Alien: Covenant Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
Or How To Make Prometheus Look Good
Like a precocious pre-teen, Ridley Scott takes all the ambitious ideas of his deeply flawed Prometheus and throws them out of the cot recklessly, delivering a sequel with more questions than answers.Largely due to hack scribe David Lindelof's Lost-style big-ideas-with-no-explanation, Prometheus became an exercise in entertaining sci-fi thrills undone by whimsical and ill-conceived back-plotting. Half-size alien 'Engineers' magically creating mankind? The same magical black goo which creates mankind being capable of spawning proto-aliens? Pretty-much the only way to explain half of the problems in the narrative was by putting the word 'magical' in front of them, including the spellbound idiocy of some of the 'scientists'. Alien: Covenant had an uphill struggle with the shocking climax of Prometheus, that saw the last survivor, Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw and the head of android David (Michael Fassbender) travelling to the Engineer's home planet aboard one of the Engineer's ships. It was going to be a tough cliffhanger to explain, so Scott just doesn't bother.Alien: Covenant ditches almost all of the grand ideas of Prometheus by way of appalling flashbacks, insulting what little intelligence that prequel had to offer and instead investing in a retread of Alien by way of Aliens, with borrowed ideas aplenty (it's surprising just how many of James Cameron's Aliens ideas they use here), offering a pretty formulaic idiot space-crew get lured off-course by a 'distress' beacon and, one by one, get infected through their own sheer stupidity plot. Fassbender gets to go full Shakespeare, whilst Katherine Waterson's Ripley-wannabe gets possibly the most pointless character arc (Rapace's notwithstanding) in the whole franchise. There are some nice ideas, some nice tech and nice scenes, but the only thing that Alien: Covenant really did was somehow - rather improbably - make Prometheus look like a good movie.
Picture Quality20th Century Fox deliver the UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Alien: Covenant with a somewhat disappointing 2K Digital Intermediate which threatens to curtail the benefits of the higher resolution 3.4K digital cinematography, but still makes for a - thankfully - pretty impressive 2160p presentation nonetheless, framed in the movie's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 widescreen. The disc uses 10-bit video depth, a Wider Colour Gamut (WCG) and High Dynamic Range (HDR), and is encoded using the HEVC (H.265) codec.
We reviewed the UK Ultra HD Blu-ray release of Alien: Covenant on a Samsung UE55KS8000 Ultra HD TV and a Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
Ridley Scott certainly knows how to paint a pretty picture
Despite the 2K Digital Intermediate's restrictions, detail is improved somewhat, with a fine uptick on most 'real' shots, affording space suits, clothing, skin textures and set intricacies better observation up-close, but struggling a little with the VFX shots which were always only rendered at 2K anyway, and which come across as a hint softer and more obvious than they do on the standard 1080p Blu-ray (a trait common to effects since the advent of Ultra HD Blu-ray).
Of course, as has also become increasingly common, disc quality and impressiveness really boils down to implementation of HDR and WCG, and Alien: Covenant's Ultra HD Blu-ray release is no slouch in either department, making a few subtle but often appreciable changes from its 1080p counterpart – giving the image a slightly more yellow hue, and rendering much more stable blacks, whilst littering the piece with specific highlights that pop in a way that only HDR and WCG can offer. Whether it's the fantastic tech displays that are used aboard the ship, or the flames, weapons fire and explosions, there's much more colour detail to these elements, with the sunflower yellow space suits in particular getting a striking amount of pop which the standard Blu-ray just can't hope to keep up with. There's still a little more inconsistency to the noise in some scenes than you would normally expect from an Ultra HD Blu-ray release of a digitally-shot big budget sci-fi movie from Ridley Scott, but, conversely, the guy certainly knows how to paint a pretty picture, and there's more than enough demo material here to show off your equipment with.
Sound QualityAlien: Covenant's Ultra HD Blu-ray release also offers a nice and welcome (albeit frustrating for those not yet 4K-capable) upgrade on the aural front, besting it's Blu-ray sibling's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track with the immersive audio of the object-based Dolby Atmos track founded upon an already impressive Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core.
Unlike the movie, it's hard to complain about anything the soundtrack has to offer
Whilst dialogue is firmly prioritised across the frontal array - remaining clear and coherent throughout despite Fassbender's eccentric ramblings - and delivering off-screen screams and shouts with more spatial awareness than you would normally expect, it's the effects and score that define this audio track. The score, which is perhaps the only element of the production that genuinely builds upon themes from the first movie without ruining them, delivers a strong, at times haunting, at times furious accompaniment to the tense and occasionally action-packed setpieces, often attempting to deliver at least the impression of a far better movie than the one unfolding before your eyes. Effects are adeptly observed and discretely disseminated, with fine precision and excellent use of the entire aural array, bringing the surrounds and LFE channel into full use and crafting a heady space atmosphere within which the story can unfold. Unlike the movie, it's hard to complain about anything the soundtrack has to offer.
ExtrasAs is frustratingly the norm, all of the extras for this release remain lazily in situ on the accompanying Blu-ray disc, with only Ridley Scott's Director's Commentary (a technically proficient affair which painfully attempts to justify - and even celebrate - many of the choices he made with this misfire) actually making it over to the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc itself.
For those dedicated enough to flip over to the Blu-ray there's a comprehensive salvo on offer here
For those dedicated enough to actually flip over to the Blu-ray, there's a comprehensive salvo on offer here, beyond the same Commentary, with a healthy quarter-hour-plus swathe of Deleted and Extended Scenes, as well as half a dozen in-character promos, often featuring David the android, filling in some of the gaps between the movies. These are quite good - far better than the Deleted Scenes - with 'Advent' a highlight that looks in more detail at what happened to Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw. There's also a heavy gallery of Featurettes entitled Master Class - Ridley Scott, which take you through almost every aspect of the production in a striking amount of detail, totaling almost an hour's worth of Behind the Scenes material. A further Production Gallery offers an almost unprecedented near-half-hour of image playback (that's a lot of images) split into a dozen different Concept Art subsections, as a focal look at the Creatures, the design logos, and some Ridleygrams. The disc is rounded off by some Trailers.
Ultra HD Blu-ray VerdictThe only thing that Alien: Covenant did was make Prometheus look like a good movie
The Ultra HD Blu-ray release, in turn, tries its best to make Alien: Covenant look good too, delivering spectacular video and audio - clear upgrades over their respective Blu-ray counterparts - as well as all the same comprehensive extras from that release. Fans will struggle to resist picking up this excellent package alongside the simultaneously-released Ultra HD Blu-ray of Prometheus.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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