Oh greetings tiny space friends, what’s crackin’?
Since topical always seems to be good, I figured it would be a good time for little old Robin to pop on in with my thoughts about Alien: Covenant.
Now. For the sake of transparency, I’m completely biased to the Alien franchise. It’s got a very special place in my heart, because I remember so clearly watching it and being so struck by the cold and primal nature of the film and of the xenomorphs, a struggle that is so ancient – life or death. Also, Ripley is kind of my number one girl crush for forever.
Both of my cats are named after characters from the Alien franchise (Ripley and Hicks), and my home is strewn with various pieces of Alien related ephemera. So, this article is going to be obviously somewhat slanted, however, not so slanted that I am unable to comment on the very obvious and very glaring surface flaws of Alien: Covenant.
About a year about I posted a review of Prometheus which sort of details how I feel about the Ridley Scott continuation of the series. Now, largely speaking, the whole of the internet, and fandom in general WERE NOT fans of the Prometheus film, and as mentioned before, I can totally understand why. It left a lot more questions than answers, and at points, some of the deleted scenes would have made the goddamn film make so much more sense – I’m thinking in particular of a deleted scene where David the robit speaks to an Engineer at great length before the Engineer goes apeshit and kills Dr. Weyland and rips David’s head off. In the theatrical release, the conversation doesn’t happen. The Engineer just wakes up cranky. I don’t know whose call it was to cut that bit from the film, be it Hollywood or Ridley Scott or a combo of both, but it really fucked with the consistency.
We’ve talked about it on the podcast before where Ridley Scott seems to make some questionable choices and say some pretty questionable things so who knows.
Anywho, strap in (and strap it on) for my review of Alien: Covenant.
THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR ALIEN COVENANT
IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS, GO SEE THE FILM
THEN COME BACK
The film opens a with prologue of Guy Pearce, in slightly less ridiculous looking old person makeup, talking to the earliest incarnation of David, the creepy ass synthetic human from Prometheus, played by my main man and huge dick owner Michael Fassbender.
David has been created to be more human like, and as such is able to be creative, he plays Wagner’s Das Rheingold (Entry of the Gods Into Valhalla) for his master and seems to stare vacantly at him (more on this later). He’s also wearing tight as fuck white pants that perfectly outline his gorgeous ass (more on this later).
In 2104, the colony ship Covenant is on its way to an Earthlike planet called Oregai-6. The ship is monitored by a synthetic human named Walter, who resembles David in appearance, though not in voice or demeanor. The ship contains several thousand colonists and viable embryos. A neutrino burst hits the ship and severely damages pieces of the ship, and some of the crew cryo tubes. Walter awakens the crew and as the captain’s tube tries to open, it malfunctions and becomes his fiery funeral pyre as he is burned alive inside his cryo tube. The captain of the Covenant, Jacob Branson is burned alive, as his wife Daniels “Dany” watches helplessly.
Oram, the ship’s first mate, and supposed second choice due to his Christian faith, takes over the duties as the captain of the ship.
As a space funeral is held for the body of Jacob Brandon, and repairs are done to the Covenant ship, Walter detects a human signal coming from a nearby planet and the signal seems to contain a human female voice.
Daniels mourns the fact that she and her husband Jacob will no longer be able to build a cabin on the lake of their new home.
As the crew traces the signal back to where it originates from, they discover the planet that it is coming from is even more habitable than the Oregai-6 planet they were headed to for colonization. A quick decision is made to investigate this signal and the planet it comes from as a potential to colonize, in favor over the seven odd years of hypersleep that would be required to make the journey to Oregai-6.
What you notice pretty much immediately is the stiffness of the Walter android. He does not behave with any of the human like characteristics of the David model. His voice is monotone, betraying little emotion, and he does what he is told with a great sense of duty.
As the Covenant begins to get closer to the unknown planet, Daniels expresses her objection to going to the planet, saying that this deviation from the original plan which had been extensively run through a simulation. Oram takes her objection in stride and largely ignores it (big mistake, and obvious throw back to how everyone ignores anything Ripley says in pretty much all of the Alien films).
A drop ship (throw back to Aliens), is sent down to make contact with the habitable planet. The crew embarks onto the planet to track the signal, and of course no one bothers to wear helmets or any variety of PPE.
Now, a good portion of this opening bit tries to force the viewer to become interested in any of the crew characters, and aside from mild interest in Daniels, and my obvious GREAT interest in Walter/Fassbender, everyone else on this mission is either boring or extremely stilted. The supposed religious fervor of Oram is largely underdeveloped. He makes a big statement of telling his wife that the reason he was passed over to be captain of the ship is due to the nature of his Christian faith and that he was seen as fanatical.
