Alien: Covenant (Allen)

(Originally posted 25th May 2017)

How does it measure up to Prometheus? Or more importantly, Alien?

 "Do I have something in my teeth?"

"Do I have something in my teeth?"

It's interesting to speculate what exactly Ridley Scott is trying to achieve with his recent return to the Alien franchise. The common themes of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are an exploration of science and faith, a desire to find logic in our creation, perhaps even a search for a meaning in life. Scott is now 79 years old and, as an atheist, does not have the comforting emotional crutch that religion provides to those facing their final years. Is this a man psychologically exploring his own mortality and by extension that of humanity itself?

Prometheus is literally about a dying man going to extremes to save himself from death as well as a woman who is desperate to cling to old religious ideas but is brought back to the brutality of the real world thanks to science. Alien: Covenant continues where Prometheus left off in the continuation of the story of David, a being who realises he is superior to his creator. When we know we have superseded our God, we have become God itself. And the logical extension is to try and improve on ourselves and create our own progeny.

Themes aside, how does the film stack up? Scott's directorial ability is in great evidence, with the whole thing setting a dark moody atmosphere with production design that feels right at home in modern sci-fi (though undoubtedly cleaner and sleeker than the original Alien). The major change from Prometheus comes in the writing. A script that works with characters that act and speak in a way that humans may actually do in real life. And no more flirting around the idea of aliens by creating silly zombie people that don't have any dramatic relevance.

In fact, the whole first act is reminiscent of Alien itself. It's slow-paced and we're allowed to be introduced to the main players. The crew are woken up from hypersleep unexpectedly after an accident and they have to readjust to the new situation. They're immediately thrown into chaos as the captain has died and the second-in-command does not appear to carry the respect of the crew. As this is a colony ship, the crew itself are made of married couples who will go on to help form the colony, giving us extra emotional impact when people die as we have to immediately confront the grief of those left behind.

It's a good set-up with a decent cast and a strong filmmaker in the driving seat. Where it starts to fall apart is when the plot really kicks in and it has to link itself back to Prometheus.

After the compelling start, it is in the flabby midsection that we lose our way, with engaging characters being replaced by panicky screaming and sleek visuals being replaced with choppy action sequences that are too dark to make out exactly what is happening. We also get all the plot filler that brings us up to date from the previous film, although it is hardly satisfying and comes with a lot of problems of its own.

There are some pretty obvious logical flaws that hold it back, such as, why send 90% of the crew down on a scouting mission to a completely unknown planet? Then there's the classic “let's not wear spacesuits in a completely alien environment” that of course leads to people being infected with space bugs. Of all the lessons we could have learned from Prometheus...

But the important thing is that we get re-introduced to David, who will be the thing that keeps us going to the end of the film. And let's not be mistaken, this is David's film, which makes it all the more puzzling that it took forty minutes to get to him. David has been alone for many years and has been tinkering with creationism to try and form the perfect organism, that we shall come to know as the xenomorph. This further complicates the God analogy as David is now acting with a full blown messianic complex, but still the message is unclear. And the new android on the scene is a newer model that has been made with less personality because humans don't like synthetics that seem too real. So is David too human? Is that why he's murderously insane? What are you trying to say, Ridley? And of course David and the new android look exactly the same so I hope that doesn't cause any identity problems later on!

 Fassbender? I hardly know 'er!

Fassbender? I hardly know 'er!

After we get past the heavy and muddy patch in the middle there is a brisk and furtive action-based conclusion, which is actually pretty brutal and nihilistic, which of course I like. We end being set up for the next sequel but it does feel like an appropriate closing point and I am genuinely interested to see what they do next, so job done.

Ultimately, this film has all the ingredients; nice set design, solid acting, intriguing characters. But it also has a couple of flaws that are holding it back and then there's a cloudiness around the central meaning of it all that keeps me from jumping in head first and accepting it.

Scott back to showing his directorial flair but still too many issues to really get away with it; 7/10

 

We did a whole season on the Alien franchise to build up to Covenant. Check it out here:
https://soundcloud.com/diminishing-returns/sets/alien-season