Alien: Covenant Might Finally Be the Aliens Follow-Up that We Deserve

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Alien has to be the most frustrating film franchise out there.  The first film was a ground-breaking sci-fi horror movie that was a direct counter-point to the wide-eyed optimism of Star Wars.  The second was a natural escalation from intimate horror to global action that became the blueprint for other 80s horror franchises (particularly The Terminator and Phantasm).

Things got a little wonky from there.  Notorious studio-interference destroyed David Fincher’s promising Alien 3.  Despite a script from none other than Joss Whedon, French auteur Jean-Pierre Jeunet delivered a bizarre, manic parody of the franchise instead of a continuation of it in Alien: Resurrection.  Although Alien fans long anticipated Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, he and his stellar cast was wasted on an uneven and tonally mismatched prequel that tried far harder than it should have to explain away every errant detail of the original film.

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It is understandable, then, that fans of the franchise were anxious about Alien: Covenant: Ridley Scott’s direct sequel to Prometheus and the long-promised return to horror for the Alien films.  The series hasn’t had a hit since 1986 and Ridley Scott has lost a considerable amount of respect from cinephiles over the last two decades.

The first trailer for Alien: Covenant, though, has gone a long way to easing the fears of Alien fans.  Our first look into the upcoming film appears to be the return-to-form that Prometheus was supposed to have been.

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The trailer opens with a blood-splattered woman running frantically through the florescent interior of a space ship, following a trail of bloody — decidedly inhuman — footprints, which ends outside of a sealed doorway.  A woman on the other side desperately bangs on the door, begging the first woman to open it and let her out.  She refuses.

A man screams in the background.  He seizes spastically as his back rips open along his spine.  As the first woman runs away, something unseen bears down on the second — cowering in the corner with a useless, shaking knife

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After decades of explosions and CGI, Alien: Covenant seems decidedly old school.  Claustrophobic — largely physical — sets force a blue collar crew into stifling confrontations with an alien menace that they are woefully unprepared to face.  The action, although eye-catching, is horrific: extrapolating on the inherent helplessness of the crew as the series’ iconic Xenomorph hunts them down one by one.

Some have been quick to point out that the new film feels a lot like the first, perhaps overly much so.  The protagonists, antagonist and set design — though updated for the 21st century — strongly mirror those of the original movie.  The ships are industrial, the crew does their jobs with dead-eyed indifference and the aliens are the sleek, sexual predators we remember from 1979.

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The reason why this is so jarring is because that the majority of the franchise has never harmonized with the first film.  Alien was pitched as “Jaws in space.”  The second expanded that premise to inter-planetary warfare: essentially “Vietnam in space.”  After those two, however, it went from “interstellar prison cult” to “pseudo-Ripley clones” to “the maybe-architects of Humankind turned on by their proto-Xenomorph spawn.”  The closest that any post-Aliens movie came to this kind of stripped down, terrifying premise was Alien vs Predator, and that movie was artless cash-in.

So no, the similarities to the original are not causes for concern.  If anything, it’s cause for celebration; it’s the sequel we’ve been waiting decades to see.

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The only problematic elements from the trailer are a few genre-coded aesthetic choices.  For a supposed horror movie, the lighting is incredibly bright.  Narrow corners, sharp turns and deep shadows — which obscure the action and keep the viewer in suspense — are the bread and butter of horror movies.  You shine too bright a light on the monster, and it becomes scary only in the academic sense: a creature that can, and probably will, kill you, but one that you can confront directly.

The excessive lighting, plus the prominent explosions, cast Alien: Covenant more as an action movie than a horror one.  While a spiritual follow-up to Aliens is also compelling, it’s not where the franchise has ever proven been strongest.

Give me shadows and teeth and the icy vacuum of space.  Make me afraid.  Make me run.

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