Published on May 26th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Ridley Scott is back with another Alien movie, a dilution of the franchise we don’t want to happen, but are powerless to look away from.
I didn’t like Prometheus. Heck, I don’t really like Ridley Scott. For me, Prometheus felt like a metaphor for Ridley Scott’s filmmaking — it looked incredible, but it rang foul with so much nonsense. Scott is an amazingly technically accomplished director, but most of his films, including some of the popular ones, are storytelling garbage fires. There are a couple of exceptions, primarily Blade Runner, and of course, Alien.
In this iteration, we find another spaceship crew, aboard the Covenant, a colony ship en route to their new planet. They accidently discover a planet that seems too good to be true and run afoul of mystery and violence.
Alien Covenant might have had a chance at being interesting, if I hadn’t seen five other Alien movies before it (I’m counting Prometheus in that number, but not the absolutely unwatchable Alien vs Predator movies). Alien Covenant, a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien, does nothing to push the franchise in new directions. In fact, as in Prometheus, it feels like Scott is more interested in some of the big questions about existence, than in where the xenomorphs (aliens for the uninitiated) themselves are headed.
Further to that, Scott is making the classic mistake of filling in too many of the origin details and ruining the myth. For other examples of this, see Wolverine or Hannibal Lector (it’s worth noting that Scott also directed Hannibal, one of the many garbage sequels to Silence of the Lambs). Hannibal Lector had less than 20 minutes of screen time in each Manhunter and Silence of the Lambs — he’s an enigmatic character that leaves you wanting more. Wolverine/Logan was also much cooler when all you knew were flashes of a horrible experiment, wondering just how they got the adamantium grafted to his skeleton, and knowing only a cloudy history of the berserker.
I don’t need to see where the xenomorphs came from. To quote Vasquez in Aliens, “All I need to know, is where…they…are.” They are terrifying, precisely because you don’t understand what they are, where they came from, or even, back in the day, what they fully looked like. Do I want to know more? My god, yes. If you were a certain age when the early Alien films came out, you pored over HR Giger drawings just to see more of these nightmare creatures. But to give me the ‘more’ that I so desperately crave is to take away those characters’ power and mythologies. Your imagination is so much more powerful than what they can spell out for you.
Why doesn’t this franchise look forward? Several of the original alien movies dealt with the company wanting to bring the xenomorphs to Earth for study, which no doubt would have disasterous consequences. Why isn’t a new Alien movie centred around the xenomorphs finally making it to Earth, where a clone of Ellen Ripley helps save humanity from being turned into organic birthing pods, or whatever? Maybe that’s not the right idea, and you could argue that they’d just make it a crummy CGI destruction pornfest, but it was always the Alien movie I wanted to see as a kid, the next logical iteration.
From outer space to planet side, Alien Covenant looks amazing. I really do often find myself begrudgingly admitting that Scott is a brilliant visual craftsman. There are moments in Covenant where my breath was taken away, sucked into a theatre screen vista. Some of the alien CGI was not convincing, but most everything else was universe creation.
The cast is also very good, with the exception of Danny McBride. I normally find him funny in an obnoxious way, but you could feel him acting. Michael Fassbender, on the other hand — I have a man crush on him that is the stuff of legend. To see him in the dual roles of David and Walter, even playing them differently, was inspired. Katherine Waterston is believable as this film’s Ripley substitute and Billy Crudup does a good job as a sort of bewildered dummy ship’s captain. As in Prometheus, but to a lesser degree, these actors have the burden of mediocre writing on their backs, the task of acting like smart people doing stupid things.
On that note though, I am happy to report that this movie was much better than Prometheus. Some are calling it the best Alien movie after the first two. I don’t think I’d go that far. I’d throw Fincher’s Alien3 above it, even if that was a bit of a navel gazing retread of Aliens. And after that, saying Covenant is better than the rest isn’t saying much. It wasn’t terrible or anything — it just wasn’t a necessary addition to this universe.
I did rewatch Alien and Aliens last week in anticipation of this one, which reminded me how amazing those movies are. Even a guy in a rubber suit in the first one is much, much, much scarier than anything in Covenant. A barrage of sequels is a compliment to the timelessness of a classic movie, but lesser sequels, especially those that try to over explain the myths, can be an irony that picks and tears away at the very fabric of what made the original special. Let’s hope that Scott doesn’t go on to dilute the power of Alien too greatly. I still want those nightmares to haunt me.