Alien: Covenant (2017)
Written by John Logan, D.W. Harper
Directed by Ridley Scott
Ten years after the events of Prometheus, a colony ship named The Covenant is traveling from Earth to a new planet carrying over 2000 colonists in cryosleep. An ion storm forces the crew to wake and deal with ship repairs. In the fracas, a crew member dies, and the rest are less than excited about going back under. Just their luck they intercept a faint transmission from a planet that never seemed to come up in any company surveys. The captain makes the decision to investigate, and thus the crew of the Covenant crosses paths with the aftermath of the last film and the beginnings of a new franchise….I guess.
Some people might be surprised with the seeming recent poor track record of Ridley Scott, but sadly I’m not. I remember not getting on the Gladiator bandwagon back in 2000 and then really hating Hannibal (2001). There is something really generic about Scott’s films when you look at the plot and characters. When we think about Blade Runner or Legend, what comes to my mind is the production design. There aren’t strong characters or even plots that are original. He’s sort of been able to coast off of production design work for decades.
Alien: Covenant feels like a terminal point in so many depressing ways. In the wake of poor reactions to Prometheus (another film with remarkable production design but some of the worst character development I’ve ever seen)., Scott decided to turn around and make a straight up Alien film. The result is a mishmash of tropes from the franchise with very little connective tissue. Not once did I care about a single character’s death in a film that spends its first 45 minutes trying to make us care about these characters and feel the tension building.
In attempting to recreate the tension of the original Alien film we have a vessel on its way to one point for a mission, getting diverted by a mysterious distress signal. But, we also a crew with some military training so the cast is larger like Aliens. We have the xenomorph killed by pushing it out into the vacuum of space…again. But, there’s also the weird themes of religion and creation from Prometheus jammed in there. It all adds up to nothing, the film fails to say anything about these ideas that we haven’t already heard.
The moment the first alien emerges from its host all the tension and buildup just fizzles. It looks blatantly computer generated, the lighting in the scene doesn’t do it any favors, and the whole moment doesn’t play out as scary, but silly. Characters begin reacting in completely ridiculous ways and wandering off by themselves, even after they have witnessed crewmates being slaughtered by monsters. Their behavior suddenly becomes bad horror film 101. I swear there was even a moment where the xenomorph is crawling over a ladder, and the spines on it’s back literally clipped through the wall, like a moment out of a video game that was rushed to market without fixing bugs.
The focus of the plot is shifted roughly in the middle of the film. After we spend the first half with the crew of the Covenant, the film attempting to build stakes with these people, Scott decides to make this a straight up sequel to Prometheus by making it a movie about David (Michael Fassbender). The movie does a terrible job of keeping us caring about the Covenant crew because it is so intent on trying to say something profound through the character of David. Yet, whatever the film was trying to say fell just as flat as the profundity of Prometheus. Scott doesn’t have the ability to balance the spectacle and the philosophy, and in this particular movie, they are dismal.
David speaks about the xenomorph as the “perfect organism” which doesn’t make any sense to me. We never get his definition of “perfect.” The xeno depends on animal life to reproduce and immediately attacks anything living without thought. These two aspects alone make it sound incredibly less than perfect. An organism that could reason with others would be able to survive a hell of a lot better than something that just mindlessly kills and consumes. But, this is just one of many places where Scott uses big words without any big ideas behind them.
Alien: Covenant lived up to my expectations in the wake of Prometheus. I’m not happy about it or have any “I told you so” glee. I just wish the creators behind this film had an understanding of what makes the first film so scary and the second so exciting. They weren’t throwing everything at the wall and hoping it stuck. They had a clear vision of how to present the characters and knew that if we cared about them, then the xenos would be that much more terrifying. At this point, Ridley Scott doesn’t seem like he really has much to say anymore and if he does, he appears to be incapable of articulating it.