“Alien:  Covenant”

                Ridley Scott re-casts the now-iconic “Alien” saga in this slick, fast-moving space travel sci-fi that feels like an updated “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  Yes, what if we learn to make our “robots,” or “synthetics,” so realistic that they duplicate their human maker’s randomness, and mirror their darker emotions?

                The crew of the spaceship “Covenant” is headed to colonize a very specific locale, that was carefully researched and vetted as being the most likely to support human habitation.   The 15-person crew is responsible for maintaining the hibernation of the 2000 adult settlers, and, just for good measure, a fetus bank.   Meanwhile, the ship is being run by a very human-like “synthetic” named Walter (Michael Fassbender).

                The first thing to go wrong is running into a random windstorm that damages portions of the space ship, enough to break the hibernation pods of the crew.  Now we have an unexpected problem:  the crew, not wanting to go back to sleep for another 7 years, really doesn’t want to sit around and wait for 7 years, either.

                Then they receive an unexpected signal:  a version of “Country Roads” by John Denver?  They are ecstatic about receiving a communication that sounds like it must have come from humans, and yet when they trace the source, they have no record of any human habitation anywhere in the vicinity.  Though the crew is divided about whether to investigate, eventually their curiosity overcomes them, much to their regret.

                The good news:  the place where they land is indeed human-habitable, and it looks like humans have been here before.  The bad news:  there’s some weird stuff going on here.  

                Here’s where the viewer expects the alien gnome/dragons to just pick off the crew one by one, with the only tension being which of the crew is going to go first, and which will be the last one remaining.  And though Director Scott indulges a bit in that old horror formula, he also has the crew stumble on something unexpected:  survivors from a previous expedition.  Well, at least, the “synthetic,” David, survived.

                Here’s where Michael Fassbender, the actor, gets to shine, by playing two ‘synthetics” at once, who resemble each other, but are differently-constructed, and have different attributes.  We viewers soon realize that this is not so much man vs. monster as it is man vs. machine which has become monstrous.

                The space ship CGI sequences are particularly well done, even without 3-D.  There’s a little bit of R-rated repartee, but mostly we’re just fighting for our lives here.  It’s both an indulgence in horror/drama and a kind of futuristic morality tale. With a little nod toward classic theology:  Original Sin.

Questions for Discussion:

1)                   What’s your favorite space movie?

2)                  What’s your favorite horror movie?

3)                  Would you volunteer to go colonize another planet?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association