“There’s so much here that doesn’t make sense.”
It’s fitting that Ridley Scott chooses to reference Frankenstein heavily in his third entry into the Alien franchise. While Ridley wants us to see David, evil android from Prometheus, as a kind of hybrid creation/god melding of Frankenstein and his monster, it is instead more fitting to see the similarities between the monster and the film itself. While both film and monster possess a kind of beauty and wonder, both are hideous, misshapen, misguided attempts at creation that result in disaster. Yep – Alien: Covenant sucks. In a gorgeous way.
It’s not that there isn’t anything to enjoy here. There are definitely pleasures to be found in Alien: Covenant. It’s beautiful, for one, much as Prometheus was. There’s great acting on hand, with all the cast doing well for themselves, and Fassbender absolutely kills it as David. The first half of the film feels like a decent mimic of Alien, and is mostly pretty good despite a few bits of clunky dialogue and the unshakable feeling that it’s all just a retread of what has been done before, and done better. Still, that’s okay for a franchise with two masterpieces and three pieces of crap (five, if you count the AvP films). The film is also incredibly beautiful. There are echoes of Lynd Ward’s Frankenstein illustrations, of Dore’s Paradise Lost images; of course, Giger’s influence is everywhere. Sets are vast and Gothic and eerie, and there is some of Lovecraft’s Cyclopean cities of ancient alien civilizations. It’s gory and frightening at times. There are a bunch of super cool set pieces that are done with a master’s hand. Much like my experience of seeing Prometheus in the theatre, the moment to moment can be enjoyable, but nothing meshes well together, and the structure is so shakily held together on a story level that the further the film progresses, the more it collapses until you’re left with a giant, confusing mess.
Prometheus and Alien: Covenant are strange films in that they’re gigantic budget productions of terrible scripts, helmed by a master filmmaker with tremendous casts and crew. If these films were low budget, took themselves less seriously, weren’t Alien films, they’d probably be a lot of fun – cool horror B pictures, very Friday the 13th in space. It’s the seriousness, the pretentiousness and the attempt to tell a prequel story expanding on the lore of Alien where it all goes wrong. The dialog is false and tone-deaf, and none of it makes any sense at all. I’ll also posit that telling the origin of the original alien is just a bad idea. Horror films are similar to fairy tales – the best monsters represent deep-rooted fears of humanity, and they don’t need dramatic, overly explicit back stories. A crew of space truckers happening upon a strange alien ship that had been wiped out by a bizarre, completely alien predator doesn’t need any more exploration or lore – there’s enough there to foment wonder and fear; exploring the back story, at least the way Ridley Scott has so far done, destroys the beauty, the fear and wonder and poetry of one of the greatest monsters ever created.
I love Alien. It’s a tremendous film, and a perfect horror film. I’m not sure who Alien: Covenant is for. It won’t please Prometheus fans as it doesn’t deliver on the mysteries presented their (and in fact delivers one of the greatest audience f-you’s since Alien 3 by killing off both Shaw and all of the engineers, all before Covenant begins, of course), and it won’t please Alien fans as it gets too Prometheusy up in there. It’s like Ridley took the criticism of Prometheus to heart, and then just got it all wrong again, making the same mistakes and also making things worse. If he had delivered on the mysteries of the engineers and continued Shaw’s journey, at least Covenant would be true to the story and the audience. Instead, we get an unsatisfying hybrid of Alien and Prometheus that doesn’t make a lick of sense and will manage to piss off both groups of fans.
A beautiful disaster. 5/10