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"ALIEN: COVENANT"
(2017) (Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-Fi/Horror: The crew of a deep space colonization ship must contend with coming into contact with a deadly alien species.
PLOT:
It's the year 2104 and the 15-person crew of the Covenant is headed to the remote planet Origae-6 with more than 2,000 people and thousands of embryos, all to colonize the planet. With years still to go on the trip, everyone is in cryosleep except for the ship's lone android, Walter (MICHAEL FASSBENDER), who's the latest update to a series of such machines that began with David (MICHAEL FASSBENDER) years ago. The trip, however, is interrupted when the ship is damaged in a neutron storm that results in the death of the captain that now leaves his widow, Daniels (KATHERINE WATERSTON), second in command behind their new leader, Chris Oram (BILLY CRUDUP).

During outside repairs to the ship and its solar sails, crewmember Tennessee (DANNY McBRIDE) picks up odd signals, which he later figures out is a human singing an old John Denver song. When they track that to a planet that seems even more hospitable than Origae-6 and is nearby rather than seven years away, Chris makes the decision that they should investigate the source of the signal while determining if this new planet might better suit their colonization plans.

Accordingly, a number of crew members board a landing ship and head down to the surface, all while Tennessee and others remain in orbit. Among those setting foot on the planet are Daniels and Walter, along with Tennessee's wife, Faris (AMY SEIMETZ); biologist Karine Oram (CARMEN EJOGO); Sgt. Lope (DEMIAN BICHIR) who's in charge of the security detail, and a number of other people. When two of them end up dead from a parasitic alien infection and a number of larger aliens attack others, the survivors are rescued by David, the lone survivor of the Prometheus expedition from years earlier.

He seems to know about these creatures, but Daniels and others are only interested in getting back to the ship in orbit. As they attempt to do just that, they must contend with further alien attacks.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
On their most basic level, movies exist to entertain and transport us away from our daily lives. But they can also inspire and motivate people, as well as educate them. In terms of the latter, filmmakers seem intent on teaching important life lessons, such as don't go swimming in the ocean after dark; visit parks featuring cloned dinosaurs; travel through time; stick around when paranormal stuff starts occurring; or -- and this one seems the most important since it occurs quite frequently -- go into dark and strange places where you have no idea what might be waiting inside.

How many times have you watched any sort of scary movie and thought, "What are they doing?" or said aloud, "Nope, I wouldn't be going in there." Granted, we've been trained this way through repetition, and whether it's a spooky looking and dilapidated house, a sewer tunnel, a cave or anything that gets your reptilian brain anxious, we know it's best not to enter.

Of course, if movie characters did the same, we wouldn't really have a suspenseful ninety minutes or more to look forward to. That is, unless the screenwriter(s) and everyone else involved got more creative with the material and then we'd get the scares as well as something new to behold.

Well, we don't get much if any of the latter as some movie characters again make the cardinal sin of exploring an unexpectedly discovered alien planet, entering a long-downed spaceship, and peering down into large pods, even when one has opened and something is clearly visible squirming about just beneath a wet and gooey membrane.

Yes, if that sounds a lot like an "Alien" movie you'd be right. And while the characters don't have our advantage of knowing what's coming, that doesn't entirely absolve the film and those who created it from recycling this franchise' signature elements for the -- count 'em -- sixth time in the latest offering, "Alien: Covenant."

It also features a female character (played here by Katherine Waterston) who ends up being the central protagonist, much like Sigourney Weaver did in the original "Alien" film from (gulp) nearly forty years ago. There's also a nebulous "synthetic" (an android) with plans of his own; an interstellar space crew roused from their cryosleep years ahead of schedule; a mysterious signal that draws them to a metaphorical and literal alien planet; and unwelcome contact with so-called face hugger aliens that ultimate result in violent and deadly body eruptions.

In other words, if you've never seen any of the previous "Alien" movies, you might find all of that to be exciting, gripping and terrifying stuff. But for those of us who saw the original 1979 flick and its brilliant (if different in tone) sequel from 1986, this one will come off as a decent enough effort, albeit one with no surprises (yes, including the twist that can be seen from orbit) and an awful lot of recycled material.

The fact that director Ridley Scott -- who directed the original offering as well as his return to the franchise in 2012 with "Prometheus" -- is behind the camera here (working from a script by John Logan and Dante Harper) will either be disappointing, not that surprising, or a combination of both. Set ten year after the events depicted in "Prometheus," the story closely follows that of the first film with Waterston ending up as the Ripley-like heroine, while Danny McBride plays her sidekick of sorts and everyone else is simply fodder for the alien death machine.

Michael Fassbender gets the meatiest part (or, more accurately, parts) playing an android on the ship who ends up meeting an earlier model incarnation of himself once the landing crew arrives on the planet (and does dumb things). And while those two delve into philosophical material such as the concept of life and its origins, what most audience members will be salivating for will be the aliens who arrive in various shapes and sizes.

I prefer mine as they appeared in the first two flicks, but if you enjoy watching aliens attacking humans, people blasting said aliens, and violent eruptions of said critters from their hosts, this will be right up your alley.

Overall, everything is handled skillfully, but I just wish the story had more originality rather than recycling of previous material, especially since it was done better the first time around. And that's a teachable moment. "Alien: Covenant" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed May 11, 2017 / Posted May 19, 2017


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