The return of the Star Beast – A preview of Alien: Covenant

Photo courtesy of: 20th Century Fox
by Andrew Jamieson

WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead…

May 12th sees the release of director Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, his return once more to the science-fiction-horror franchise that launched his career back in 1979. This new film is, again like Prometheus before it, an indirect prequel to Scott’s original Alien – and a direct sequel to Prometheus itself, with Alien: Covenant set ten years after that film.

Michael Fassbender returns along with Scott, in a dual role; as the android / ‘synthetic human’ David from Prometheus, and as Walter, the more servile itineration of the android, and part of the Covenant’s crew. Yes, like Prometheus before it, the title of the film contains the title of a spaceship, this being the colony ship Covenant, on course to establish a human outpost on a distant planet (LV 426 anyone?). We last saw Fassbender’s David as a disembodied head in a bag at the end of Prometheus, being carried around by Noomi Rapace’s Dr Elizabeth Shaw (also returning in Alien: Covenant, possibly in a minor role). Fassbender’s David was arguably one of the few highlights from Prometheus, revelling in his sinister mission. Guy Pearce also returns in a flashback-cameo as Peter Weyland, and as a younger man than in Prometheus.

From what has been released about the film, through interviews and the torrent of tv spots and trailers, the colony ship Covenant is on a mission to establish human civilisation on a faraway planet. On their way the ship’s computer – named ‘Mother’ (a nod and a precursor to the computer aboard Alien’s Nostromo) – detects a distress signal and the crew are awakened from cryogenic sleep, and go to investigate, leading them ultimately to discover the crashed Engineer ship, last seen flying off at the end of Prometheus. 20th Century Fox’s marketing team have not been shy and, like Prometheus, they have once again produced an engaging and tantalising campaign. There has been a steady stream of trailers and tv spots, starting with the debut trailer on Christmas Day 2016. Most interestingly, for fans at least, is the release of two short films, first ‘Last Supper’ (uploaded in February) showing the primary crew of the Covenant preparing for cryogenic sleep, and ‘Prologue: The Crossing’ (debuting in the last week of April) depicting events linking Prometheus to Alien: Covenant.

In the numerous press coverage and interviews, the film-makers have stressed that they have responded to the criticisms of Prometheus; specifically referring to its perceived lack of scares and general horror, and the lack of the iconic alien itself. Alien: Covenant should see all those aspects covered; the trailers alone promise as much. Not directly discussed or acknowledged is the change in the writing team. The screenwriters of Prometheus, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, are notable by their absence, and perhaps this is no accident – Lindelof’s script was arguably the weakest component about that film, and he in particular drew plenty of criticism for his reworking of Spaihts’ original script. Ridley Scott has this time called on the services of John Logan, one of his writers from Gladiator, and most recently of Penny Dreadful and Skyfall, coming aboard in 2015 to work on the initial drafts by Michael Green, Jack Paglen and Dante Harper. Prometheus suffered from a leaden, messy script that was not articulate enough to carry its philosophical ideas, devoid of any significant memorable characterisation. Whilst generally acknowledged as the film’s standout character, Michael Fassbender’s David is deployed in a narratively clumsy way, his motivations all too clear from very early on in the story. With Alien: Covenant it appears the character of David is set to have a far more prominent role, with the Covenant crew discovering him living amongst the remains of a dead civilisation. In Prologue: The Crossing we are given a glimpse of a scene which suggests David has had some significant part in this civilisation’s ruination.

If Alien: Covenant is a commercial success, the film-makers have confirmed there are plans in place to continue this prequel saga. The working title of the original 1979 film was Star Beast, but the late Dan O’ Bannon and his friend and co-writer Ron Shussett changed it to Alien by draft two. They would be amazed at the legacy they created, with Alien: Covenant being the sixth Alien saga film (not counting the Alien vs Predator films). The Star Beast is back once more and it is hungry for box office blood.

Video courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

Alien: Covenant (2017)
Alien: Covenant poster Rating: N/A/10 (N/A votes)
Director: Ridley Scott
Writer: John Logan (screenplay), Dante Harper (screenplay), Jack Paglen (story by), Michael Green (story by), Dan O'Bannon (based on characters created by), Ronald Shusett ("Alien" characters)
Stars: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, James Franco, Noomi Rapace
Runtime: N/A
Rated: N/A
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller
Released: 19 May 2017
Plot: The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.
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