Alien: Covenant – 4K Ultra Blu-ray review

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After Prometheus split audiences, Covenant marks a return (in stylistic form, at least) to Scott's seminal 1979 Alien - we join the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship bound for Origae-6 with the intention of creating a newly habitable world.

Of course, this being an Alien film, things don't go to plan. When Covenant is hit by a solar flare that brings the crew out of hypersleep, they receive a transmission that tempts them to investigate a closer, more habitable world, one that contains a dark secret that threatens the survival of all those on board.

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Film

To say Covenant is better than Prometheus is neither here nor there - both fall short of the earlier films. Hampered by storytelling and logic issues, using tropes that were fresh in 1979 but feel tired in 2017, there are glimpses of the old Alien spirit: facehuggers, chestbursters, a game of hide and seek on a giant ship - but it lacks the thrills and suspense that Scott and Cameron employed to such good effect.

The crew are a fairly interchangeable group, with too many of them to keep track of and too few making an impression (bar Katherine Waterston's Daniels and Danny McBride's Tennessee).

There are unsubtle moments (a few are jaw-droppingly daft), as well as others that could use more context and substance - and there's the crux of Covenant's problems. There are interesting through-lines, but Scott either doesn't pursue them or thinks referencing them is enough.

Scott's interest in exploring themes such as God vs Man, religion and creation, along with certain elements of the story, rubs uneasily with the series' future instalment - one revelation potentially skewers a plotline in Aliens. You wonder whether Scott enjoys putting more of his mark on the series, caring less about what comes later.

There are some excellent moments though. The baby and full-grown xenomorph – which is still not the 'proper' alien – unsettle. Fassbender stars as not one, but two Androids in David (returning from Prometheus) and Walter. The final few shots are worthy of being in the pantheon of great Alien moments, but Scott telegraphs them so early you can see them coming from half a world away.

Covenant leaves us mixed. It takes the story strands of Prometheus and makes them stronger, but uproots the Alien sequels in the process. While it's reminiscent of the original in some ways, the film - like the crew - falls prey to some unwise decisions.

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Picture

Tested with Oppo UDP-203 and Samsung UE65KS9500 4K TV

Alien: Covenant was shot digitally at 3.4k, but received a 2K master - so this is a 4K upscale.

That's not as much of a hindrance as you might think. The colour palette employed by Ridley Scott is stark and subdued, leaving few opportunities for colour to leap off the screen - but the 4K does offer a more precise and brighter image.

That's apparent from the opening shot of an eye (echoing Scott's own Blade Runner). The iris is a piercing blue, and the purple contours around the eye stand out much more than on the Blu-ray. Complexions are more pronounced, while blacks are quite firm - though we wonder if some greys come across as darker than they should.

The use of HDR errs towards subtle rather than drastic, granting the film a better sense of shading and depth. A good example is the unfolding of the Covenant's sails, followed by the spaceship being hit by a solar pulse. The orange of the sails is more of a burnished gold and, in the scenes that follow, the Tennessee's space suit has more colour and punch to it.

The planet of LV-223, an earthy forest moon dominated by whites mixed with dark browns, blues and greens, is deeper in terms of hue. It marks a contrast to the Covenant's interiors, all angular surfaces lit up by luminescent neon lights. The detail afforded by the 4K adds to the clarity and sharpness of these scenes. That sharpness, detail and use of HDR make Covenant a pretty film, even if that prettiness is in service to its stark look.

Covenant is not the most spectacular in terms of colour, but its subdued look often results in a sleek image that's capable of some beauty. A nice upgrade over the Blu-ray.

Sound

Tested using Yamaha RX-A3060, PMC Twenty 23 5.1 with KEF R50 modules (5.1.2 Dolby Atmos set-up)

The Atmos track is proficient at creating a sense of tension and also quite adept at filling the room.

Jerry Goldsmith's iconic Main Title theme makes a welcome comeback, though it's one of few musical callbacks as Jed Kurtzel's score opts for ambience. It hovers in the background, used to good effect to fill the room, adding space and height.

Height is further emphasized by rain effects and environmental sounds, though Covenant's audio is better served in its more intense scenes. When the small landing ship enters LV-223's atmosphere, there's a convincing sense of weight as the ship buckles and creaks under duress.

Positioning is subtle and we're certain it's used as a means of misdirection. Sounds will appear in one area but the action will happen elsewhere. This is evident when the crew is attacked by a nascent xenomorph in a field, a trick that creates a sense of tension and confusion as, like the characters, you aren't sure where the next attack will come.

The alien itself is not as fear-inducing as the original, and comes with its own sonic trait - especially in its 'baby' form. Its guttural rattling sound is eerily done.

Covenant creates an ambience that's peppered by several intense scenes, the balance between the two combining to good effect in the finale. Engaging and at times intense, the application of Atmos is probably the most enjoyable part of this presentation.

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Verdict

Alien: Covenant is enjoyable in parts, though it ought to have been better.

Course-correcting the series after Prometheus, the film seems caught in two minds about whether to honor the expectations of an Alien film or pursue its own story threads. It's closer to the feel of the series but still seems further away from crossing paths with the original.

The 4K serves up an improved picture over the Blu-ray, the Atmos soundtrack finds a nice mix between intensity and ambience. At times it looks and sounds beautiful.

The fate of the series is up in the air, but at least this 4K release leaves a good impression.

Extras

  • Deleted and Extended scenes
  • UCSCSS Covenant
  • Sector 87 – Planet 4
  • Master Class – Ridley Scott
  • Director Commentary by Ridley Scott
  • Production Gallery
  • Theatrical trailers