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Familiar monsters, thoughtful visuals in ‘Alien: Covenant’

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Elements of director Ridley Scott’s “Alien: Covenant” are reminiscent of the director’s other “Alien” movies. (Courtesy 20th Century Fox)

With “Alien: Covenant,” director Ridley Scott returns to the “Alien” franchise for the third time.

Scott, who directed the first “Alien” (1979) as well as the franchise reboot/prequel “Prometheus” (2012), once again he shows why he was always the man for the job.

A talented but troublesome director with a spotty filmography, Scott seems to be more comfortable in less naturalistic surroundings. In other words, the more alien a place is, the better his films are.

In “Alien: Covenant,” based on a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green, a ship containing 15 crew members, an android, Walter (Michael Fassbender), and many sleeping colonists cruises through space.

A deadly accident causes the crew to be prematurely awakened from cryo-sleep. Acting captain Oram (Billy Crudup), Daniels (Katherine Waterston), pilot Tennessee (Danny McBride), and Sergeant Lope (Demian Bichir), emerge as crucial characters.

They discover a habitable planet nearby and decide to check it out.

Of course, the planet is not friendly and not only contains icky aliens, but also evil spores that can simply enter through a man’s ear or nose and gestate inside.

They also discover a horrifying necropolis, with thousands of dead, blackened bodies posed like horrible statues, as well as a single walking, talking occupant.

The plot of “Alien: Covenant” also has large chunks borrowed from “Alien” and “Prometheus,” and from Scott’s “Blade Runner.”

Moreover, the scary sequences are not of the moody, spooky sort Scott conjured for the original film. In keeping with today’s shorter attention spans, they’re faster and noisier, with more explosions.

However, Scott is preoccupied with larger themes. “Alien: Covenant” opens with an impressive scene, a flashback, involving Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and David (also Fassbender).

Set inside a cavernous, white room, it shows a beautiful mountain view from a window, a piano, a chair, a statue, and little else.

Later scenes takes place in a cavelike workshop, filled with gruesome creations, fluttering papers tacked to the wall, and haunted with echoing woodwind music.

These are the perfect places to reflect upon questions about humanity, existence and time.

Moments like that come close to elevating the film past genre conventions, into areas explored by Kubrick and Tarkovsky, but many standard moments bring the movie down again.

The prime example, the Fassbender characters — the very center of the discussion — are eventually used for little more than a quick, snappy ending, when their fate might have been an enduring mystery.

That’s the difference between this, a good movie about aliens, and what could have been a great movie about life.

Alien: Covenant
Three stars
Starring Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride
Written by John Logan, Dante Harpern
Directed by Ridley Scott
Rated R
Running time 2 hours, 2 minutes

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