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Thursday, May 18, 2017 12:04 am

Lack of clear direction maroons Covenant

Amy Seimetz, Benjamin Rigby and Carmen Ejogo in Alien: Covenant.
PHOTO COURTESY 20th Century Fox


What began as a simple haunted house story set in outer space has become an enigmatic, existential treatise on man’s place in the universe and his origins. Eager to fill their coffers once more with one of their most popular franchises, 20th Century Fox approached director Ridley Scott to revive the Alien series he helped birth in 1979, and the result was 2012’s frustrating Prometheus, a prequel that went out of its way to provide a backstory and theme where one wasn’t needed. An air of pretentiousness hung over that film as it does to its sequel Alien: Covenant, yet it’s another good-looking exercise in frustration that takes the viewer right to the edge before pulling back and failing to deliver the sort of horror fans have come to expect from these movies, or answers to those willing to give Scott’s metaphysical mumbo jumbo a chance.

Picking up 10 years after the events of Prometheus, we find ourselves aboard yet another massive spaceship heading deep into the cosmos to find a habitable planet to colonize. The Covenant is run by a crew of 15 and has a cargo of 2,000 colonists as well as more than 1,100 embryos, set to be grown to maturity when they land. (If you think, “Wow, that’s a lot of alien food on board,” you’re forgiven.) An accident causes the crew to be roused prematurely from their sleep chambers, and in the confusion, their captain (James Franco) is tragically killed. The burden of command falls to Oram (Billy Crudup), who makes the call to investigate a signal that’s been picked up from an Earth-like planet. Obviously not having seen any of the previous movies, in this series, he and his crew set down to explore this new Eden, soon finding that its too-good-to-be true appearance is just that.

The first alien appearance occurs at about the 45 minutes mark, after the crew has traipsed around and futzed with this virgin ecosystem, releasing spores that infect them and grow inside. Carnage ensues as characters start being chomped on one by one. The one interesting plot point is the appearance of the cyborg David (Michael Fassbender) from Prometheus, the only human-like creature on the planet, who gives the few survivors shelter. Another cyborg named Walter is among them and (also played by Fassbender), which leads to some intriguing conversations between them regarding the nature of humans and those they create.

The film buckles under the weight of trying to say something of importance when it should be delivering thrills. The aliens appear sporadically, and when they do, move so quickly that it’s hard to determine what they’re up to. The fact that digital effects are used to create the monster here as opposed to the practical effects used in the early entries makes a huge difference in the believability of the creature and the way in which its action scenes are rendered. The first two features required costumed actors that moved in a slower manner, requiring their scenes be shot in a more deliberate and suspenseful way. Here, these creatures are simply a blur, a flash of fanged light and clawed fury that confuses rather than frightens.

I suppose we should be grateful that Scott is trying to provide a deeper experience with these entries in the series rather than giving us a simple reboot in which old ideas are simply repackaged and 21st century actors are brought in to appeal to a younger demographic. However, there’s something missing from Covenant, a film that seems satisfied to simply start heady conversations and ask profound questions without providing any concrete direction as to how to answer them. There’s a lack of thrills as well as a lack of resolution, which may ultimately lead to a lack of interest in the franchise’s fans.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

For a review of Snatched, go to the Cinemascoping Blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

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