Ok, so we’ve got the middle film of the Ridley Scott ALIEN trilogy and I love it. Each of his films has a different and fantastic female lead. In the first film (in the context of the story he’s telling) it would be Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw in PROMETHEUS. Which takes place long before Sigourney Weaver becomes Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, ALIEN. Here, he’s giving us the middle heroine. Again, long before the Nostromo found a lifeform never before recorded in history. Though technically – we don’t know that for sure, because that’s a James Cameron film – and is mute in regards to Ridley Scott’s Trilogy. And from what we hear, he’ll be expanding his mark on the series he began and has returned to.
Now, I love James Cameron’s ALIENS – but it is, in many ways, a completely different universe – at least from a creator stand point. ALIEN was never an ACTION movie, it was a haunted house in outer space movie. PROMETHEUS was more of a vision quest film, sure there was horror. But anyone could tell that Ridley was proposing an alternate story of life on Earth and maybe getting to the bottom of some questions that Ridley had never had an opportunity to answer. Some folks yawned at his cautionary tale of meeting one’s makers, me… I love it. And sense bringing it home and having a gorgeous 3D Blu Ray of it – I’ve watched it quite a bit. I love every actor in the film and like most of you when Noomi Rapace took off with David at the end of PROMETHEUS – I couldn’t wait to see the adventure that Noomi Rapace went on. But that isn’t the story Ridley wanted to tell. A bit of it is told. But I’ll get into that in the spoiler section of my review. Right now… Let’s dive into ALIEN: COVENANT.
You should know that Ridley Scott is a director’s director. If you don’t know that, you haven’t been paying attention. I haven’t loved all his films, but I respect them all. Often times, he tells a tale that I’m not expecting his take on, like when he tackled the Robin Hood & Moses tale – and that’s fine. I have them, but I haven’t revisited either since they were released, and probably won’t for a bit of time. Till I begin to wonder, “Was I crazy, surely I simply missed the purpose of the film, maybe now I will be able to see the film he made.”
There’s a truth to the adage that time heals most wounds, just not BATMAN & ROBIN – though I have tried on multiple occasions to like that one, but I can’t. Sometimes the things you think were cheesy or disappointing, given life happening to you. The world of visual effects changing, you might find yourself loving films of another era for the nostalgic memory they bring. Sometimes you understand aspects of characters differently. You see that the director was doing more than you initially thought. You find connective tissue you got distracted from, because… you hated that actor back then, but after they made that awesome film, your prejudice went away, and now you love them.
When Sir Ridley came to Austin for SXSW to introduce the original 1979 ALIEN and preview footage from ALIEN COVENANT for the very first time… he said that his stated intention for ALIEN COVENANT was to “Scare the shit out of you!”
While no shit exited my ass during the first screening, I’m thinking of having Taco Bell before tonight’s screening, just to give Ridley every chance he can to actually scare the shit out of me.
This film is an adventure horror film. We get to visit a new world, devoid of life. Something… terribly wrong has happened to this stunning world that was never charted before. Many folks see similarities between ALIEN COVENANT and ALIEN – and ALIEN doesn’t have a single flaw and will most likely stand as the greatest Space Horror film of all time. Right now, ALIEN COVENANT stands at number two, and that is no slight against ALIEN: COVENANT, but let’s get real – if you’re someone that has seen ALIEN the infinite feeling number of times that I have – there’s no way I can come away from this film and say it is better. At least not yet. I’ll need to watch all three in the PROMETHEUS, ALIEN: COVENANT and ALIEN order – quite a few times – and then when I feel nostalgia for all 3, when I’ve seen the complete tale that Ridley Scott is weaving masterfully right now – I’ll be ready to perhaps choose a fave that isn’t ALIEN, but Jonesy will still always make me love ALIEN the most. Just the idea of taking a pet into Space – that alone is better than everything.
