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Sunday, May 21, 2017


(Katherine Waterston)
As ever, Scott’s direction is superb, and the production values are vividly impressive. (Review: Patrick Compton - 8)

IT would be hard to describe this franchise as “well loved” – after all it’s hard to have soft feelings about larval aliens exploding out of people’s chests – but I am relieved, after all the mythological mumbo-jumbo about the origins of the human race in Prometheus, that Ridley Scott has returned to first principles in his latest space outing.

This means, in effect, that Scott has returned to doing what he does best, both thrilling audiences and giving them nightmares.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, Covenant is the second of three intended “prequels” which will take us up to the original (and still the best) film that Scott made nearly 40 years ago. Since then he, and directors such as James Cameron, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet have massaged this franchise into a multi-million-dollar industry that will surely continue next time around.

The action starts 10 years after the disappearance of the spaceship Prometheus, with yet another attempt to colonise space, this time in a starship named Covenant. A bunch of married couples – James Franco and Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Amy Seimetz, Demián Bichir and Nathaniel Dean, Billy Crudup and Carmen Ejogo – are taking hundreds of (sleeping) colonists to a distant planet.

At this stage, the acting captain, played by Crudup, makes a fateful decision, opting to take a detour to a green but lifeless planet named Origae-6, which he believes might be a better bet. Hardened watchers of this franchise will quickly realise that surely ain’t the case as the crew members discover the crashed Prometheus and a whole lot of other, terminal, problems besides.

Essentially, Scott adopts the same kind of tried and trusted formula that B-movie horror films have been using for decades. Throw a bunch of people together in a forest hut/wilderness/unfriendly planet and see who survives the attentions of zombies/bloody demons/demented axe murderers or, in this case, the familiar but still repulsive attentions of chest-bursting aliens.

No spoilers will be forthcoming, but it wouldn’t be unfair to point out that the movie introduces us to a new “human” robot, named Walter, a slightly updated version of David, who played a central role in Prometheus. Both are played with sinister, enigmatic charm by Michael Fassbender and a lot hangs on what happens when they meet on Origae-6.

The leading feminist warrior – a role first made famous by Sigourney Weaver in the original film – is this time undertaken by Waterston, and she makes a mighty good fist of it without losing her sense of vulnerability and personhood.

While there is a certain predictability about what is going to happen on Origae-6, Scott keeps us guessing about certain important matters right to the end. And, as I’ve already intimated, seeing the HL Giger-designed aliens go about their work is an intensely visceral experience, however much you feel you know what’s going to happen.

As ever, Scott’s direction is superb, and the production values are vividly impressive. Ultimately, however, it is Fassbender’s show and his twin characters provide the key narrative thread that takes you through to the provocative ending.

Alien: Covenant opened in Durban cinemas on May 19. – Patrick Compton