Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, Lorelei King, James Franco, Guy Pearce
Written by: John Logan, Dante Harper, based on a story by Jack Paglen, Michael Green
Directed by: Ridley Scott
MPAA Rating: R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 122
Date: 05/19/2017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Facehugger in the Crowd

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With Alien: Covenant, which opens Friday in Bay Area theaters, director Ridley Scott returns to the Alien franchise for the third time.

Scott directed the very first Alien (1979), as well as the franchise reboot/prequel, Prometheus (2012), and, once again, he shows why he was always the man for the job.

A talented but troublesome director with a spotty filmography, Scott seems to be more comfortable in less naturalistic surroundings. In other words, the more alien a place is, the better his films are.

In Alien: Covenant, a ship containing 15 crew members, an android, Walter (Michael Fassbender), and many sleeping colonists cruises through space.

A deadly accident causes the crew to be prematurely awakened from cryo-sleep. Acting captain Oram (Billy Crudup), Daniels (Katherine Waterston), pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), and Sergeant Lope (Demian Bichir), emerge as crucial characters.

They discover a habitable planet nearby and decide to check it out.

Of course, the planet is not friendly and not only contains icky aliens, but also evil spores that can simply enter through a man's ear or nose and gestate inside.

They also discover a horrifying necropolis, with thousands of dead, blackened bodies posed like horrible statues, as well as a single walking, talking occupant.

The plot of Alien: Covenant is indeed more of the same, with large chunks borrowed not only from Alien and Prometheus, but also from Scott's Blade Runner.

Moreover, the scary sequences are not of the moody, spooky sort that Scott conjured for the original film. In keeping with today's shorter attention spans, they're faster and noisier, with more explosions.

However, Scott is preoccupied with larger themes. Alien: Covenant opens with an impressive scene, a flashback, involving Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and David (also Fassbender).

Set inside a cavernous, white room; there's a beautiful mountain view from a window, a piano, a chair, a statue, and little else.

Later scenes takes place in a cavelike workshop, filled with gruesome creations, fluttering papers tacked to the wall, and haunted with echoing woodwind music.

These are the perfect places to reflect upon questions about humanity, existence, and time.

Moments like that come close to elevating the film past genre conventions, into areas explored by Kubrick and Tarkovsky, but the many standard moments bring it down again.

The prime example, the Fassbender characters — the very center of the discussion — are eventually used for little more than a quick, snappy ending, when their fate might have been an enduring mystery.

That's the difference between this, a good movie about aliens, and what could have been a great movie about life.

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