Alien: Covenant

Okay, so let’s start from the place that the only reason this film exists is to make more money. Secondary to that, Ridley Scott said back during Prometheus times that he thought people would be dying to know where the engineer in the first film came from [personally I do not give a flying fuck nor does anyone I know], so in that film we started to get this whole ponderous history that no one cared about. Everyone hated that there was no alien in the Alien movie, but to just throw out all that Prometheus stuff and have a scary monster movie would be like admitting defeat, so what we have here is more creation-centric philosophy melded with a story in which people get regularly killed by an alien. Thanks for your dollars!

That said, it’s still entertaining, looks great, and the philosophical stuff is more immediate, grounded and interesting. We have a crew of colonists on their way to a new planet who experience an unexpected space storm [no mission ever plans for these space storms or meteorites or anything?], which wakes them early. Numerous elements are precisely the same from the original film, including the distress signal, the sudden new planet, the atmosphere of constant storms, the abandoned alien ship…. Eventually the new crew meet David, the android from Prometheus, who ended up here after the shenanigans of the last film.

Now, you may have heard that the characters here make dumb decisions, but let me clarify that they actually make monumentally idiotic decisions that anyone with even a fifth-grade education would not make. Not only do they enter the new planet with no helmets or protective gear, they go sloshing round in alien water. They put their faces near the bloody openings of people known to be infected. They are lax about getting infected blood all over them. And as you expect, bad things happen to them. Bad things which now have no set rules, as aliens can erupt from anywhere through any number of infectious routes, which is part of the point, but also dilutes the tension.

That said, we also see wayyy too much alien, and learn way too much about it, to the point where it is quite demystified. But this isn’t really a series about a scary alien anymore, it is now a series about an artificial intelligence who has come to despise humanity, and bides his time by performing experiments of a callous nature upon humanity. Once you readjust to the reality that questions of artificial intelligence are now the focus here, you can kind of get into it in that way. I was curious why Scott decided to direct Alien films himself instead of Blade Runner films, but in fact he is pursuing the themes of Blade Runner here, in terms of an artificial intelligence’s view of the humanity that created him, but that are inferior and vulnerable where he is not.

That said, the scary-creature-in-space part of the film is here, but it suffers, and is clearly just stapled onto the artificial intelligence story. Katherine Waterson is pretty good here, because she seems much more soft and vulnerable than Ripley was, but is able to go into battle because she simply has to. That said, some of this films’ action pieces start to verge on the ludicrous [having already passed the impersonal], the nadir being a silly climactic sequence with Waterson swinging around on a tether attached to the outside of an out-of-control spaceship in danger of crashing. The whole thing is so removed from reality—we have zero sense that anyone is actually in danger, let alone that anything more than a few pixels have been imperiled—that it’s hard to stay involved. The film has a few okay scares but the thrills come from the artificial intelligence story, and what the alien itself has become in this film is a bit cringeworthy. I did not need to know any more about it than that it is a scary alien that kills people, and all of the additional information we’ve gotten has only made it less interesting.

Still entertaining enough, and really does look fantastic [I was sorry it wasn’t in 3D]. It’s interesting, especially if you get into it as less of a scary thriller and more of an expansive philosophical sci-fi story about civilizations, creation and artificial intelligence. This series may have started as a scary thriller—and you may want a scary thriller—but you may also like expansive philosophical sci-fi. Lucky thing if you do.


11 thoughts on “Alien: Covenant

  1. You captured many of my own thoughts on this one, in particular the climax. Personally I’m fascinated with the Engineers and wanted to see and knwow more about them but I was content with enjoying a sci-fi thriller instead – but damn that climax… Like you said, no sense of danger or peril, it’s more like watching someone play a video game. I was a little surprised by how bad the CGI was on the aliens, when the ships and other special effects are really breathtaking. I dunno, I love the Alien series and hope it goes on for a long time but I don’t think Ridley Scott is the man to keep it going anymore, his vision is completely compromised, Covenant only felt like a half-baked continuation of the series’ themes before becoming a slasher movie. I mean, in the second half, replace the zenomorph with Jason Voorhees and it’s pretty much the same thing.


    • As I said after Exodus: Gods and Kings, I really don’t understand why Scott makes movies anymore–and is pumping them out like a demon. I dont; really care about the Engineers, but David is a fascinating character, and now the series is really about him and his pet and bodyguard, the alien. Maybe Scott and the AI story he wants to tell should go in one direction, while he lets other directors handle scary alien stories.


