Alien Covenant: Sifting through the debris when movies collide

Ridley Scott, styled “The elderly Ridley Scott” by Red Letter Media in their YouTube review, attempted to resurrect his creative ability after the abominable Prometheus. The result is an ugly mosaic from the debris of two movies. One of them should have been made. (BTW spoiler alert, and I use links to explain certain concepts if you want more information).

That one, a sci-fi horror featuring an android obsessed with creation and a hatred of the humans who made him, entrapping the crew of a colonizing ship and conducting hideous genetic experiments on them. David, the android from Prometheus played by Michael Fassbender, is living on a planet he managed to fly to with Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) on board an Engineer spacecraft after the events of Prometheus. The Engineers are/were the sentient creators of humans, and it turns out that they created a black goo on one of their science planets that fuses with DNA to make monsters. This is the substance David plays with to eventually create the Xenomorphs.

This movie would have been brilliant. There would have been gnawing tension because we suspect David’s intentions, and Fassbender does a great job playing a composed ‘synthetic‘, and having crew members picked off one by one and then killed in slow, grissly experiments would have been a terrifying spectacle. No, it would not have been pleasant to watch, but it would have had a unified theme, and  have taken the series somewhere new. Lot’s more scenes with android David talking to android Walter, both played by Fassbender, which provided the best moments in the movie.

Alas, the second movie crashed into the first. This is a rehash of the original Alien, and it took place in the final 25 minutes. The iconic xenomorph is finally burst forth, and gets on board the ship that the last surviving crew manage to fly back to. Here Daniels “Dany” Branson (played by Katherine Waterston), the senior officer and wife of the late Captain Jacob “Jake” Branson — played by James Franco who is incinerated at the film opens — becomes Ripley-ish by luring the alien into the cargo bay and blasting it out of the airlock. A fine dose of nostalgia, but crammed into 25 minutes as it is deprives it of what is most effective about the original movie. THE PACE! It is slow, and like Jaws the monster isn’t really seen until the end. The imagination of the audience can conjour things that no amount of cgi can match. Turn out the lights and the imagination does the rest. That is why Alien is scary.

Alien Covenant needed to be either one of these movies. Either an Ex Machina – Human Centipede fusion that explores the meaning of creation and destruction, with a dash of human bravery, or a retro homage to 1979’s Alien. But trying to do both simply does not work. It is definitely better than Prometheus, by a big margin, but that raises the bar an inch off the ground.

Just why there was a weird collision of two different movies is unclear, but the answer probably rests on studio expectations — they paid for the iconic Alien so there must be the nostalgia soup at the end — but if Ridley Scott wanted to go in another direction he surely had the sway to do it.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t good moments, and as I have mentioned the Fassbender scenes are great — particularly when he kisses himself — and the Kane and Abel theme between the two androids culminating in a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost: “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.” The duality of the androids is the most interesting part, forget the Aliens — they are actually boring and anticlimactic in comparison.

David’s rooms on the planet where he has spent ten years doing his experiments to create the “perfect organism” which has wiped out all life on the planet, are like the abode of Leonardo da Vinci, with models, preserved specimens, and anatomical drawings on the walls. In here is the preserved corpse of Dr Shaw, her abdomen exploded out, suggesting he used her to create an early chestburster. In one of the better scenes in Prometheus she gives birth by caesarean to a kind of facehugger, so her character being a guinea pig for David, and the mother of the Xenomorph completes her character development. Early in Prometheus she laments her infertility. It is her most powerful character motivation.

Really, what would be interesting would be to take all the material from Prometheus and Covenant and cut them together into one film, The Tragedy of Elizabeth Shaw. As it is all we have is a field of confused debris from colliding movies and a filmmaker who forgot how to create.