Alien: Covenant Dials Back Philosophy in Favor of Scares
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2017 18 May
One of the stronger entries in the Alien franchise, Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant spends an hour building characters and suspense before unleashing its jump-scares and against-all-odds battle between humans and aliens. But the philosophical groundwork laid by earlier franchise entry Prometheus isn't much developed in Covenant. 3.5 out of 5.
Ten years after the events of Prometheus, a group of more than 2,000 colonists—including human embryos—is aboard the spaceship Covenant when it experiences severe damage, leading to a large loss of life, including the crew's captain (James Franco). Touching down on a planet that wasn't their ultimate destination, the crew—second-in-command "man of faith" Oram (Billy Crudup), nonhuman "synthetic," Walter (Michael Fassbender), and the newly widowed Daniels (Katherine Waterston)—thinks they may have found a suitable substitute location to colonize. But they are not alone. Soon the crew is battling aliens and fighting for survival, with help from a temporary savior who turns out to be a character from an earlier Alien film.
A lot. Alien: Covenant takes its time to establish several characters and its storyline. When the action kicks in, the lengthy payoff is satisfying. An opening dialogue between an android and his human creator sets the table for a provocative philosophical film.
But the film doesn't really pay off in that respect. Scott has said in interviews that he wanted to satisfy the audience's demand for more scenes of the aliens than he provided in Prometheus, and he does so here at the expense of deep development of the theological ideas from Prometheus (which were, admittedly, troubling). Such ideas are by no means abandoned in Alien: Covenant, but I wanted more of those verbal exchanges—even at the risk of finding them disagreeable—than the numerous alien attacks the film delivers.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Covenant is a bit of a letdown for those who wanted to see where the franchise's ideas about creation and a creator broached in Prometheus would go in this chapter. Entrepreneur Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) tells android David, "I am your father. You are my creation." David asks, "If you created me, who created you?" Weyland replies, "The question of the ages, which I hope we'll answer some day." Weyland also asserts that he doesn't believe we’re the result of chance. Oram worries about a lack of respect for him as captain because he's a man of faith and believes others think that means he can't make rational decisions. A Wagner composition, "Entrance of the Gods Into Valhalla," is discussed briefly and played by one of the characters. A character professes a lack of belief in luck, and the script includes a reference to evolution and quoting of Milton's Paradise Lost.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity
- Language/Profanity: “Go-d-m-”; multiple f-words and anatomical references; “bull-hi-”.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Kissing; two astronauts have sex in a shower, and breasts are briefly visible; two of the male astronauts are married to each other; an exchange between David and Walter is charged with homoeroticism.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: A sleeping astronaut is engulfed in flames, and we see his charred body. A fire on the ship is said to have consumed more than 40 colonists, several embryos and one crew member. A ship explodes, and a burning body emerges from it. A man's back bursts open. Aliens attack several characters. Blood spurts from an astronaut's mouth. Aliens and humans are shot. A chest bursts open. Bloody bodies shown.
Drugs/Alcohol: The crew offers a whiskey toast to those they lost; cigar and cigarette smoking.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Genre fans, admirers of the Alien franchise (especially the Scott-directed entries) and audiences that don't expect big action set pieces every 10 minutes.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who don't like slow builds—the film is alien-free for approximately its first hour—and who don't care for less-than-cheerful endings.
Alien: Covenant, directed by Ridley Scott, opened in theaters May 19, 2017; available for home viewing August 15, 2017. It runs 122 minutes and stars Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Demian Bichir, Amy Seimetz, Guy Pearce and James Franco. Watch the trailer for Alien: Covenant here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: May 18, 2017
Image courtesy: ©20thCenturyFox