In space, no one can hear you groan.
Alien is one of my all-time favorite films, something I watch a couple times a year. It never gets old, because it's basically perfect. The science fiction is good, the horror is good--and they are really well integrated. That's rare in film. Most of the time, "science fiction" is just a backdrop for stories that are, in essence, horror or action films. But with Alien, the science fictional and the horrifying are equal partners. The keystone, if you will, is the discovery of an alien species on a distant planet--and the covert decision by Weyland Enterprises, owner of the Nostromo, to exploit--and if possible weaponize--the discovery. Then shit hits the fan.
In 2012, director Ridley Scott returned to the franchise he had launched with the prequel Prometheus, which tells the story of a starship crew seeking out the "Engineers," an alien species you'll recognize from the crash site at the beginning of Alien. Along with being terrible, Prometheus had the ignoble goal of literalizing the subtle metaphor represented by the Engineers in the 1979 film. There, the crashed spaceship--far more advanced than anything possessed by humans--warned of hubris in the face of the invasive xenomorph species. But, in Prometheus, the Engineers are transformed into blah blah kill the humans something something.
Alien: Covenant goes one step further in undermining the genius of Alien--this time by transforming the xenomorphs from reflection of the quintessentially human assumptions of mastery of nature into the science project of a mad android. To which all I can say is:
I'll never for the life of me understand why Hollywood directors can't leave well enough alone--like Han shooting first or making the Death Star vulnerability the deliberate ploy of a guilty engineer rather than embodiment of an empire's megalomania and arrogance. But this is far worse than those examples. At least Rogue One was a good film.
Alien: Covenant is not. After the first 45 minutes or so, it is entirely predictable, tedious and by the numbers rehash of every other monster survival film you've ever seen, including all previous entries in the Alien series. And as much as I love Michael Fassbender, David the android sucks.
This is made worse by the fact that, for the first 45 minutes, Alien: Covenant teases that it might actually be a pretty good science fiction film. There is real drama, related to the dangers of spaceflight, which is far more compelling than the sub-AVP crap it degenerates into. (At least AVP was funny!)
And so Alien: Covenant made me realize a few things. One, that there will never be another good Alien film, and certainly none directed by Ridley Scott. Two, that directors and film studios need to realize that science fiction is compelling in and of itself, but in order for that to be the case, "science fiction" needs to be more than just a setting for other kinds of films. That's not a dig at sci-fi/horror; it is a dig at a film industry that can't conceive of the sci-fi without the horror.
Baseline Assessment: 3/10.
Bonuses: +1 for a good first 45 minutes or so; +1 for Danny McBride was actually pretty good in a non-comedic role.
Penalties: -1 for but it was garbage from that point on; -1 for revising canon in a way that undermines some of the best themes of the original.
Nerd Coefficient: 3/10. "Very little good I can say about this."
POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a Feather founder/administrator, since 2012.
2021 Hugo Award Winner: Best Fanzine / 2023 Ignyte Award Finalist: Critics Award
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