I must warn you that this essay will contain a spoiler for, “Alien: Covenant”. This will be a first and last bit of politeness you will get from me in this. Be prepared.
Addressing the failures and successes of , “Alien: Covenant” can also mean addressing the desire for gratification as a fan of the, “Alien” movies, if you are one. Case in point: the movie opens with a prologue showing the origins of David, an Android played by Michael Fassbender with a mix of uncanny naivety and lucidity, conversing with their creator about the nature of creation, life and death. During this, a score composed by Jed Kurzel plays, sounding like an absolute dead-ringer for the score of the original, “Alien”, with a title screen unfolding like that very movie. Cue a long shot on and within a ship traversing through space, with visuals that call to mind the sets and effects of the original movie, futuristic yet aged with use and banality. Then we are thrust into the story of a crew within that ship, tasked with taking themselves and 2000 other colonists to a planet years away, who are also reeling from a disaster which kills off space captain James Franco within 20 seconds (spoiler alert?). A distress call is picked up and the crew decides to make a detour to the source of the distress call, a planet that just so happens to seem inhabitable for human life, DESPITE Katherine Waterson as Daniels telling the captain and other crew members that it is not a good idea.
Then shit happens. Some of the most infuriating and aggravating kind. One by one the movie racks up homages and callbacks to the previous, “Alien” movies, mixing with the convoluted pretension of, “Prometheus”, leading to a moment that could very well ruin the mystique of the titular monster for a lot of people. Yes, they go there. All of that Wayland-Yutani business and references that are littered throughout, “Prometheus” has paid off in the form of a protracted creation story involving David and H.R. Giger’s iconic monster, in a movie that links to events from the first, “Alien” movie (I guess). Bet you regret pissing and moaning about the plot-holes and dopey hired professionals of, “Prometheus” now, huh?
Now I will concede that the movie does have moments of effective terror and even intellectual theming. That is, when the plot is not driven by a crew of people (tasked with the survival of the human species) being some of the clumsiest, most reckless and most irrationally self-interested monster fodder in a Sci-Fi blockbuster to date. For example: when the crew lands on the planet where the distress beacon comes from, there is a distressing lack of protocol. The crew fly on the planet wearing little more than stuff that would pass for hiking gear on earth, just with a few shiny things so one can squint their eyes and think they’re watching a movie set in the future. They do this while poking at everything on the surface with their unprotected fingers and arms because there is no possible way that a contagion could occur which could threaten the entire colony, right? No points for guessing that it does. Did I mention that the distress beacon is a song by John Denver, which one of the crew members instantly recognizes (David McBride as crew member Tennessee) and believes it to be from his dead wife, therefore urging everyone to go out of their way to rescue her? Because that’s the entire goddamn reason this all happens.
Anyway. “Alien: Covenant” finds a way to strip down the world-building of, “Prometheus” down to a simple, homoerotic clash between David and the colony’s android, Walter (also played by Michael Fassbender, and yes I said homoerotic). After a heated moment where a creature hatches from a doomed crew member, kills a few others and then gets chased away, the two discover each other and discuss religion, the desire to create and the passion to destroy, contra their supposed duties as servants of humankind. Now this is actually an interesting, compelling segway from the movie’s conventional bloodshed, serving as a great entry point to answers about events from the previous movie. A heady and character-based conflict augmenting the horrors that would lead to a final showdown with H.R. Giger’s famous creation, looking like a million bucks thanks to the cinematography of Dariuz Wolski, the costume design of Janty Yates and several others in makeup, production and art.
Or, it would have been compelling if the movie didn’t just drop all of it in favor of cynical fan service mixed with tropes straight out of a 1980s slasher flick. Hate it when pretty girls go all by themselves into dark places where the killer can get them? Well, this time, the killer is something that looks vaguely like the titular ebony monster! Wish the fucking crew members would stop touching shit like a little kid who has never been told the meaning of the word, “No”? How about gruesome body horror that also serves as a bloody equivalent of the famous human evolution timeline chart, but with the alien and with David pulling the strings the whole time? Wish that you were watching, “Aliens” and, “Alien 3” instead? Good, because here are two elaborate homages to sequences from those movies, but with their own twists! Seriously, they might as well have titled this movie, “Alien: Here’s The Stuff You Wanted From The Last Movie, Now Eat My Ass”. The entire running time the movie is contriving situations just to give the people what they want, and the end result is probably one of the most cynical attempts at showing people a monster since that last mainline movie with, “Alien” in the name, which I have already gritted my teeth into a fine, rage-induced powder over.
You know, it’s interesting, a lot of the problems in, “Prometheus” are also in this movie. The convoluted mythology draped with religious iconography and overtones. Professional people abandoning all sense even in situations where danger is clearly present. Nuggets of stuff from past movies and references to classic art so that even if the plot is a trainwreck, hardcore fans and psuedo-intellectuals can feel like they have been respected. All of that is here. But whereas, “Prometheus” aims high but falls short, “Alien: Covenant” seems content to just pick up various traits from other things and call itself its own thing. Nothing wrong with that in principle. Remixes can be good, remixes can be powerful, but there is a line between taking the stuff from other sources and making it all into something great, and serving the masses warmed over leftovers of stuff they liked years ago, with little else to distinguish the effort except privilege accrued from previous years of giving people what they wanted years ago.
If you enjoy this movie, I am happy for you. Really. I wish I can gel with this, feel happy about this movie being more simple in comparison to the last movie. I wish that seeing the movie recreate the survival-horror feel of, “Alien” and, “Alien 3”, spliced with attempts at philosophy mainstream moviemakers have been trying to get right since, “The Matrix”, would make me happy. But it doesn’t. I’m tired. I’m tired of being treated cynically with half-remembered re-creations of stuff that I love. I’m tired of seeing the labor of hundreds, if not thousands of people in the arts, harnessed into Hollywood’s dependence on past creations and properties whose debatable viability as tasks of basic franchise maintenance are skewed by people’s ability to fool themselves, at the expense of millions of people wondering where their next meal is coming from. I’m tired of how caught up entertainment is on hype based on a few mental heuristics of shit that seemed cool once upon a time, to the point where it feels like the consumer is given a false fountain of youth through selective nostalgia. A simulacrum of entertainment and intellectualism that lies to the viewer and makes them feel more important than the creators apparently think you are.
“Aliens 3” at least has the courage to face the end, to confront the inglorious duty to struggle for life against nightmarish death, with a prison full of rapists and murderers on a shitty planet, no less! But between this and, “Prometheus”…I am just tired. Tired of the whole goddamn thing.
Your move, the rest of 2017.
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