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Alien: Covenant by Jed Kurzel (Review)

posted May 22, 2017, 8:45 AM by Kaya Savas

The Alien films have always resonated with audiences because the world that Ridley Scott’s original film created was so unique and iconic. Plus it has one of the best movie-monsters of all-time. The music for the Alien franchise has always been in the spotlight as well. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for the original film is always hailed as a masterpiece, even though Goldsmith and Scott didn't necessarily see eye to eye. Goldsmith and Scott butted heads about what the film needed musically, he was forced to re-write his opening and temp music was kept in the film without Goldsmith's knowledge. But people do hail the original Alien as one of his best scores, and the way he captured mystery and isolation certainly made the score extremely successful. Silence of course was the main reason why the first film worked so well. Scott even removed pieces of Jerry’s score to utilize sound design to create tension and atmosphere.  A decision that Jerry later admitted was the correct one.

So let’s talk about Prometheus briefly. It seems drama likes to follow Scott and his composers on this franchise. Prometheus was scored by Marc Streitenfeld, who was Scott’s go-to composer at the time. Marc created a super gritty and mysterious score that worked very well for what Prometheus was. However, Marc was missing the grandness and the romanticism of the big ideas at play in the film. So Ridley went to Harry Gregson-Williams to write the big central theme. Whatever happened behind the scenes there marked the end of Scott’s collaborations with Streitenfeld. Ridley and Harry re-kindled their professional relationship with Harry working some additional music into Exodus, and finally they did The Martian together. Harry broke the news in our interview with him that he would in fact be doing Alien: Covenant. Fast-forward a few months later, we found out that Harry was not on the project anymore. Harry’s statement was that Ridley wanted to go in a different direction, but in Hollywood that could mean anything. Anyway, Jed Kurzel filled the void. Jed made a name for himself by writing the scores to films directed by his brother Justin Kurzel. Those films included The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth and Assassin’s Creed. Jed also did some other notable scores including Slow West. So if you connect the dots there it seems to be a certain actor in common with many of those films. That actor would be Michael Fassbender, and it’s a very good chance that Jed came at the recommendation of Michael to Ridley.

Okay, so now we are here. Alien: Covenant! The true return to the franchise! The Xenomorph returns! Right? So what’s the verdict? Jed Kurzel’s approach is as effective as the film let’s it be, and unfortunately the film is hardly effective. Kurzel feels like a fish out of water here, he just doesn't fit in with Ridley, and you can tell he was just doing what he was told to do. If you see the final film, you’ll see even more clearly that this movie was built for Harry. The use of the Prometheus theme is in effect and even Michael Fassbender’s character plays Harry's theme diegetically on a flute in one scene. Then we have the completely out of place overuse of Goldsmith’s theme, which is just so wrong for this movie. This movie has no musical identity whatsoever. It lays on the Goldsmith heavily, it references Prometheus and then Kurzel is left to fill in the gaps with his standard yet somewhat effective action-horror scoring. But in the end there is hardly any emotional arc, there are no builds and everything comes to a predictable conclusion. The film spends the first two acts being a Prometheus sequel, so the use of Goldsmith’s music is just wrong. It’s only in the final act does this become an “Alien” movie, and by the time we’re there the music is just acting in the background and competing with the sound design. Where the other films utilized silence to build tension, here we get no break, no quiet moments. Kurzel’s score is drowned out and even when you experience what he does on the album, nothing is really that impressive.

Alien: Covenant as a film is not a misfire, it’s just below average in both film and score. The use of Goldsmith is plain wrong for the film (seriously, can we let that score rest in peace please), and everything here was clearly laid out for Harry before he departed the project. Kurzel does his best to add tension and thrills but essentially the final product is a pastiche score utilizing the works of two other composers. It’s only once you get to the final act where the score actually starts working, but it’s completely drowned out in the film and the music is trying just as hard to bash you over the head as the movie is. It’s a shame that Harry Gregson-Williams wasn't a part of this film for whatever reason. But when you look at the final product here, maybe Harry dodged a bullet. Jed Kurzel inherited a wholly mediocre film with forgettable characters and a formulaic plot, and the score reflects all that.