Alien: Covenant

ALIEN: COVENANT. Starring: Michael Fassbender. Also, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated MA 15+. (Strong science fiction themes and violence). 122 min.

This American science-fiction horror film is a sequel to the 2012 film "Prometheus", and the sixth film in the Alien series that began with the 1979 original, "Alien" directed by Ridley Scott. Scott also directed "Prometheus".

The impact of the 1979 film revolutionised horror-science fiction in cinema, and this movie continues to ply the Alien theme well. It is part of a series of sequels planned to lead into the first "Alien" film. In the 38 years that have elapsed since Scott's 1979 classic, the advances in the technology and production of special effects in the cinema have been huge, and this film illustrates them in abundance. Its special effects are delivered with anxiety-arousing finesse, and it stealthily communicates dread.

The year is 2104 and a spaceship by the name of "Covenant" is bound for a remote planet on the far side of the Galaxy. The crew of 15 includes Walter, an android who looks just like David - the member of the crew that survived the Prometheus expedition. Covenant is travelling on a mission to colonise 2000 people on board, who want to establish a new home on a new planet, with hope. The word "Covenant" has possible biblical overtones which symbolise the necessity for finding agreement about current conditions, the nature of which carries (in this case, unforeseen) obligations (yet to be met).

After a shock mishap en route, the ship changes course to an unchartered, habitable planet no one on board knew existed. The ship lands and everything looks "perfect", but there are no animals or birds around, and evidence is found that some other attempt to colonise has taken place before Covenant arrived, and it has failed. What is on the planet threatens to sabotage a second attempt, and the film then proceeds to show graphically, bloodily, and in detail, what that danger is.

This movie delivers its horror with escalating tension. Routine plot-lines, like a colony space ship trying to deliver passengers and embryos for a future idyllic existence in a new world, give way to visual horror when members of the ship's crew become infected with aliens that burst from their bodies in particularly grisly style. Efforts to stop the newborn aliens emerging from human flesh fail. On Covenant, half the crew are infected, while the other half are stranded on the planet with newborn aliens attacking them on all fronts with razor-like ferocity.

The 1979 film pitted evolution against nature, but this film turns around on itself to show purposeful breeding of lethal creatures by the unbridled use of artificial intelligence. In doing that, the film thinkingly explores the issue of how humanity can generate, or cause, the seeds of its own destruction, and it asks us to consider the question of how much technology is a major threat to the continued existence of humanity, as we know it. A key figure in acting out this question, and posing it, is Michael Fassbender, who plays two characters: Walter and David - both look the same, but behave very differently. Walter is designed to be a better version of David, and David was programmed to try to understand the nature of creation and wants to know "where do we come from?". Fassbender captures the character variation of the two look-alike androids very well.

This film is an intriguing mix of action-adventure, blood, gore, and violence, each reinforcing multiple themes that feature in contemporary science-fiction: the advance of I.T vs. the pull of Humanity; Duty vs. Love; and the Evolution of other forms of Life. It is directed masterfully by Ridley Scott. Most Alien enthusiasts know what to expect from Ridley Scott, but for the unwary it is important to note that this film is only for mature viewing.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Twentieth Century Fox

Released May 11th., 2017

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