movies, and I just don’t get why, especially in this instance. It could have been really cool to finally see through the eyes of this iconic creature and understand better how it sees the world, but apparently it sees the world through some default iMovie filter.
But the most identifiably 2017 thing about “Alien: Covenant” is its plot, which revolves around building a mythos for the express purpose of supporting sequels and spinoffs. Scott is talking about making six — six! — more of these. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
Just make a movie, dude. That’s all the first “Alien” was. It had its own plot and its own design and its own story. It wasn’t about Easter eggs and worldbuilding and franchise potential, it was just a really good movie.
“Alien: Covenant” is not a really good movie. It’s a boring, uninspired excuse for exposition to support more — six! more — boring, uninspired excuses for exposition, plagued by Scott’s now characteristic flaws of minimizing tension and imitating fad styles. Pass on this one.
For more movie reviews and content, check out Leopold Knopp’s movie blog at reelentropy.com.