Salisbury Press

Sunday, August 20, 2017

‘Alien’ review

Friday, June 2, 2017 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

Be prepared to be scared.

“Alien: Covenant” is the latest in the “Alien” science fiction motion-picture franchise. Although released in spring, “Alien: Covenant” is really a summer season horror film, bringing back one of the scariest, most disgusting-looking and vicious monsters ever created for the cinema.

“Alien: Covenant” is a sequel to “Prometheus” (2012), the second “Alien” prequel, and the sixth installment in the “Alien” franchise.

“Alien: Covenant” is the third “Alien” film directed by Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”; “Alien,” 1979, the original “Alien” film). Scott has a resume that bespeaks of a master of suspense, dystopian science fiction and gripping drama (“Blade Runner,” 1982; “Thelma and Louise,” 1981; “Gladiator,” 2000; “Black Hawk Down,” 2001; “The Martian,” 2015). “Alien: Covenant” is no exception.

“Alien: Covenant” is relentless in its scarifying moments, thanks not only to the horrific alien creature (called the xenomorph), from its oozy, drippy origin, to its dinosaur-size full-grown stage. It’s mean, merciless and as fleet-footed as a centipede. The shocks in the film are provided when the creatures emerge, attack and devour their prey, in all cases here, humans. What’s perhaps most frightening is that the film’s premise preys on humans’ natural fear of parasites, in that the alien grows inside a human and then pops out like an evil Jack-In-The-Box. These scenes are depicted in great detail, which makes the audience impact all the more terrifying.

The screenplay co-written by John Logan (“The Last Samurai,” 2003) and Dante Harper (in his screenplay debut) from a story by Jack Paglen (“Transcendence,” 2014) and Michael Green (“Logan,” 2017) is based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (“Alien,” “Aliens,” 1986). The screenplay is minimalist, gives little back story for the characters and has scant interaction between the characters.

The story concentrates on the alien creature and its leaps from and onto and into the bodies of the spaceship crew. A lack of character development of that spaceship crew is one of the film’s chief downfalls.

However, the production design by Chris Seagers (“Deepwater Horizon,” 2016; “X-Men: First Class,” 2011) in the depiction of the creatures, as well as the spacecraft, the astronauts’ spacesuits and equipment, and the planet and its lost civilization headquarters, brims with fascinating detail, in spite of the film’s mostly blue and dark palette. Again, it’s too bad more attention wasn’t paid to the human characters. Maybe it’s because the humans are mere grist for the monsters’ mill.

The actors playing the humans in the film are superb. The character, David-Walter, is actually a robot (a synthetic), but a very human-looking one. Both characters are played by the extraordinarily riveting Michael Fassbender (“Prometheus,” “X-Men,” 2014, 2011). It’s no accident that Fassbender evokes a sense of Keir Dullea (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” 1968) in his terse, downplayed, quizzically quixotic portrayal.

Katherine Waterston (“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” 2016), as Daniels, plays a leadership role on the space explorers’ team. She has a very self-contained, forthright presence.

Billy Crudup (“Watchmen,” 2009) is effective as the insecure space crew leader. Danny McBride (“This Is The End,” 2013) is memorable as the spaceship pilot.

In supporting roles are Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz and Jussie Smollett.

The cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (“The Martan,” 2015; “Pirates of the Caribbean”) brings the actors’ facial expressions to the fore. The editing by Pietro Scalia (Oscar, “Black Hawk Down”) is often rapid-fire or slow and tension-building when need be. The score by Jed Kurzel (“Macbeth,” 2015) heightens the tension-filled scenes.

The story isn’t much to go into. That’s why it’s saved for last here. “Covenant” is the name of the space ship and of the mission in 2104 for ferrying cryogenic frozen humans to a new planet. The spaceship crew becomes stranded on a planet beset by the alien creature. This sets up a cumulative approximate one-hour of aliens lurking, chasing and attacking scenes that make “Alien: Covenant” an effective entry into the cinematic genre of “Things That Go Bump in the Night.”

“Alien: Covenant,”MPAA R (Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.) for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality-nudity; Genre: Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller; Run time: 2 hrs., 2 mins.; Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Credit Readers Anonymous:The alien creature (xenomorph) and space worlds in the “Alien” movies are based on the artwork and drawings of H R Giger’s book, “Necronomicon.” Director Ridley Scott hired him as art director. In “Alien: Covenant,” James Franco, Noomi Rapace and Guy Pearce have cameos. “Alien: Covenant” was filmed in Australia and New Zealand.

Box Office:Weekend box office results for the May 26 Memorial Day weekend were unavailable because of the early Memorial Day holiday deadline for the Focus section.

Unreel,June 2:

“Wonder Woman,”PG-13: Patty Jenkins directs Gal Gadot, David Thewlis, Robin Wright and Chris Pine in the Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi film about the origin story of Wonder Woman, who was Diana, princess of the Amazons, and a trained warrior. Who knew?

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie,”PG: David Soren directs the voice talents of Jordan Peele, Kevin Hart, Sugar Lyn Beard and Kristen Schaal in the Animation, Action, Comedy, Family film about two pranksters, George and Harold, who hypnotize their school principal into thinking he’s a superhero named Captain Underpants.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes