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Sixth ‘Alien’ returns to its roots

The “Alien” film franchise has been plugging away for almost 40 years. But the fans’ pushback on its fifth installment, “Prometheus,” was so strong that original director Ridley Scott, by his own admission, adjusted his approach to the latest film, “Alien: Covenant.”

He wisely ended up keeping the best thing about “Prometheus,” the android David (Michael Fassbender), and adding what was sorely missing in that movie, namely aliens! There are now so many rampaging aliens in “Covenant,” that it feels much more like a slasher/horror film than the sci-fi treatise that so characterized “Prometheus.” In other words, problem solved.

“Covenant” takes place ten years after the events of “Prometheus,” with a spaceship carrying a crew and a couple thousand deep-sleeping passengers. Their mission is to colonize a particular far-off planet.

After an accident in space damages their ship, the crew decides to temporarily abandon their initial plans and land on a much closer planet instead. That proves to be a fatal mistake.

Those creepy, slimy parasitic monsters called xenomorphs, so familiar from the original Alien films, seem to be breeding quite successfully on this unknown planet. They viciously attack the crew members on the ground and aboard the ship – slashing and gashing them with lightning speed, blood spewing everywhere.

Xenomorph spores also silently invade people’s bodies, bodies which provide for an incubation period that can only end with these newborn monsters exploding out of the humans’ chests, backs, and/or mouths.

Like any classic horror film, anytime anyone goes off alone, or takes a shower, or stupidly peers into a gaping plant, you know darn well they’re goners. If “Prometheus” suffered from a dearth of aliens, “Covenant” is practically drowning in them.

But thankfully, this film is not just all suspense and visceral, gory thrills. It has a cerebral, philosophical side too.

The film opens, for instance, with the just-created android David being tested and queried by his human maker. After this prologue, we jump ahead a decade, to an updated model of the android David, now christened Walter.

Like his prototype, Walter is curious about his own reason for being.

The two androids provide Ridley Scott the opportunity to explore what it means and doesn’t mean, to be human, and to raise the specter of procreation as something more than a biological impulse. Shades of Frankenstein and “Bladerunner.”

These rather weighty matters are not allowed to bog down the movie like they did in “Prometheus.” Instead, they’re handled rather deftly, thanks to the brilliant performance of Michael Fassbender, who plays the two androids, who look exactly alike but act slightly differently.

“Alien: Covenant” may not be daringly original, and the ending is a bit too obvious, but for the sixth installment in a franchise, it represents a successful return to its sci-fi horror roots.

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