Alien: Covenant – Film Review – 2017 – Film Dispenser

Film May 20, 2017 Scott Phillips
Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every Fall.

Sometimes it ain’t easy being a legendary filmmaker. Case in point:  Ridley Scott. He releases two of the best science fiction films ever made, Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Literally back-to-back masterpieces. He could’ve walked away from the business in 1983 and been remembered forever.  Instead, he leaves those creative properties behind and makes more amazing films like Thelma & Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000) Black Hawk Down (2001) and The Martian (2015).  But every time a misfire comes along (A Good Year, Robin Hood), the jeers get louder and louder, and the fan backlash gets more and more mean-spirited.

Then the air is filled with cries that he make a sequel to one of his masterpieces. Visiting new creative territory holds no interest for the audience that used to adore him.  Now they just want fan service, demanding more of the stuff from his filmmaking youth. He’s over seventy-years-old, and he damn well better not die before he gives us what we want. It’s like Augustus Gloop slurping chocolate milk as fast as he can out of Willy Wonka’s factory river. The masses want to be fed. So, he caves in and gives them what they are demanding.

And they hate it.

Prometheus (2012) goes over like the proverbial lead balloon.  Or if you want to harken back to the era of the original Alien, it goes over like a led zeppelin. So, what’s the problem? What’s the big axe to grind? Prometheus isn’t Alien-y enough. He had the audacity to make something different, to reach for bigger ideas. It’s like listening to U2 fans complain that their latest album doesn’t sound like The Joshua Tree.  Well, here’s a thought: If you want to hear The Joshua Tree, then listen to The Joshua Tree. Some of the rest of us would rather see (or hear) an artist grow and evolve and take chances. So, if you want to see Alien, maybe you should buy the Blu-Ray and head back to the Nostromo for an encore viewing.

This introduction is a pretty good distillation of the environment in which Alien: Covenant, the newest film from Ridley Scott, has been released. Fandom is demanding a sequel, but it better not be this “contemplate your navel”, idea-driven science fiction because who wants that? Never mind that science fiction has always been about where we come from and where we might be headed. And whether we’re on this journey alone in the universe. We want to see stuff blow up and cool fights with aliens.

But, there’s good news when it comes to Alien: Covenant. Both sides of the fan divide are going to be happy.  The sci-fi auteur of all sci-fi auteurs gives us a film full of ideas and mythology that has action set pieces galore. The film is so compelling that you may miss the craftsmanship on display during your first viewing.

[Warning: Minor spoilers for the first fifteen minutes of Alien: Covenant will be mentioned in the next two paragraphs. They are highlighted in bold.] 

The Covenant is a colony ship that is seven years away from the planet they intend to terraform and occupy. When a solar flare damages the ship, the crew is awakened from their cryo-sleep to repair their damaged vessel. The captain is killed during the incident, leaving the second-in-command to make the crucial decisions.  When a habitable planet is spotted in the vicinity, the crew decides to explore it to see if it could serve as an impromptu final destination.

This premise has been ridiculed by critics and fans alike. For those decrying the fateful decision to explore the unknown planet as “stupid” or just another idiot decision that serves only to set-up the mayhem to follow, I’d suggest re-watching the first fifteen minutes of the film. The Covenant sustained serious damage. Although the ship is sufficiently repaired, the crew is concerned they may not EVER reach their ultimate destination. Many unexpected things could happen during the next seven years. So, they decide to take a chance on a planet with a friendly atmosphere in an effort to avoid the risk of total mission failure.  It’s a perfectly valid premise for the events that follow. 

Covenant is casually beautiful. Scott is a master stylist who feels no need to draw attention to himself. Unlike so many filmmakers who’ve risen to prominence in the 21st century, Scott doesn’t feel the need to jump up and down and clap his hands during one of his bravura sequences. “Look at me, look at me” is nowhere in his cinematic vocabulary which is why his films can be so stunning while also seeming so effortless.

In addition to its top-notch sci-fi concepts and beautiful visuals, Covenant boasts an incredible performance from Michael Fassbender in a dual role that I won’t explain here for fear of spoiling the fun. It’s the kind of performance that critics like to call “star-making” or “breakout”, but given Fassbender’s existing stardom, the term doesn’t apply here. Who knew that there could be so much nuance and emotion in playing an android?

Covenant is the kind of film that demands repeated viewings.  The first one is just for the thrill ride.  The second one for the craft of it all, to marvel at Scott’s filmmaking mastery.  And a third one?  Well, yeah, because it’s gonna look damn good on my home projector.

Scott Phillips

The Movie Isle

Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.

Continue Reading
Mondo Presents: Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years

The hype was real. I was privileged to attend the press preview for the latest Mondo Gallery…
Read More
Film Review: A Star is Born

A Star is Born, the new film co-written and directed by Bradley Cooper, is a cinematic perfect…
Read More
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek: Fantastic Fest 2018 Film Review

A high-profile crime has been committed.  A group of men gather at a warehouse.  There is a…
Read More