Thoughts on Alien: Covenant

I did not enjoy this movie very much. I don’t appreciate what Ridley Scott has done with Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant. Here’s why:

While the plot of Alien and its sequel Aliens begs for an interesting back story, I believe the one crafted by Scott and his crew of writers is overly contrived. As movie making technology improves in the form of better CGI and other special effects, I’m sure that the impulse to make full use of these wonders is overpowering. And indeed, the effects are impressive, but it seems to me they also feed unnecessarily into the story line. Just think of the simplicity of 1979′s Alien: a ragtag crew of space truckers happens upon a distress signal and one of the crewmembers is infected with a malevolent parasite. As the movie unfolds, we find that there are other sinister forces at work. Mother, the ship’s computer, and the behemoth corporation she represents, soon reveals that the signal was actually a warning to stay the hell away. The only directive is to preserve the alien specimen, at the expense of the crew if necessary. But before poor Kane is beset with the facehugger, we are treated to the magnificence of the derelict spacecraft’s brooding interior. Not one of the subsequent films adequately recaptures the power of that scene: walls that are ribbed with an integrated latticework of otherworldly secretions, a spooky haze floating above a floor that promises treachery, leathery eggs whose amniotic fluid drips upward, and just the sheer immensity of the cathedral-like space itself. And then there’s the space-jockey. What mighty race of beings could fall victim to a creature that destroys its victims from the inside? I have always wondered if the giant figure was reclining at the helm of the craft or on an operating table in a sick bay ward when he met his gruesome demise. When I saw this film for the first time as a 16-year old, I was completely creeped out by the scenes in the alien ship, and their effects have not been duplicated since. And when the crew lowered Kane into the hole, I thought why? why go any further? get the hell out! My sentiments would be echoed moments later by the character Lambert.

Seven years later, Aliens was released, and James Cameron moved the plot along with convincing simplicity. He came very close to recapturing the dark and haunting vibe of Alien. The point is, however, that the story was not needlessly complex. Aliens revisited the theme of corporate and political evil by manipulating a terraforming family into unwittingly hosting the alien embryos, and the film plods forward from there. But in my opinion, these two movies did not deserve the treatment they got with the prequels Prometheus and Covenant. In those films, I believe too much is made of the android story line. Admittedly, the theme of artificial intelligence and machine learning, along with its many moral implications, is an intriguing one, but it struck me as clumsy and unnecessary.  Many would disagree, since Ash’s collusion with Mother in Alien was integral to the plot. However, I prefer to interpret that alliance as a sort of one-off that was the result of increasing entropy in Ash’s programming.

The beauty of Alien-Aliens lies in their simplicity: an insidious and devilishly resilient creature needs hosts to survive and procreate. Any warm-blooded host will do, so keep your distance. In this sense, the alien is like any other living being; pass along your genes at any cost. Survive. A more interesting back story, I think, would have examined the evolution of such creatures, but that probably does not have mass cinematic appeal. Seems there was a rumor at some point that one of the prequels was not going to have any human dialog, and would merely provide exposition for the creatures’ beginnings and the need that drove them into the beyond in search of hosts.

Now that would have been cool.

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