Movie Review: ‘Alien: Covenant’ CGI Aliens Aren’t Scary – Human Characters Are Useless

Published Monday, May 22, 2017 at 1:10 pm

By Bob Garver

I’ve never been the biggest fan of the “Alien” franchise, including the original film from 1979. Maybe it’s because I’ve been raised on movies that rip it off, or maybe it’s because that big surprise scare was spoiled for me long before I saw it, but I see it as little more than characters skulking around a spaceship waiting to be picked off like in any number of unimaginative horror movies. So I’m probably not the best candidate for “Alien: Covenant,” which, after the misguided highbrow affair that was 2012’s “Prometheus,” gets the franchise back to its glorified-slasher-movie roots. And while I can at least say that the original is a just-average outer space haunted house movie, the new film is so far below average that it borders on incompetent.

The story sees a massive spaceship carrying over a thousand stagnant bodies to a new planet run into problems. The ship gets hit by some space debris, which the ship’s android caretaker Walter (Michael Fassbender) can’t handle on his own. The incident kills several crew members, including the ship’s captain, and others have to awaken from their cryo-sleep to make manual repairs. New captain Oram (Billy Crudup) notices that they’re near a potentially-habitable planet, and wants to take a look at it in case it’s better than their destination. Despite the objections of Dany (Katherine Waterston), the wife of the old captain, the crew sets down to go exploring.

As you can probably guess, the crew finds unpleasant aliens on the new planet. Eggs make their way into the ears of less attentive crew members and then aliens burst through their torsos. One such instance occurs in the excursion ship, which leads to the entire ship blowing up and the team being stranded on a planet with the now-hatched aliens. They’re saved by David (Fassbender again), the android from “Prometheus” who’s been stranded on the planet for years. David invites them to wait for rescue in his “safe” dwelling, safe except for the fact that he wants to kill all humans so perfect androids can rule the world. He’s harnessing the aliens, so they aren’t so much the villains of this movie as they are David’s henchmen.

Where to start with what’s wrong with this movie? I guess with the CGI aliens, which wouldn’t be scary even if they were convincing. They’re so fatty and bloblike, I feel like I could kill one with a butter knife. The human characters are useless. I understand the situation making people panicky, but half the dialogue consists of screaming and cursing when I would expect these people to make a little more effort to communicate. I think there are three similar-looking women with short hair and tough-cookie demeanors who I can’t distinguish from one another. In fact, the only crew member who stands out is one played by Danny McBride, and it’s only because his identity is tied up in his cowboy hat. There’s a dumb gag where characters slip and fall on blood twice in quick succession. There’s a dumber, more tasteless gag where David is unsure of how to commit an unspeakable act. A shower scene is poorly edited to give us the impression of naked bodies without any nudity. Anything approaching a twist toward the end is insulting, especially since we already know the aliens’ attack methods.

The only favor that “Alien: Covenant” does for the “Alien” franchise is that it makes the original look better by comparison. I can at least root for Ellen Ripley in that movie, here I was just rooting for the movie to be over. The only reason I don’t relegate the movie to a one-star rating is that after I saw the movie I had a coughing fit and the movie had been scary enough that for a second I thought I might hack up an alien. “Hack,” by the way, is a good way to describe the job that was done making this movie.

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

“Alien: Covenant” is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity. Its running time is 122 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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