Film review – Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017)

I have to lay out some home truths before we start. After five years, it appears the dust has settled and most of us have decided Prometheus was a pile of rubbish.

The Alien prequel was a return to the helm for Ridley Scott after a 33-year hiatus. Despite the anticipation, the disappointment amongst the hard-core fans stemmed from some convenient plot points that seemed to allow progression of the story despite not really making sense (“Why did she run in a straight line?”, “Why did the navigator guy get lost?”, “She’s just had a caesarean… how is she running?”).

I saw the film as a midnight screening and I remember coming out of the cinema buzzing with excitement. The film was, in my opinion, a return to form for the franchise after the overwhelmingly disappointing Alien v Predator films (which worked better as a toy line than as a film). It wasn’t a patch on the first two – Alien and its sequel Aliens – but probably stood alongside or better than any of the other instalments.

Yes, that’s right. I am a fan of Prometheus.

I went into an early screening of Covenant with the same kind of excitement and anticipation as I had five years ago. The advertising campaign has been nothing if not relentless, so finally getting to see the film on the big screen felt as much a trip to the cinema as it was a way to quench my carefully manipulated thirst for a next instalment.

The film is set in 2104, ten years after the main events of Prometheus and around twenty years before the events of Alien. The opening sequence, which features a reprisal cameo from Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, explores the themes of humanity’s desire to meet its creator. It could easily have been a part of the first instalment, but bridges the gap and reminds viewers of the unhinged nature of David, one of two robots played by Michael Fassbender.

The main body of the film focuses on a colonisation mission from Earth to to a remote planet Origae-6, aboard the titular spaceship Covenant. The main crew includes Captain Branson (James Franco) and third in command Daniels (Katherine Waterston), a terraforming expert and wife to Branson. Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) is a man of faith who is unexpectedly promoted to captain shortly into the mission. Michael Fassbender’s second character in the film is a synthetic android named Walter, a more advanced version of David. The crew also includes Chief Pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), Sergeant Lope (Demián Bichir) and Karine Oram (Carmen Ejogo). Aboard their ship is around 2,000 human embryos, with the purpose of populating their destination planet upon arrival.

After a neutrino shockwave hits the ship, the main crew are woken up to deal with the repairs on the ship. They are seven years away from their destination planet but a matter of weeks away from an alternative planet that appears to offer the same prospects as Origae-6. New captain Oram makes the decision to land on the newly-found planet, which turns out to be the one Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David set sail for at the end of Prometheus. Needless to say, the story goes downhill from here for our crew, with disastrous consequences.

Given the popular misgivings about Prometheus, I couldn’t help but pick fault with a couple of major issues with the decision making of the crew of the Covenant. Most glaringly, none of them seem keen to wear masks when they leave the spaceship, even though there’s no obvious investigations into how viable to atmosphere is to breathe. It just seemed odd that they were so confident only minutes after being so worried. Surely that’s rule number one for space travel?

All the people on the ship have a partner on there, meaning everyone is at risk of losing a loved one at every turn. This falls down, however, when you throw a couple of red coats onto the first expedition. Where were the devastated husbands and wives grieving their loved ones? Do they not get to show emotion because their rank is too low? I’m looking at Ledward here. Surely he has a wife or girlfriend on board?

Aside from picking nits, the film is genuinely a great effort, probably a lot better than Prometheus. There are a number of great nods to previous films – the face-hugger makes its comeback – and it feels like Scott has set out to make a crowdpleaser. That’s definitely not a bad thing.

The partner element is an intelligent way to add depth to all of the characters. Shortly into the main plot, James Franco’s Captain Branson dies, immediately answering the question of why he wasn’t featured more prominently in the advertising campaign (a missed trick in my opinion). This plunges Katherine Waterston’s Daniels into immediate emotional turmoil, though she quickly rises out of it and continues with her mission objectives.

Waterston has some big Sigourney Weaver sized shoes to fill in terms of taking the female lead role. I’m sure she has felt the pressures of her predecessor, though it doesn’t show on screen. She does a fantastic job and at times carries the film, acting as the sensible decision maker, the natural leader and the only one with the will to fight back when everything goes pear shaped. Sure, the strong and intelligent female protagonist is becoming a bit of a broken record in modern cinema, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Signourney Weaver in Alien is probably the best early example of it being done so well, certainly in terms of Blockbuster films in genres usually associated with male audiences.

