UPDATE: WATCH THIS featuring Jim Flanagan and I on Alien: Covenant and all things Ridley Scott here
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And here’s our review of Alien: Covenant.
***1/2 (out of five)
Ridley Scott doubles down on the mythology of the Alien cinematic universe in the latest instalment (and the third directed by him), Covenant, and in doing so somewhat rescues the bewildering Prometheus (2012) after the fact. Scott spends the extended second act of the new film expanding, explaining and ultimately answering the many questions that film raised; basically, if you want to know the backstory of H.R. Giger’s “perfect organism” (as described by Ash in Alien (1979)), it’s all here.
Not that you’ll understand it if you haven’t seen Prometheus. I didn’t bone up on that film before this one, but it’s fair to say that you’ll at least need to have seen it for this one to make any kind of sense (at least, during that long second act). I’m not going to reveal anything here about all the world-building, but I can happily report that the complicated plot machinations ultimately left me satisfied – and ready for another instalment, should Sir Ridley be so kind.
How many of the ensemble cast of this one would be in such a venture I obviously won’t say; as you may have guessed, some of their characters die in or around the Covenant (which is simply another name of another space vessel, like the Prometheus). You’ll have seen Katherine Waterston on the poster, so you’ve probably assumed she’s one of the major characters (spoiler alert: you’re right) but as for who else had the most days on set… well, I was surprised.
Sir Scott remains a true master of cinema. The filmmaking craft on show is astonishing. The visual and aural atmosphere is beautifully tied into the aesthetics of the original Alien, and the creatures, although almost certainly CGI, are stirringly evocative of the animatronic “practical” monsters from 1979. Likewise, there are many moments that evoke the first film without replicating it; whether Scott refers to these as “callbacks” or not, a lot of people will, and they’re good ones. There also seem to be about four or five in-jokes that perhaps I didn’t get (and might not have been supposed to); is the musical The Phantom of the Opera name-checked because, say, Scott and Sir Lloyd Webber are mates and Ridley thought it’d be good for a giggle at the premiere?
I had a great time throughout this darkly enchanting adventure. And rather incredibly, while the grim, scary action of the first and third acts is impeccably done, it was that long, meditative second act that I enjoyed the most. I might just have to get back on board Prometheus after all.