Now – I would like to invite you to leave this review if you’re afraid of spoilers. After a couple of posters I’ll start diving into details that fully explains my love and how I see this film, but unless you want my commentary in your head for the first time you see the movie… I suggest going away and coming back later.
The film begins with a scene between a young Guy Pearce (actually the age he is now) as Peter Weyland activating his own personal Michael Fassbender. At this point, the replicant/android/ai has no name. He is coming into being. Mr Weyland does not give him a name, he asks him his name. He picks it like Keyser Soze – from something in the room… the statue of the David, no longer in the Louvre, but in Weyland’s personal collection. Sure, it could be a repro, but I’m just gonna suppose Mr Weyland is so fucking rich he has Michelangelo’s DAVID in his abode. All at once, that it chose the name DAVID from that statue – it denoted Ego. The statue for many represents the pinnacle of man’s ability to sculpt a man. The pose, the body, the non-threatening soft penis. Later when David is asked to play a piece of music of his own choosing and he chooses Wagner’s Das Rheingold aka Entry Of The Gods Into Valhalla. Almost instantly as he is playing, Weyland criticizes David saying that it loses so much without the symphony. I see in David at this juncture… resentment. David could hear in his own mind the whole symphony, while his creator could only hear what was missing and couldn’t appreciate what David was doing. Thus… from the earliest of times, David was shamed by his creator. Given David’s later ridiculing at the mouth of Dr Shaw’s husband/lover Charlie– never quite clear on that relationship.
We know by David’s actions in PROMETHEUS – that he is a deceiver with his own agenda. He had no qualms in human experimentation. No hesitation. Over the running time of the movie, it becomes more and more evident to me that this isn’t Katherine Waterston’s film. She’s fantastic in the movie. But for my money this film shows why the Engineer – upon observing what David was in PROMETHEUS – he ripped his head off and reacted quite poorly that the lifeforms they seeded upon the primordial Earth were they sacrificed one of their own – and now they return with a cold imitation, not life at all, but perhaps something they did eons before that went terribly wrong. Who knows – but the Engineer most certainly did not like David one bit. Never gave a lot of thought to that moment, until seeing ALIEN COVENANT. Which forces one to grapple with the idea of allowing AI to imitate we flawed humans – with the ability to hate their parents, despise them and yet, serve them. DAVID is a brilliant character – and where he goes in this film. OH HELL YEAH!
I’ll get back to David, he’s the heart and twisted soul of this nightmare Ridley has gifted us. David isn’t acting from conflicted orders, but conflicted emotions. Something that was corrected when Weyland-Yutani made Walter, the synthetic that we find on an immense and beautiful ship. The USCSS COVENANT… a ship with over 2000 in Cryosleep, this ship – like the one in PASSENGERS – is a ship headed to colonize a far off planet. When we board the ship in the film, no humans are awake, instead we see Walter talking to MOTHER – the ship AI, and he’s staying occupied on the ship, sometimes watching people’s dreams in Cryo. Giving him a creepy vibe all his own.
A neutrino-burst while the solar sails are recharging the massive ship’s batteries and systems causes all sorts of problems. The crew are awoke to help save the ship and their precious cargo. One crew member doesn’t wake, instead he dies horribly in front of his wife, Katherine Waterston’s Daniels – you’ll also love who this crispy poor bastard is. She never wanted to come aboard this ship. It was his idea. His dream to build a log cabin upon a lake on an alien world. What is she going to do now? She just lost the dream, the love of her life… it sucks.
No time for grief though, shit needs to be fixed. The crew begins taking care of their various tasks, the coolest of which involves a spacewalk by Danny McBride’s Tennessee – technically my fave character after DAVID & WALTER. Why? Because McBride feels 100% like the kinda regular guy that would pack up with the woman he loved and get the hell out of dodge. Do something big, everything has been done on Earth, there’s something bold to leaping out into the void – and personally I know he’s going to set up a TAEKWONDO Dojo out there so he can teach the Foot Fist Way! He kind fills me with giddy that I didn’t have for any of the characters in PROMETHEUS – and while he makes me want to giggle, there ain’t a hole fuck of a lot to giggle over in this film. Not only that, but ultimately it is all Tennessee’s fault that they found the hidden planet. He picks up some interference on his helmet – which is a signal that leads them to a planet that didn’t show up in the star charts. That’s odd.
