Many of you know that I was very apprehensive about seeing this film, and I’m sure many of you thought this because of the video essay I made about practical effects in horror films. Well, that’s only a small part of why I was worried about Ridley Scott’s newest project. The biggest reason for my fear was the overly harsh criticism that his previous film, Prometheus, received. I say “overly harsh,” but what I really mean is “angry and idiotic.” One of the biggest complaints about Prometheus was that there weren’t enough aliens, or that it wasn’t a true prequel. This was far and above the dumbest thing a wannabe critic could have said about the film. There’s a reason Scott broke the trend and simply called the film Prometheus rather than “Alien: Prometheus”, or (heaven forbid) “Alien: Origins”; it’s because this wasn’t a true Alien film! Treating it as such would be unfair to the film and unfair to Scott’s vision, and Prometheus was certainly treated that way. Even I was guilty of this after the film’s original release.
The second biggest criticism was that the film was overly philosophical and didn’t make much sense. This criticism was certainly less misguided than the first, but it also had a simple resolution that was often overlooked. Like most true philosophical films, Prometheus wasn’t going to simply provide you with all the answers; it’s a film that demands that you do the work necessary to understand it, which means viewing it more than once or twice and not giving up on it. Prometheus is brilliantly subtle and has a lot of things to keep you distracted from the real story, which many people seem to miss (including my two colleagues here at MMC). I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: David is absolutely the main character of both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Elizabeth Shaw is certainly an important character and the one that is given the most screen time, but the film revolves around the philosophical questions and dilemmas that are drawn out through David, not Shaw. In fact, Shaw has very little to add to these conversations with the exceptions of her being the only faith-oriented character and her infertility.
It would seem that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Prometheus instead of Alien: Covenant in this intro, but I promise that it all has a purpose. So now, let’s finally take a look at Ridley Scott’s newest film.
The keyword here is “compromise.” Immediately following Prometheus’s release, Scott announced that the film’s sequel was already in the pre-production phase. Evidently due to the unexpected critical backlash, Scott compromised this original vision for one that would be more “viewer friendly.” Everything that Prometheus was wrongly criticized for found its way into the script for Alien: Covenant; the proof is right there in the title. Be careful not to fool yourselves, my friends; these films were never meant to be true-to-heart Alien movies. But of course, the general public has no idea what it wants, so when it hears that Ridley Scott made a space movie with dangerous aliens in, it expects an Alien movie, and it throws a fit when that’s not what it gets. Well, I hope the general public is happy now; Scott gave you what you said you wanted (Spoiler Alert: most of them are not happy).
But, let’s not forget that a compromise was made in the first place. Yes, I am disappointed that Scott gave into the criticism. I would honestly have rather seen him drop the project than succumb to his supposed “fans’” wishes and studio pressures.
Despite a poor script, most everyone puts on a good performance. Michael Fassbender is, of course, fantastic as not one, but two different characters. Danny McBride actually surprised me with how likeable he was in a more serious role. The only person that’s somewhat lacking is Billy Crudup (known for his role as Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen), though this is mainly due to his abysmally written character.
As I said in the podcast, the first 45 – 60 minutes of this film are excellent to watch from a strictly technical standpoint. The scenery and cinematography are gorgeous (and arguably up to par with The Revenant, though I’m sure you’ll find a plethora of people who disagree with me). Ridley Scott is a master of world-crafting in cinema, and the beginning of this film is Scott at his best. I’ve seen some critics say that Scott has been “losing his marbles” in recent years, but I think the technical mastery alone in this film proves them wrong.
However, there are some downsides that need to be discussed. Namely, the ugly proto-aliens and the complete lack of practical effects that this franchise was built on. I can stand this being an Alien movie so long as the filmmakers stick to those things that make the Alien franchise special, such as not using CGI as a substitute for practical effects. The aliens appearing in this film have only a shadow of the on-screen presence of their predecessors. It really makes me sad to see one of the greatest creature designs of all time get reduced to a lazy non-existent prop.
Jed Kurzel (known for his excellent score in The Babadook) composes the music for this film in a way that definitely honors the late Jerry Goldsmith (known for Alien, Mulan, Star Trek, and many more). In the film’s opening, I couldn’t help but think that I don’t hear music like this in movies anymore. It’s an excellent homage to classic film scores and the beautiful theme written by Marc Streitenfeld for Prometheus.
X-Factor: 4/10, Tired of Shitty Scientists
Ever since Prometheus and Interstellar, there has been a surge in space movies. I’m so sick and tired of these movies having characters with impressive scientific backgrounds that end up being complete buffoons. Sure, it might be easy for me to say this while not actually having to be put in their situation; but Jesus, it’s more than a trend, it’s an expectation! What happened to those strong and smart protagonists that we like to root for, that actually have to overcome great obstacles? What happened to Ripley? The sci-fi genre is in desperate need of some competent protagonists right now.
I’ve said all I need to say (I think). It’s probably high time I take a break from the Alien franchise (Lord knows it needs to take one too) and from Sci-Fi horror movies in general. It seems that even I get tired of beating dead horses sometimes. If you’re a fan of the Alien franchise, I would ask that you go see this film with an open mind that is willing to be asked questions and seek answers on its own. Like Prometheus, this movie is not going to hold your hand through its message and philosophical inquiries, which are the most important parts. Don’t let the first word of the title distract you from what really matters in this story. If you’re not a fan of the franchise then this will probably be a mediocre sci-fi film for you; it’s not very scary, and is definitely not a good introduction to the franchise as a whole. One final note: DO NOT SEE THIS FILM IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN PROMETHEUS. YOU WILL NOT UNDERSTAND IT. AT. ALL.