Blu-ray Review: Alien: Covenant

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In perhaps an unexpected development, audiences in 2017 turned out to be significantly less interested in prototypical Alien thrills and chills than they did in the more cerebral (and largely Xenomorph-free) backstory offered in 2012's first prequel, Prometheus. Original Alien helmer Ridley Scott directed both films, but the new Alien: Covenant simply didn't trip the people's trigger. When accounting for inflation, Covenant grossed less domestically than everything in the eight-film Alien series with the sole exception of Aliens vs Predator: Requiem.

So what, right? All that really matters is whether or not the film is any good—it is. No, it doesn't add anything particularly essential to the franchise. But anyone who craved more action and less pontificating after the more stately Prometheus will find much to enjoy in Scott's latest offering.

Covenant picks up a few years after Prometheus (which is really required viewing in order to understand the new film, so be sure to catch up if needed) as the crew of the titular ship is jolted off its course by an energy burst. During the explosive, unexpected interstellar event a number of crew members meet a fiery end while unconscious in sleep pods. Crucially, the Covenant's Captain Branson is among the dead. See, this ship carries many married couples speeding toward a distant planet discovered to be habitable. 
 
Alien Covenant feat2.jpg Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android based on the earlier model David (also Fassbender) first seen in Prometheus, wakes the remaining crew. Chris Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes command, but butts heads with Branson's widow, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), over whether or not to stay on course or investigate a bizarre, human-like transmission received from a nearby planet (also conveniently hospitable, it seems). There's some fuss made over Oram's Christian faith and how it clashes with the secular views of his crew member, but mostly the Covenant's arrival on the new planet offers an excuse for some kick-ass action as the inexperienced captain leads his men and women into a hive of Xenomorphs.

In terms of innovation and inspiration, the Alien series was pretty much out of gas after the 1979 original and James Cameron's 1986 sequel Aliens. Even Scott's return to the fold with Prometheus was a decidedly jumbled, sometimes confusing affair (however visually stunning it was). Covenant is aided immensely by Fassbender's dual role as Walter and David, who is discovered to be still functional and whose A.I. has evolved since we last saw him in the previous film. Danny McBride, Demi├ín Bichir, Amy Seimetz, and Callie Hernandez are among the Convenant crew—everyone is fine, but there aren't any great characters here outside of those played by Fassbender (and maybe Waterston as this film's surrogate Ripley).

The recommendation is purely based on the gripping, suspenseful action sequences staged by Scott and his techs. There's nothing new here, but there's pleasure to be had in revisiting a relatively no-frills, stripped-down, elemental Alien adventure.

While I can only imagine the 4K UltraHD version looks incredible, the standard Blu-ray looks spectacular in its own right. Fox Home Entertainment has done cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (he also shot Prometheus) proud with this one. It's easy to be blase about HD visual presentation after years of becoming accustomed to 1080p, but this is one fantastically detailed, well-balanced transfer. And the audio matches it with a remarkable DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix that's just as strong during the film's quieter stretches as it is its balls-out action sequences. Composer Jed Kurzel winningly takes over where Marc Streitenfeld left off on Prometheus with a dynamic, often haunting score.
 
rsz_alien_covenant_bd.jpg Special features for Covenant include some interesting material, led by the nearly hour-long grouping of pieces called "Master Class: Ridley Scott," which takes us further inside the production process than the usual EPK-type fluff. Scott also contributes an audio commentary track. A dozen deleted scenes (18 minutes total) are worthwhile for a few bits and pieces that might've benefited the finished film. Additional short odds and ends are organized under the headings "USCSS Covenant" and "Sector 87 - Planet 4." Those who enjoy production still galleries will find much to pore over in more than a dozen gallery presentations.

Though Scott stumbles midway through Covenant as he attempts to deepen the mythology he introduced in Prometheus, the new film offers an agreeable combination of the claustrophobia of Alien and the adrenaline-fueled action of Aliens. It doesn't seem that 20th Century Fox has yet confirmed a Covenant sequel, but the apparently tentative plan is for Scott to continue the franchise with Alien: Awakening.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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