Okay, fine, that’s definitely a reason to pass up anyone to be captain of a SCIENCE based mission, to be sure, but this piece of dialogue set me up to think this character would behave like any fundamentalist evangelical Christian and be spouting misquoted lines of biblical dialogue at every turn, and unfortunately, this doesn’t really happen.
The set up delivers almost no pay off, sad to say, but more on this later. I seem to be saying that a lot, and that’s kind of par for the course given that Ridley Scott has been cock teasing the alien fandom for years with pretty much the exact same sentiment.
As the crew ventures onto the planet, Oram’s wife (the head biologist) decides to yuk it up and conduct a biological survey.. on a puddle.
The soldier that she keeps with her immediately gets bored and goes to smoke a joint (a nod to Fifield, the stoner geologist from Prometheus), and steps on some black mushroom looking things and a cloud of spores is released and immediately enters his ear and infects him with black goo.
Like in Prometheus, he starts to get sick, but the process is sped up from maybe a couple hours in Prometheus, to probably a few minutes, to maybe an hour. He gets super sweaty and collapses and Oram’s wife radios to her partner who has trekked up a goddamn mountain to find the busted up Engineer ship from Prometheus.
As the crew explores the ship, they find dogtags belonging to Elizabeth Shaw, and Walter recognizes her as the lead scientist from the Prometheus mission. The crew discovers that it was a hologram of her that was the source of the transmission that led them to the planet. More black goo is released from another black mushroom and it infects another crew member.
As Oram is informed that one of the crew back at the drop ship is sick, the group turns back to go and help.
The lead biologist lady, and Oram’s wife, drags her sick companion back to the drop ship and he starts vomiting up blood and seizuring, and once back on the ship, the other crew member quarantines the both of them in the medbay.
She was intially very reluctant to even let the pair on the ship, much like Ellen Ripley when Kane returns with a facehugger on his face, and much like Meredith Vickers in Prometheus.
A neomorph chestburster begins to extricate itself from the soldier, bursting instead through his spine before savaging the wife of captain Oram. The woman on board outside the medbay grabs a gun as the neomorph baby smashes its way out of the medbay and a fire fight ensues, as the woman blasts her gun off and accidentally detonates some gas tanks on board the ship.
The crew, including Daniels and Captain Oram and Walter arrive just in time to see the drop ship explode into flame, and the other infected soldier begins to have a seizure and another neomorph bursts out of his spine.
As chaos ensues and the neomorph begins to try to kill the crew, Walter saves the life of Daniels and loses his hand in the process, before a white pulse of light in the sky scares the neomorph into the woods.
The origin of the light source is a cloaked figure, that of David.
He beckons the crew with him and they follow him to an ancient alien necropolis, a kind of open city square littered with burnt and destroyed corpses that resemble Engineers.
Once in the safety of a building, David informs them that as he and Elizabeth Shaw landed on Paradise, they accidentally deployed the black goo payload onto the planet, killing all native life, and that Shaw was killed in the crash and he has been living alone on Paradise ever since.
David is most interested in the crew when he finds out that there are colonists on board the ship. More on this later.
David and Walter, who are mirror images of each other, despite David’s long and janky blonde hair, share a moment together where David teaches Walter to play the flute. (SKINFLUTE MAYBE)
There’s a creepy moment as well, where David cuts his blonde hair off, and ends up becoming the mirror image of Walter, although with a different accent and markedly different behaviour.
The moment between David and Walter in them playing the flute together shows that while David has the ability to think for himself and be creative, Walter does not. Walter reveals that his programming does not allow him to engage in these pursuits, as his upgraded programming is to reduce the previous David 8 behaviours that were deemed to be “creepy” and “too human”.
As we remember from Prometheus, David 8 is very creepy, and he has a passion for film, music, art and poetry.
As the crew split off to try to regroup, a now grown neomorph baby shows up and decapitates a female crew member, and when David investigates, he shares a moment with the baby, communicating with it, before it is killed by Oram, and David reacts with pure horror.
Oram demands to know the real story about what is going on and David leads him into a basement filled with facehugger eggs, and one attaches itself to Oram, and when he awakens, a chestburster bursts out of him, and kills him.
Walter confronts David, and determines that there was no accidental deployment of the black goo pathogen and that David actually landed the ship and deployed the black goo on purpose to destroy the engineer civilization.
This harkens back to a moment in Prometheus where David says that sometimes in order to create, you must first destroy, and in this way cites one of the ancient tenants of alchemy – solve et coagula, dissolve and coagulate, break and bind.