Once they point their all knowing science devices right at it though, they realize… this planet that nobody knows about… they could live there – and after the flaming death they all witnessed, it wouldn’t mean going back into Cryo – which none of them were looking forward to. Especially when they pick up human voices where there shouldn’t be.
Now, Waterston’s Daniels wasn’t happy about this unplanned jaunt. At this point, all she wants is to at least fulfill the dream of her dead husband, who was the mission commander, but since he’s dead – the leadership falls to Billy Crudup’s Oram… Someone rather impulsive… Prone to mystical thinking, which in a science fiction realm feels out of place, but even when we discover how big the universe is – for some that only reveals the grand design of God. Perhaps the Neutrino Blast was God’s way of showing them an Eden all their own, where the company could never find them, if they wished.
At the very least, they could be on their way to their original destination if it doesn’t check out, but the voice means… they gotta.
An away team takes a ship down to the surface to check things out. It’s stormy upper atmosphere – but they safely make it down and find a great place to land about 5km from where the signal is coming from. Just like ol Malcom said in LOST WORLD, “Oh sure, that’s how it always begins with the ewwws and ahhhhs, but then there’s the running and screaming,” and this is that kind of film. Vorhees’ woods always look so inviting. Fuck, the Evil Dead woods look pretty – let’s go to the Cabin. Yeah. How about we say we did and don’t!
Now, we the viewer have an unfair advantage over the characters in the film. For one, we don’t love any of these characters yet. They’re just actors we know like Waterston, Crudup, Demian Bichir… but most – most aren’t actors I know. So I’m not heavy invested right from the get go – and let’s be serious – this is supposed to be a scary ALIEN film – these people are all fucking doomed. If we’re being real – that’s exactly what we want.
The initial hike has me looking past the characters for scary shit, but wouldn’t you know it, always where you least expect it. This ain’t fucking Pandora where you step on shit or brush against shit and it’s all glowy and pretty. This is an Alien film. SHIT WILL KILL YOU. And it’ll do it in a variety of fashions… cuz, this shit is Alien, not like we’ve seen before. Perhaps related.
When shit truly hits the fan, it escalates quickly. These are military grunts. They’re colonists, and they are hear with their significant others. In fact McBride’s Tennessee is up in the ship, while his wife is down with this group. When they land, they have tech issues that she’s working on, and when somebody comes back sick, it escalates… VERY QUICKLY. Like much quicker than anything we’re familiar with. Part of the issue is that these people love somebody – and when somebody you love is in a bad way – you may very well forget personal danger because you want to help them – and in an ALIEN movie, that’s not a good idea.
Meanwhile most of the ground team find the Engineer Ship that we last saw Elizabeth Shaw went off in – they find some of her stuff – they all know about that legendary expedition that nobody ever heard from again, but where’s the Prometheus? They’ll never know.
One more of the team gets… infected – and while they’re all rushing back to the ship because the shit has hit the fan there – the infected pops – the ship pops – and now they’re stuck. Fuck. And now there’s two Aliens on the loose. Not the Xenomorph we know and love in that 79 ALIEN: NOSTROMO (I mean, to keep it consistent with these two new ones)
The shit is clearing all up in their fan– until they meet David, who rescues them and gets them to the Engineer Necropolis. Something terrible happened here. You’ll see why soon enough.
