Alien spin-off is a step into the void that's not worth taking
If Sir Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror Alien and the anthology it spawned teach us anything, it’s that in the inky void of space, everyone can hear your blood-curdling screams.
Alien: Covenant confirms another disheartening fact: every time the thrice Oscar-nominated director from South Shields revisits his beautifully stylised universe, he tarnishes the golden lustre of the original film.
Set approximately 10 years after humdrum events of the 2012 prequel Prometheus, this battle royale between humanity and cinema’s most perfect killing machine compounds artistic sins by hard-wiring into our nostalgia for Sir Ridley’s other sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner.
Do androids dream of electric sheep? No, they fantasise about something far grander here – gods and acid-blooded monsters – evidenced by a quasi-philosophical and ponderous prologue that loudly trumpets a central motif: creation.
It’s a bitter irony, then, that Sir Ridley and his vast array of technical wizards spend the next two hours committing an act of plodding and ponderous recreation.
Covenant labours in the shadow of earlier films and has been crudely bolted together by screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper with derivative action set pieces that give birth to a new hybrid of extra-terrestrial nasty – the neomorph – with translucent milky skin and a gait more akin to humans.
Or as one character pithily describes us, “a dying species, grasping for resurrection”.
The action initially unfolds on the Weyland-Yutani Corporation vessel Covenant, which is bound for a remote planet with 15 crew and 2,000 colonists in cryogenic stasis.
Synthetic android Walter (Michael Fassbender) keeps watch until a neutrino burst from a star causes a “destructive event” that prematurely wakes the crew – including devoutly religious first mate Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) and his biologist wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), chief pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), head of security Lope (Demian Bichir) and the captain’s plucky wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston).
They stumble upon a distress signal containing a snippet of John Denver’s classic Take Me Home, Country Roads, broadcast from a nearby planet that sensors reveal would make an idyllic new home.
“It’s too good to be true,” warns Daniels as a landing party prepares to investigate.
Alien: Covenant joins the dots to the original trilogy with strong echoes of Sigourney Weaver’s exploits as Ripley, meekly mimicked here by Katherine.
Jump-out-of-your-seat scares have been eradicated from the picture’s DNA and the script’s sleight of hand is clumsy.
In the year 2104, characters are evidently none the wiser about the tattered rules of surviving a horror film – don’t have sex, don’t wander off alone, don’t assume the killer is dead – and sign their death warrants with hilarious predictability.
Before Sir Ridley nestles into the director’s chair for another instalment, he should take heed of Daniels’ doom-laden words: “It’s a monumental risk not worth taking.”
Alien: Covenant is released in cinemas on May 12.