In the flashback, David doesn’t look proud or glorious as he destroys the Engineer civilization, he looks terribly sad.
The engineers try to run for their lives, but the necropolis is all that remains of their great city.
I will point out as well that these “engineers” may not actually be “the Engineers” from Prometheus. They look similar of course, but they are not the exact same, and this can be accounted for in a few ways. We know that the weapons facility that was found in Prometheus would likely have been staffed by military personnel and these people on the planet Paradise look to be random civilians. So perhaps their society exists within a class system, just like human society. Or perhaps, these “engineers” are just more avatars created in the image of the Engineers, that more closely resemble them and less resemble the failed experiment of monkeys on planet Earth, the experiment that they have grown to despise.
Hard to say for sure, though I’m sure some of this will come to light in Alien: Awakening.
As David’s creepy obsession with the neomorphs and playing God with his own personalized terrarium comes to light, Walter and David share a brief homoerotic moment of a kiss, before David disables Walter and leaves him bleeding milk onto the floor.
The kiss, holy shit. Ladies, if you’ve ever wanted to be double teamed by twin Mmichael Fassbenders, then allow me to say that you DO NOT want to miss this piece of cinematic action. Rigby and I sat on opposite sides of Scott and were literally squealing and holding hands. We’re gross.
As Daniels comes across more of David’s weird taxidermy collection of neomorphs and eventually the dismembered and disfigured, but painstakingly preserved corpse of Elizabeth Shaw (hows he preserving all these bodies?), she confronts him and he tries to beat her into submission. He essentially went crazy and became a taxidermist.. Crazier?
As David is trying to kill Daniels, Walter shows up and the two synthetics fight as Daniels and the remaining two members of the crew try to make a run for the approaching Covenant ship.
Walter and David face off as David reaches for a knife and says “me or them”.
We later see Walter heading for the ship and as the crew boards, a Xenomorph boards along with them and a fight ensues to get the goddamn thing off the ship, much like in previous incarnations of the films.
There’s really a whole Force Awakens kinda vibe going on here, which isn’t necessarily bad, but more on this in a bit.
Once the crew boards, they’re taken away to begin the process of going into hypersleep for the trip to Oregai-6, before Daniels is alerted to a strange prescence in med bay and Walter informs her that an alien xenomorph is on board. Guided by Walter, Daniels rigs up a plan to blow the xenomorph out the airlock using truck vehicles, which works.
As she is tucked into her pod for hypersleep by Walter, she asks him if he will help her build a cabin when they reach Oregai-6. He stares vacantly at her and in horror, she realizes that Walter is not Walter, but that he is David. She screams as she is put into hypersleep.
David / Walter takes over the ship, and goes into the embryo cold storage and regurgitates some xenomorph embryos before wandering through the colonist storage as Wagner’s Das Rheingold plays.
So, mostly, I liked this film. I love Prometheus, straight up. I liked that this was a sequel to Prometheus while being a prequel to Alien.
What really fucked with this film for me is that I didn’t care about any of the crew, beyond Walter and slightly Daniels, but even then, she was not compelling like Elizabeth Shaw and certainly not like Ripley, though it would be a hard sell for anyone to be like Ripley.
Where Ridley Scott tried to make crew members interesting (tacking on needless religion), he failed to push the character far enough. Captain Oram instead of being a religious fanatic, was entirely forgettable. Let’s not forget, he says himself that he was passed over for the position of Captain due to being religious. Aside from a few throwaway lines, you would forget that he even was religious in the first place. I would have liked to have seen him be more religious, praying, quoting lines from the bible. Anything really. In truth, Elizabeth Shaw was more religious.
Fassbender’s acting, switching between the duty driven Walter and creepy obsessive David was fucking spot on. He really stole the show with his performances I thought.
Another piece with this film is that it suffered from Force Awakens syndrome, where Ridley Scott kinda went – hey remember all that shit you loved from the franchise? Well, here it all is.
He literally and figuratively nuked the Engineers and that storyline from Prometheus, because everyone hated them so much. And the film ended the same way as Alien and Aliens, with the goddamn alien being blown out the airlock into space.
I’m not complaining of course, but there could have been some deviation from that ending.
What was fucking cool as hell was David’s taxidermy zoo and the bizarrely creepy drawings he had done of Elizabeth Shaw’s destroyed body.
Like I said before, I’m looking very much forward to seeing where the future instalments will go.
If you can, I recommend you go check out Alien: Covenant in theatres. It opens today, May 19, 2017.