Gods and monsters: Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant recycles superior space shockers
With Alien: Covenant, director Ridley Scott delivers the dedicated prequel to his revered 1979 space horror that fans have long been demanding. However, the perfunctory result is yet another lesson about being careful what you wish for, as David Roy discovered
IN 1979, Ridley Scott's original Alien arrived in cinemas with the chilling tag-line 'In space, no-one can hear you scream', expertly highlighting its ruthlessly efficient sci-fi update of 'haunted house' horror movie tropes.
The hit film spawned three direct sequels plus a pair of terrible Alien v Predator franchise crossover flicks, all of which continued to mine 'scary monster(s) in the dark'-driven dramatics.
To his credit, for his belated return to the franchise he set in motion, Scott at least attempted to try something more cerebral for 2012's "don't call it an Alien prequel", Prometheus, a big-budget rumination on creation and evolution which simply happened to take place 'in the same universe' as the previous film.
Sadly, hardcore fans hated the director's admittedly somewhat self-indulgent attempt to have his cake and eat it, with the result that Scott is now back in space for the more 'traditional' Alien: Covenant: a film which finally attempts to explain the origins of that cursed crashed spaceship discovered by Sigourney Weaver and co nearly 40 years ago.
However, it's also a sequel to Prometheus, in which screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper attempt to tie up some dangling philosophical threads from the previous film.
Thus, the excellent Michael Fassbender returns for yet more perfectly composed 'artificial person' antics, allowing Alien: Covenant to examine how the relationship between humans and their effectively enslaved robotic creations might develop.
Here's a hint, which won't come as much of a surprise to anyone who's seen the original Alien or indeed Scott's other sci-fi classic, Blade Runner: it doesn't end too well for us meat puppets.
Set a decade after the events in Prometheus, Alien: Covenant finds Scott giving the critics of his previous film everything they asked for by strip-mining previous Alien instalments for plot, scares and action.
There's the unpleasant tang of Star Wars: The Force Awakens about the way the director recycles his original Alien by having the motley crew of a Weyland-Yutani interstellar craft – including Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), terraforming expert Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and pilot Tennesse (Danny McBride) – rudely awakened from their cryosleep and forced to make a pit-stop on an uncharted planet, a deceptively lush world which will one day be named LV-426.
Naturally, Daniels and co are spectacularly unprepared for the horror lying in wait for them within the crashed spaceship they discover – the one in which synthetic David (Fassbender) and Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) fled LV-223 at the climax of Prometheus – and on the surface of the planet itself.
Unlike the crew of the Nostromo in the original Alien, they don't even bother to wear protective space suits during their ill-fated exploration, which flags up one annoying niggle in the film: its characters are terminally dumb.
In the first three Alien films, the humans getting munched by HR Giger's acid-blooded nasties mostly at least attempted to outsmart their predator(s). Here, those on the menu swan around taking showers and literally smelling the flowers while being picked off one-by-one, which kind of puts you on the side of the aliens.
If that was Scott's intention, he's done a fine job.
On the other hand, the completion of the iconic xenomorph's 'origin story' is cleverly handled, delivered with a wonderfully dark sting of irony which should please franchise faithful.
It would be unfair to describe Waterston as a 'Poundland Sigourney Weaver' but Alien: Covenant is definitely trading far too heavily on the past glories of Lt Ellen Ripley.
The few new twists it does offer are largely drowned out by the futile screams of its farcically foolish spacemen. We can hear them, but to be honest, it's just hard to care anymore.
ALIEN: COVENANT (15, 121min) Science fiction/Thriller/Drama. Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Guy Pearce, Noomi Rapace. Director: Ridley Scott