Look, if you are one of the seemingly endless amounts of people who didn´t like Prometheus then I can tell you now you are probably not going to Alien: Covenant either. This is because no matter what the title or poster suggests, this is very much the film set after Prometheus rather than the film set before Alien. The main reason given for people´s hatred of Prometheus is that the characters all do stupid things, and if that was your reason then, like I said, Alien: Covenant is going to annoy you all over again because it is populated by more people doing more stupid things.
That whole stupid characters thing always bugged me. Partly because when you are are in times of great stress then you often DO do stupid things: for example I have frequently not ran out of the way of a falling spaceship, but my excuse was I was in a state of panic because a spaceship was falling on my head. What did you expect? I´m never going to be able to defend the guys who did the mapping of the Space Jockey´s ship and then couldn´t find their way out but to be honest I don´t care. I am a died in the wool, hard core horror fan and characters being idiots is my bread and butter. If they didn´t act like fools then Jason would never kill anyone. Brett in the orignal Alien was a bloody idiot for looking for Jones the cat but no one has a fanny fit about that do they? Alien: Covenant certainly has its fair share of dumbness (two people slip over on the same pool of blood for God´s sake) and there is a moment late in the film which seems more like a rip off from an Alien rip-off than something directed by Sir Ridley Scott but I´ll get to that in a bit.
Maybe the worst problem isn’t that they are stupid but that most of the characters aren´t characters at all, or at least aren´t developed in any way of note. No matter what you thought of Idris Elba and Charlize Theron´s characters in Prometheus at least you knew quite a lot about them. Here there are a number of characters who you can barely recognise as crew members before they´ve been eaten or dribbled on. I suspect that the 18 minutes of deleted scenes coming to the Blu Ray will sketch these people out a little better and you can at least work out who they are if you watch The Last Supper which was a five minute short released before the film which should really have been at the beginning of it.
However, these problems are by the by though. Yeah i know I have said before about the importance of character in order to care for the story but we do have some interesting individuals here and most importantly there is an awful lot of good. Like Prometheus what we are left with is, once again, an ambitious, haunting, beautiful but flawed horror science fiction movie that weighs more heavily on the horror this time than the sci fi of the last prequel.
This emphasis on horror is important. Apparently last time Ridley Scott felt that after all the sequels and verseses the concept of the Alien had run its course, so tried to do something different. Instead of the old dark house in space he went for a more cerebral action sci fi that mused on the origins of humanity and what it means to be a creator. Various last minute rewrites may have muddled those ideas somewhat but it didn’t stop the film from being an interesting discussion on birth, life and death. The look and feel was very much what the future and space could look like. Between the bright, beautiful people, their clothes, the ship and even, initially, the planet they land on , Scott was creating a science fiction universe where technology could be used to explore the origins of humanity and the posibilities of its existance going forward. Alien: Covenant is the flip-side to this. Everything is dirty and dark. The planet the crew land on might seem like it could be paradise but it becomes very quickly apparent that it is in fact hell.
Beyond the usual pods and eggs you’d expect to find on an Alien planet there is also Michael Fassbender’s crazy android David who clearly has far too much time by himself and, if he wasn’t already one circuit short of a ZX Spectrum before he certainly is now. Despite the welcome return of the H. R. Giger designed xenomorph the real monster here is David who has done some unspeakable things since the last film, some of which are only hinted at here (we are never fully sure what he did to Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw) and what he has in store for the crew of the Covenant isn’t any better. The home David has made for himself is truly hellish, from the literal with charred bodies reaching out from the ground towards the heavens like some kind of renaissance landscape to the weird little lab/bedroom he lives in.
David is the main fully realised character on display, along with perhaps his replacement Walter. David is confused that he thinks he is playing god, trying to create life like Doctor Frankenstein (he even quotes what he thinks is Byron when what it is is Shelly, the husband of the author of Frankenstein) but really he is just the monster. The opening of the film shows David discussing creation with his maker and the main themes of the movie are set up here, as well as following on from Prometheus. Alien: Covenant might have the sheen of a blockbuster but what it really is a meditation on life and who has the right to create it.
It really is a pity that the rest of the characters are so underdeveloped as we are left to either root for David or against him, rather than for the final girl. That’s not to say that Katherine Waterston doesn’t do her best because she does, but we don’t know much about her other than her husband dies very early on. This at least is one area where the characters do come alive, even if it is a bit unclear as to who they all are at various points: the spaceship Covenant is carrying colonists to new worlds and the crew themselves are mostly couples. The upshot of this is when one member dies there is serious grief from at least one other crew member, it would have been nice to establish which person was with who at the start of the film though. For example it wasn’t til after the film was over that I realised there was a gay couple on the ship.
The one truly ridiculous part of Alien: Covenant has to be the sex in the shower scene that you probably saw in the trailers. If it happened near the beginning it might have been bad enough but it happens right before the oh-its-not-really-dead extra climax. I’m as big a fan of sex in the shower as the next man who saw An American Werewolf in London as a youth, but if 90% of my crew mates had just been killed on a weird alien planet there’s no way I would be in the mood for some wet and wild times orbiting said planet about ten minutes later. Add into that that the scene feels lifted from Galaxy of Terror, itself a rip-off of Alien in the first place and you have to wonder what anyone was thinking when they wrote, shot and edited that scene.
Oh I don’t care that much really. Alien: Covenant is still head and shoulders above the Alien Vs Predator movies and is way more engaging than Alien: Resurrection (not hard admittedly) so its alright in my books. I’m not saying it isn’t flawed, and I’m certainly not saying it isn’t deeply stupid at points, because it definitely is, but I still really enjoyed it all the same. It was brimming with interesting ideas and beautifully dark imagery. it won’t go down as a classic like Alien or Aliens but it will certainly exist on my shelves next to other expensive and messy follies that I still love like Event Horizon, The Keep or Lifeforce and that, my friends, is okay by me.
God I love Lifeforce. Must watch that again sometime. Hey its my birthday, maybe I’ll watch it tonight…