Look On My Prequels, Matey, and Despair

Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017)

It really does worry me that with this and Prometheus I was looking at my phone at the fifty minute mark and was wondering when someone, anyone, was going to die. By now, the Alien template should be established — a small crew, who you’ll never quite be able to distinguish, stumble upon something nasty and are killed one by one until the final girl survives. In the case of the Alien franchise we know there are going to be aliens, but unfortunately they seem to want to delay gratification as long as possible.

Of course, I’d overlooked a character becoming toast in an early scene. Possibly James Franco’s finest performance. And I am scowling at the Curzon who are advertising the film as starring Franco and Noomi Rapace.

The girl with the xenomorph in her chest cavity.

But even this is delayed, since Sir Ridley of Scott has evidently been reading the script for — no, rewatching the film of — Blade Runner and called in Rutgers Hauer to write a pretentious scene for David the android and a much younger Peter Weyland than the last time we saw him. I think it was something about being parents or creating life or Percy Shelley’s sonnets, but anyway I got distracted by how stewed Weyland’s tea must be by the time David pours it for him. And having a flashback to when Rachael tickled the ivories.

But clearly it’s an attempt to have the film be Deep and Meaningful.

And then we meet Walter, a David in a hoodie. Emo David, although he turns out to be the good guy.

Notice the names.

David is the boy in A.I. and Screamers and there is an attempt to distract us with Michelangelo’s David in Weyland’s office, but David is named for David Giler as Walter is named for Walter Hill, both producers.

My, how I laughed.

We are on a spaceship en route to a colony planet in Orange 6, which has just extended its solar mirrors to recharge. There’s a design flaw, I think, a few minutes before they detect a star going phut and they are in the middle of a space storm that damages the mirror and sets off random fires. Déjà vu Gravity and <a href="https://andrewmbutler.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/passengers/&quot;Passengers. And in the course of repairs they pick up a snatch of someone singing a John Denver song and decide to divert to a new destination — a habitable planet somehow overlooked in previous research and, get this, home to the BASE jumping Engineer last seen at the start of Prometheus.

This’ll be fun.

Or not.

There follows over a hour of stupid plotting: the Covenant in orbit around death trap planet on one side of an electrical storm and the one lander they apparently have on the planet on the other side. Whereas in Prometheus (and in Arrival) helmets are worn until they reckon they’re safe, here no such precautions are taken and the landing party is at risk from infection from, I don’t know, alien DNA, especially if spliced with human DNA somewhere along the line. Of course, alien DNA spliced with human DNA is pretty rare.

Oh yes.

Oh, and several of the landing party smoke. Clearly marked for death.

So, they wander through a wheat field, clearly facing their doom, and not one of them wonders how such a gloomy planet can support wheat or whether this is a call back to Gladiator. So nasty stuff happens, and at least they know about quarantine procedures, even if they are laxly applied. And then it’s time to strand them with aliens.

And, more to the point, with David, who shows up in a hoodie and rescues them at the start of an hour of kiss chase.

It would have been nice to ring the changes — to have the crew picked off in the fields, and perhaps feel more like Tremors than Alien or Aliens. Death by location. There’s something nasty in the wheat. But no, some Freudian dark caves and spaceship interiors. And how the hell is a spaceship programmed to detect alien lifeforms? The aliens are such perfect fighting machines that once the attack is under way there’s nowt that can be done. And we want the chest burst repeated a couple of times.

And the puppet master, David, as nastier than Weyland, utterly perfect apart from being able to distinguish Byron from Shelley.

Deep and meaningful, man.

It’s not as if he’s been driven mad by a decade alone on the planet, because he was ready to infect the crew with alien DNA even before he knew what it was.

Perhaps his distain for humanity comes from their habit of drinking stewed tea.

Cue spoilers — but hey, you know pretty well who will survive by this point.

Daniels finds David’s alien shrine, and figures he’s a wrong un, and fights back. “That’s the spirit,” he says, clearly having seen Blade Runner. “Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it” he adds. “That’s what it is to be a slave.”

No, not really.

But this is even more knowing when it’s David vs. Walter and there’s a bit of kissy kissy, but it’s Tyrrell and Roy again, and fist on fist and fist on stump action. One of them kills the other, and of course, none of the surviving crew would assume that David would be able to heal his wound, swap clothes with a corpse and chop his hand off to match Walter’s loss. And obviously none of his passwords would have expired in a decade.

(There’s deep conspiracy here to be imagined — David faked the SOS with a recording of Dr Liz Shaw singing John Denver and included commands for Mother-like computers to set the scene for a takeover. I mean, it makes as much sense as him having access to DNA lab equipment.)

We know Michael Myers always comes back, so we are sceptical at each defeat, and I’d live to know how many people were surprised that David had replaced Walter. It’s almost obligatory.

So it’s all very pretty and some nice effects, and I assume that there’s an article to untangle on the slavery subtext and slave revolt narratives. I think it would be much better if it was the Paradise Lost filtered not through Milton — even if the film’s original subtitle was Paradise Lost — but Blake. And I wonder if David had read Byron’s Prometheus Unbound for the lols.

There’s also the notion of the Covenant to unpick — is it the Noah one where God promises never again to flood the Earth in order to wipe out all life? (One can’t help but feel that leaves a lot of wriggle room.)

Or is it the one with Abraham or with Moses…? Does the film not only offer a prequel to Alien and sequel to Blade Runner, but also a follow-up to the rather oddly white washed Exodus.

Oh dearie me.

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