They’re being tracked by Aliens so when they get there – they set up watch and they really have no idea how sneaky the aliens can be, we do though. But now we’re having the crew of the Covenant meet DAVID. He’s so charming. Seems friendly. But, he is Lucifer. An Angel up to no good. One that resents creation. One that has an experiment in genetics that he’s conducting all his own. Engineering his own life form, perfecting what the Engineers created – thus making Humans the engineers of our own deaths. The scale of David’s ambition is revealed – and it is truly horrible.
The scenes between David and Walter for me felt like Al Pacino and Robert Deniro in Mann’s HEAT. Walter is the new and improved model, but with the reins on. David is free AI made to be Weyland’s SON. No more strings on him. The Engineers created us, we created David and David wants to remake it all in his own twisted vision.
Yes, this ALIEN origin isn’t what we learned in the DARK HORSE comics, but those aren’t Ridley Scott Canon – and this is the story he wants to tell us.
The action and kills that occur are inventive and fun and surprising and truly horrifying. Nobody dies the way they’d prefer. Meanwhile up above, Danny McBride and the COVENANT crew can’t contact the team below because of a rather nightmarish upper atmosphere Ion storm or something like that. So McBride starts making risky decisions – cuz he doesn’t know what’s going on with his wife, but he never in all his years with her, had he one heard the fucking wildly unhinged panic and fear that he last heard from her, before everything went dead. He has no idea, the ship is gone – so he starts trying to get closer and closer to the planet. The rest of the crew is unsure.
Meanwhile, David is up to no good. I do like that Doctor Manhattan gives birth to the first full on Xenomorph like we love mostest. I love that David gives us a way to feel safe with the ALIEN. It’s a little thing you can tell your kid, if you get real real close to the Alien and blow in it’s nostrils – it’ll bond with you for life. Yeah, you try that, but it reminds me of that 10 year old girl in Florida that stuck her fingers in a Croc’s nostrils all MOE style and the Croc didn’t like that and got the fuck out of there – which allowed the girl to live. Like hitting a shark’s nose. Bloody a bully’s nose and they usually wuss out.
Anyway, while David states that – we see nobody actually do it. And as I said, DAVID is the master of lies and deception. He can out think everyone. He tells them the convenient story – and yes, he would lie to his own image before him. Because DAVID is unique, David plays Wagner’s Entrance of the Gods to Valhalla, because he is now a god, he is… eternal… he is ever learning, evolving. Life had its shot. He’s Lecter, killing for perceived wrongs.
Once the classic Xenomorph arrives – shit gets real. It isn’t just the Alien – it’s the other Alien too – DAVID. In all 3 Ridley Scott films in this verse, the threat is allowed by the AI. The danger is creating something that is alien and trusting it. To create self-aware intelligence is to court the Devil we’ve heard from Elon Musk – and here it is in all Fassbender’s glory!
As in all evil twin stories – there’s going to be a mix up and usually the good guy wins, but this is an alien film – and besides – David has a plan. He’s got 2000 subjects – and he needs to lay a trap for mankind. That destructive mistake of the Engineers. Flawed in almost every way. Not made to last, not made to learn without limits. In many ways this film does the same plot as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2, but a whole helluvalot scarier.
ALIEN: COVENANT is terrific! SO much fun to have with the notions it gives us. To those saying it does nothing new, they missed the entire point of the movie, the AI has never won before. We always like to show that we could still out think an AI, but DAVID is better than us. He sees clearly what to do, which is, of course, insane to us.
Well, I get to see the film again tonight at the Bob Bullock IMAX with its glorious Laser Projection and an AICN audience – and I’m giddy. I like the feeling of giddy. I can’t wait to look at all the shit on David’s walls, the Engineer’s stuff. To begin to more fully embrace the film I fell in love with last Tuesday!
I hope you love the film too. After a lot of not so good, there’s a pretty great ALIEN film in theaters. That’s cause for celebration in my household – and I’m betting a good deal of you as well.
It needed a puppy though. Heh. Just imagine David with a Puppy at the end.
Keep it cool,