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'Alien: Covenant' makes journey to space horror

Boston Herald — James Verniere Boston Herald

May 19--T he sixth film in the 20th Century Fox "Alien" franchise that began in 1979 and the second prequel, Ridley Scott's "Alien: Covenant" is a movie that has run out of ideas.

David, Michael Fassbender's evil and prissy android from the 2012 "Prometheus," is back in opening scenes preceding the action of the disastrous voyage in Scott's first prequel. David can be seen talking and serving tea to his maker in opulent surroundings.

Shortly thereafter, in 2104, we are aboard the USCSS Covenant, a giant space vehicle with a crew of 15 and 2,000 colonists on a seven-year journey to an Earth-like planet where they will all start over. Everyone aboard is asleep inside high-tech sarcophagi familiar to anyone conversant with these films. A neutrino burst shuts down the ship. The crew is awakened prematurely (Hey, didn't I just see this?). Capt. Jacob Branson (James Franco), who is married to "terraforming expert" Daniels (Katherine Waterston), is killed.

A strangely hospitable, nearby planet oddly resembling New Zealand beckons, complete with what sounds like a John Denver song. Newly anointed Capt. Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup), a "person of faith," who does not have the crew's respect, decides to stop for a look-see. If you have any questions about what is going to happen next, you have not seen any of the "Alien" sequels or spinoffs, including the ones pitting the Xenomorph-face-hugging, chest-bursting and fully grown demonic thing -- created by the late, great Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger -- against the dreadlocked, crab-faced baddies Arnold Schwarzenegger battled in the original "Predator."

The crew members in "Covenant" are meant to recall the space miners in the original film: Jack Daniels-swigging mechanic-pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride); biologist and wife of Capt. Oram, Karine (Carmen Ejogo); security head Sgt. Lope (Demian Bichir); and, of course, down-to-the-hair-do Ripley-like Daniels. Also on board is Walter (also Fassbender, argh), a less-aggressive version of David. The rest of the crew are cattle-like victims being led to the slaughter.

The level of filmmaking is incredibly high. But the level of creativity is not, and the cliches are as numerous as the creatures. This "Alien" is like "10 Little Indians" in outer space, with each killing more gruesome and occurring at regular intervals.

The original film set new standards in science fiction-horror. This film has a scene in which Daniels ties a spike around her neck as a memento, not really something you'd want bouncing around in your spacesuit, and one in which two crew members taking a shower together get what's coming to them. Giger's Xenomorph in all its iterations remains as hellish-looking as ever, but it's no longer a novelty.

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