The final act is wholly worth of the Alien canon, rescuing a film that at times had threatened to go off the rails. It’s here that Scott ramps up the tension and action, paying off the setup over the previous 90-ish minutes.

If the final 30 minutes is great, then the final ten seconds is utter genius.

If you have any misgivings about the Alien franchise, Covenant is the film that will bring you back on track.

Secret Cinema X event 2017 – What is it?

Note: Super sleuth Oliver Morris can have most of the credit for this article!

This morning all previous attendees of any Secret Cinema events were unexpectedly sent an email providing limited details on their next fully secret event.

Launching on Sunday 9th April and running until Friday 14th April, the email promised that they would be “presenting a yet unreleased secret film in a secret location”.

“Exploring vivid, enigmatic landscapes ripe with intrigue and coded messages, you will become part of a world that blossoms like a delicate flower to reveal a clandestine, unforgettable experience”.

The tickets for the event go on sale tomorrow (Wednesday 22nd March) at 13:00 (GMT).

You may be intrigued by the idea, but if you want to know the likely films that it could be, read on.

The facts

The email states that the event is strictly for people over the age of 18, which indicates that the film has been rated with an 18 certificate by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification).

We can also deduce that the film is probably going to be released in a short window between late April and the end of June. The film must be ready for viewing by the general public and it wouldn’t benefit from the extra press this will generate if its release date is too far in the future.

There is also a lot of allusions to plant life, flowers, growth and blossoming, which indicates that this is a strong theme in the film.

The quote “You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming” is a quote from Pablo Neruda and is possibly a red herring, but could be a clue to the film’s country of origin. My hunch is the former.

The final clue provided in the email is the visual title, which features a sketched eye pouring into a waterfall, set amidst a backdrop of a Japanese-style sun that is reminiscent of their flag. It looks Dali-esque, but is certainly very much something that makes the viewers think of the country Japan.

So what films could it be?

This leaves not many option for films. Here are the best guesses.

The Handmaiden


Park Chan-wook’s latest film is an erotic mystery horror that lit up the end-of-year lists for many of the in-the-know critics last year. It is based on the Sarah Waters book Fingersmith, but is set in South Korea under Japanese colonial rule rather than Victorian Britain. The story revolves around a young woman who has been raised as a thief and working as a handmaiden undercover in a rich heiress’s house.

This might seem like quite a leftfield choice for Secret Cinema to tackle, but it certainly fits the bill. It’s essentially set in Japan and has already received a BBFC classification of 18.

It is set for general release on 14th April, which is the day the Secret Cinema run finishes.

Park Chan-wook’s previous work includes two films from 2013 – Stoker and Snowpiercer – along with 2009’s Thirst and 2003’s Oldboy. His films are certainly beautiful works of art and their quality belies the fact his wider work is largely unknown in the west. But perhaps that is the perfect reason for Secret Cinema to base a whole event around his new release.

Alien: Covenant

The only other feasible alternative to The Handmaiden in my eyes is Alien: Covenant. Set for release in May 2017, the film concerns a new crew visiting an uncharted planet that looks on arrival to be full of blooming flowers and plantlife – initially appearing to be a paradise planet.

It is a direct sequel to Prometheus, which itself was subject to a Secret Cinema event in June 2012 immediately prior to its release.

This sequel is set for general release on 19th May 2017, which would put it in the frame for being tackled.

It is probably going to receive a 15 rating (the trailers were rated 15), but that doesn’t mean the night can be so horrifically planned that they don’t want to admit people younger than 18. Plus there will probably be alcohol for sale, which would also need an age restriction.

Certainly the spending power of 20th Century Fox would lend itself to a last-minute decision to be subject to a huge Secret Cinema event, with increased cost as a result of running it in parallel with the Moulin Rouge event across London. Would the Secret Cinema team put so much pressue on themselves to run two concurrently unless they were set to make a lot of money on the back of it?

Conclusion

Honestly, it could be either of the above. Or neither. The beauty is in the guessing and the not knowing.

Either way, the nights will be a wonderful treat for fans of cinema and well worth the money.

Act fast tomorrow at 13:00 to avoid disappointment.

Note: This article proved to be spot on (2 for 2!). Check out the follow-up here and a quick haiku review here.