Back in March on the opening night of SXSW, Ridley Scott brought along the primary cast as well as around 30 minutes of footage from Alien: Covenant. During that presentation, which I wrote about HERE if you’d like to read that, Ridley made it clear that the character of David, portrayed stunningly by Michael Fassbender, was his new muse and the actual heart of his new “Alien” movies. I use quotations because Alien: Covenant and Prometheus before it, are clear examples that Ridley has little to no interest in the xenomorph at all and coupled with that lack of interest is a boderline lack of respect not only for the xenomorph but also the audience who just can’t wait to lap it all up.
Here’s the thing. In my opinion, I’m with Ridley on this. Having been a staunch Prometheus supporter since opening night some odd years ago, my biggest beefs with that film have always been how shoehorned in all of the Alien stuff is. Scott has long been obsessed with artificial intelligence and it’s place in this world and those are clearly the stories he wants to tell. He’s fascinated with the idea of the created destroying it’s creator and goddamnit I love him for it.
Yet now, we’re delivered Alien: Covenant; a film half concerned with building upon the story and ideas set out by Prometheus and the other half spent regurgitating “Alien 101” in hopes of appeasing those whole feel ever so wronged by the lack of the xenomorphs in the previous film. Now we’re stuck with a film completely at odds with itself for the clear sake of fan service over telling something new and compelling.
It’s truly such a shame that so much of Alien: Covenant feels so well worn and unnecessary because all of the non-Alien moments continue upon Prometheus‘ high points. The dichotomy between creator and the creation is infinitely more interesting than ships going boom and nameless humans yelling at each other in the depths of peril. Unfortunately the film is constantly at odds with what it wants to be leaving it a poor continuation of the film before it and at the same time being an extremely mediocre Alien film in the process
Covenant picks up 10 years after the events of Prometheus. A series of unfortunate events leave this latest ship of hapless space wanderers diverting from their mission and landing on a seemingly perfect planet. Up until this moment the planet had been completely off their radar. Upon arrival it’s not long before they become menaced and murdered in a variety of ways you’ve seen before and seen done better by the director himself. Thankfully David shows up and gives the film some much needed brilliance and nuance and terror. At least until it decide it needs to be an Alien movie again.
It’s a legitimate shame that Fassbender performances are muddled by such an uneven film. Here in dual roles as the android with a god complex David and a newer model Walter, who has been created slightly different to his predecessor out of fears that the David models were too lifelike and far too undpredictable. Fassbender is able to tackle layer upon layer between the two and it’s truly mesmerizing. As David, Fassbender is able to channel far more dread and terror than any single moment than a xenomorph or neomorph can muster. There’s a cave of experiments that David has been collecting over the past ten years that not only succeeds as being truly haunting but it also manages to feel like the original Alien in terms of tone and atmosphere.
While Scott’s care for the xenomorph is so little, it’s somehow even less for the humans here. The only identying traits found within this crew are how they have spouses and how they are sad when those spouses die. A few have haircuts and one has a hat. Other than that, next to no time is spent understanding anything about these characters which begs the question why even have them be such a focus if all you want to do is kill them off anyway? Through an oddly placed flashback David details the ten years between the destruction of the Prometheus and it’s crew and how he got to this point and that brief story is a million times more interesting than seeing a giant crew of personality-less humans get dispersed in varying, far from creative ways. It furher cements my belief that Scott’s only interest is in David. Everything else on display is meaningless.
One thing that even Prometheus‘ most ardent detractors would often make a caveat would be that the film at least looked gorgeous, which it does. Scott notoriously knows how to make a movie look like a million bucks, even if what’s inside is absolute garbage. Here, in Alien: Covenant though, is a near absolute lack of that visual flair. While the opening scene and the planet landing have that skill and awe that one would expect, the rest is basically a mess. There’s shaky cam early and often which seems especially cheap when we all know Ridley can create suspense nearly effortlessly when its needed. There’s also some borderline hokey moments that just feel like they belong in a straight to video Starship Troopers sequel than an Alien movie (looking directly at you, shower scene). I also can not stress just how terrible much of the CGI is in the film. Nearly 40 years ago Scott used practical effects in a way that still floors moviegoers. Here is just shoddy effect on top of shoddy effect iliciting nothing more than indifference and disapponitment. The xenomorph has never looked worse, and yes I’m including the AVP films in that.
So, just as many of Scott’s tales have unfolded across his career, his creation has come to swallow him up whole. Scott is now stuck somewhere between telling a story he wants and appeasing the masses with his arguably most prolific and beloved creation. For his sins of creativity he was repaid with backlash and now has offered up a sacrifice both bland and uninspiring. Alien: Covenant is too caught up trying to appease fans of the franchise at the cost of exploring something truly worthwhile and leaves the film a confused and boring mess. The opening scene of Prometheus taught us that humankind was a mistake. When naysayers are capable of crippling creativity in such a way, I’m very much inclined to agree.
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 1.2/ Acting: 2.5 (altough Fassbender gets 5+)/ Directing: 2/ Visuals: 3
OVERALL: 1 Nerdskull
Check out the trailer below:
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