It’s 2010. News breaks that director Ridley Scott is returning to the iconic Alien franchise he originated. Much excitement ensues. The creator, returning to inject new life to a once-great franchise? Hell yes. Anticipation only heats up after a tantalising trailer. Then Prometheus is released. It isn’t exactly beloved.
Sound familiar? To be fair, comparing Prometheus with Lucas’ risible Episode 1 is an unkind move. The film has its share of thrills. It’s slick, expensive, sports a charismatic performance from Michael Fassbender as android David, and the ‘assisted surgery’ scene is a doozy.
At the time, Scott decreed that “the beast was tired, worn out”. After four films and a pair of Alien vs Predator flicks, it was hard to argue with that. In his view, there was an untapped seam, hidden in plain sight: the elephantine, biomechanoid “pilots” of the mysterious alien craft in the original story. Who were they? Where did they come from? What was their connection to the xenomorphs?
And so, this would be a different kind of Alien movie – it would echo Alien in several ways, but the infamous, HR Giger-designed creature would be conspicuously absent. So far, so intriguing. And risky.
Unfortunately, the concept suffered in execution. The story was hard to follow, and the characters (aside from Fassbender’s) didn’t linger long in the memory. The film was replete with fleshy alien monsters, none of which held a candle to the devilish original beast. And if she was intended as the new Ripley, Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw (with her baffling attempt at a Brit accent) paled in comparison.
Perhaps, then, Prometheus can be classed as an admirable failure. Driven by a wave of pre-release excitement, the film managed to scrape together enough Hollywood dollars to justify a sequel.
So, on May the 19th, Alien: Covenant will explode from cinema eggs everywhere. Could this be an opportunity to get things right?
What’s changed? Well, Ridley Scott, on the face of it, appears to have reversed his opinion. The posters sport iconic images such as alien eggs. In the latest trailer, the classic Alien darts along blood-red corridaors and head-butts windscreens. Facehuggers launch themselves at the camera. Perhaps he’s realised that audiences really do crave a “Ridley Scott’s Alien 2”. But do they want it with the same fervour, or have fingers been acid-blood burned?
We’ve now seen a fair bit of footage from Covenant, including an underwhelming ‘prologue’ (which cheaply riffs on the ‘choking Kane’ scene in the 1979 classic). More promisingly, a genuinely exciting second trailer which leaves one slightly breathless.
In some ways, the film feels very much ‘business as usual’. Could Scott end up falling victim to the same ‘carbon copying’ which drove his attempt at a different take? Or do the Covenant team have something else up their sleeve?
The ship is crewed by couples looking to colonise a distant planet – including Fantastic Beasts’ Katherine Waterston, along with James Franco and Danny McBride (hopefully any stoner comedy stylings are likely to be avoided – this isn’t Nostromo Express).
Intriguingly, we’re promised a pair of (and perhaps multiple) Davids – Fassbender meets Fassbender, with handy accent deviations to help keep track.
Despite the misgivings, this is still an alien movie directed by Ridley Scott. That alone is reason to cheer. Prometheus has its fans, and Covenant could represent a course correction, with a plot that is streamlined, focused, intent on clammy scenes of pulse-pounding survival.
The Covenant poster has advised us to ‘run’. On May 19th, it will be toward the cinema aisles.