  2. There’s definitely a sense that Scott had to compromise and move away from David / Engineers / mythology and more into slam-bang scary-haunted-ship territory to appease audiences, much to the enjoyment of exactly nobody.

    And yes I agree re: Scott, he commands these great budgets and does some amazing work with special effects, and yet all of his movies now are just “meh but it looked really good” at best. There’s also something really arrogant about peppering your new movie with a bunch of homages to your own movie – reminding people of a masterpiece is not going to reflect well on your current movie lol


  3. As much as I love the xenomorph (the best movie monster ever invented), all of this stuff is just getting too familiar to thrill me. It seems to me that the first alien savored the terror it evoked, taking its time with its victims (remember the jaw display in the shuttle?), which made it even more terrifying. The aliens that have followed are simply maniacal killing machines with no sense of style. Admittedly, there was a touch of playfulness in the shower with that invading tail, almost as if the creature was inviting itself to a three-way, and then it got down to business again. Seeing these movies make me wonder if I’m growing numb to cinematic experience, but then I see something like “The Red Turtle”, which carries me off with it.


    • I thought the shower moment was a little dirty… the tail comes up between her legs and gives her a little tap right there. Hmmm. As for the original alien taking time with its victims… did you ever see Pumpkinhead? It’s a superior little horror monster film with a good story rooted in folklore, and a monster that definitely plays with its victims.


      • I think even that was a callout to the original film (among many) when the alien’s tail curled up against Veronica Cartwright’s leg for what appeared to be special treatment of its first female victim. And yes, I did see “Pumpkinhead”, and agree that its Gigeresque monster definitely enjoyed its work. Interesting that it became increasingly humanoid, and its “master” more grotesque, as the process of revenge played out.


  4. Did you guys think the dynamic between David and Walter is a rip off of Data and Lore from Next Generation? The decisions Billy Crudup’s captain makes are not just stupid, trusting someone he’s just called the devil but dereliction of duty for a captain to not radio to his crew that he’s responsible for. You just want to slap the script writer and Scott.
    Totally agree with the demystifying of the alien weakening or even ruining it. Remeber houw much more interesting Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter were when we knew less about them? The mystery of the original movie should have been maintained. Einstein taught us:”The greatest thing we can experience is the mysterious.” The aliens, the Derelict ship, the Space Jockey should not have been spoiled. And having the Space Jockey turn out to be a guy in a suit when Giger clearly intended it to be an cyborg attached to the chair and the ship was insulting and unbelievably lazy. But the Engineers where kind of interesting in the abstract but we don’t get to learn about why they created mankind and why they now want to destroy it. David and Shaw going to their homeworld would have been a much better starting point. The way Scott managed to piss both camps of fans is a sort of perversely genius but not helping him at the box office.


    • Not sure if it’s a “ripoff” of Data and Lore, but it does amount to a similar dynamic. But I agree that all the demystifying is unnecessary… I didn’t need ANY additional information about the alien, the engineers, the space jockey… I especially think the alien as a “biological weapon” is extremely boring. Why can’t it just be a piece of life with a nasty survival instinct and that is very hard to kill?


  5. Yes, boring and illogical. They would be very inefficient as weapons compared to nukes or germ warfare, and hard to direct towards targets. It’s sad that Scott put so little thought into these movies which given his age will sum up the end of his career. David and Walter were meant to evoke Cain and Abel but I think Data and Lore were to begin with. And Scott doesn’t think we expect the switch?That’s Roland Emmerich level bad storytelling! What does he think he’s adding to the mythos vs what he’s sacrificed?


    • The Xenos would be terrible weapons because, as you said, impossible to control. You could have them kill off an enemy, but then how would they kill all the Xenos? The whole thing is just silly and unnecessary. In terms of what Scott thinks he adding to the mythos… honestly, I think at this point he’s just in it for the money, although what he would need any more money for is the question. His films for the past few years have just been so dull and pointless [I keep coming back to the horrid Exodus]. I think he just couldn’t bear to make a straight-up scary movie, so they threw on all the pointless added [attempt at] mythos in order to avoid the feeling he’s simply doing a remake.


  6. This movie plays to me like more an unofficial sequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein than an official sequel to Alien, in which the Monster picks up where Victor left off (assembling new life forms out of bits of existing ones), so much so that calling this one Prometheus instead of its predecessor would be a little too on the nose. I found the chestburster scene (take that, Prefontaine!) with its tone and content (the little xeno’s mimicry of David’s movements) eerie and downright haunting.

    That said, I agree that the movie is unnecessary, and its retconning depiction of the xeno as a creature intended to take on Earth’s ecosystem a mistake.


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