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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Alien: Covenant, Review by Siraj Syed: Paradise morphed

Alien: Covenant, Review by Siraj Syed: Paradise morphed

Five years after Prometheus, this film is the second instalment in the Alien prequel series, and the sixth one in the Alien film series, as well as the third one to be directed by Ridley Scott. Prometheus was his second directorial effort in the series. He was 42 when he directed Alien (1979) and is in his 79th year, when Covenant is releasing. Imagine making a prequel 38 years after the original! Alien Covenant is an interesting film in parts, but borrows heavily from earlier outings and, overall, falls short of expectations

In 2104, the crew of the colony ship Covenant is bound for a remote planet, with two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos aboard. It will take them more than seven years to get there. In the early part of the journey, an energy surge damages the ship, killing its captain and waking the crew. As they repair the ship, the crew intercept a radio transmission from a nearby planet and decide to investigate as the transmission is human in origin, being the words of a popular song, ‘Country roads take me home’, but the planet is supposedly lifeless.

Crew members Waters, Faris and Karine descend to the surface with a contingent of security personnel to find water, as well as wheat bushels. Karine sets up an ecological survey station while the others track down the source of the signal. They discover it originates from an Engineer ship, piloted by Elizabeth Shaw, following the disastrous Prometheus mission. Two of the security team members are accidentally infected with an alien spore. Karine attempts to assist them, but they are locked inside the landing vehicle by Faris, as a quarantine measure. The security team are killed by a neo-morph—a forerunner to the xeno-morph—as they burst out from their backs, and Karine is mauled to death. Faris dies when she attempts to kill the neo-morphs, accidentally destroying the lander in an explosion.

Forced to retreat, the crew find the android David, the sole survivor of the Prometheus mission, as they radio Covenant for help. Tennessee, Covenant's pilot, decides to respond, despite being advised not to, in light of the neo-morph attack and a raging storm that engulfs it for up to 80 kms above. On the surface, a neo-morph attacks a settler, who has become separated from the main group and is killed by Covenant's first mate, Oram, who witnesses David trying to tame the alien. David shows Oram a chamber he has been using to incubate face-huggers, and assures David that they are harmless. As he touches one of them, it implants Oram with an embryo; the embryo erupts into a proto-morph—an evolution of the neo-morph—killing him.

Story by Jack Paglen (Transcendence) and Michael Green (Snoops, Green Lantern, Logan)--based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shuset—is thin and functional. Some basic premises are either illogical or incredible. Motivation for the android’s hideous acts is not convincing, nor is his double role. Similarly, the  colonists’ desire to migrate away from earth and build houses besides lakes on the new planet is too facile. It is possible that they are holding back some key elements for the prequel-sequel, but that is not fair on the incumbent audiences. Screenplay by John David Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall, Spectre) and Dante Harper (Sleepless, Edge of Tomorrow, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) is packed with mauling after mauling, mutilation after mutilation and death after death. There is nothing to separate the neo-morph from the proto-morph from the face-huggers. Deaths of spouses, mourned by the surviving partners, ring hollow. Humour is all but missing in action.

Ridley Scott is known for a host of successful films, including the box-office failure but later cult classic--Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down and The Martian. Covenant might not make it to that list. Yes, we have the huge wasp-like monsters with striking designs and motion as killing machines, an android that wants to take control of biological experiments, a crew and security staff that keep getting ripped apart, space ships that have the most intricate designs and technology—and yet, the X factor is missing. It is a very dark and morbid tale, full of VFX, where even a bathing scene suggesting sex between two actors fails to lighten things. And as mentioned earlier, there is hardly any humour, while the film takes itself too seriously. Music by Jed Kurzel helps create the ambience, a must in any film of the genre.

The cast is an eclectic mix but nobody has the scope to deliver a noticeable performance. Fassbender has a meaty role, but androids, by definition, are poker-faced.

Michael Fassbender as David / Walter

Katherine Waterston as Daniels

Billy Crudup as Oram

Danny McBride as Tennessee (also called T)

Demián Bichir as Lope

Carmen Ejogo as Karine

Lorelei King is the Voice of 'Mother' (the spacecraft’s motherboard or control centre)

Goran D. Kleut as Xenomorph/Neomorph

Andrew Crawford as Neomorph

James Franco plays Branson (uncredited)

The first scene impresses and promises to deliver. Sadly, what is delivered is a concoction, not a meal. We see monsters like we have seen before, in the series, and we see them again and again, probably once too often. Alien Covenant was earlier titled Paradise Lost, suggesting that the planet on which Covenant lands turns out to be hell, rather than heaven. After all, some bushels of wheat and waterfalls around do not paradise make. But the colossal, waspy morphs sure give hell to all the humans they encounter, making it paradise morphed.

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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