A love-hate relationship with Prometheus weakens Ridley Scott’s attempt to recapture the glory days of Alien.
DIRECTED BY RIDLEY SCOTT/2017
When Ridley Scott announced that he was coming back to “sci-fi” and the world of Alien that he created so long ago, there was a lot of excitement. What he delivered was what he promised….not a direct prequel to Alien, but another story set in that same universe. The resulting picture was Prometheus. Prometheus turned a significant profit at the box office, so a sequel was green-lighted. There were so many questions left unanswered in the story, and I, as someone who genuinely enjoyed Prometheus, while acknowledging its flaws, was ready to explore this question of the “engineers” (Space Jockeys from the original Alien) being our creators and why they turned against us. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) faith conflicting with the science she practices was also an interesting angle, and her determination to still travel to find the engineers’ planet after everything that went down in Prometheus, was a great jumping off point, especially knowing that the questionable character of David (Michael Fassbender), an android who had tried to experiment on Dr. Shaw, would be accompanying her.
The fans, however, had only one thing on their mind: More Xenomorphs!!!
The point being that there are so many distractions that may fool the audience into thinking they are seeing a better movie than they are, but most will see right through these gimmicks and into the hollow shell that this film truly is.
Ridley, or maybe the studio, shifted the approach for the new film, Alien: Covenant, to give the fans what they wanted, but that meant abandoning a large part of what Prometheus was about in order to force a direct connection back to Alien instead of pursuing this sort of parallel story with a common link to Alien. His commitment to both, because of the love of the franchise, and many fans’ hate for Prometheus, has led to a Prometheus sequel that really waters down both, giving the fans everything they hated about Prometheus, and nothing that they truly love about Alien. They will get more Xenomorphs, but the the question is, will they care? As I am not able to get into all of the problems I have with this sequel, since it would have to contain lots of spoilers, I will be generalizing. Following the release of the film, I hope to share an “After the Show” article where those of us who have seen it can discuss it ad nauseum.
The basic plot of Alien: Covenant is that the crew of the ship Covenant are awoken from hyper-sleep following a collision with a solar storm that results in several deaths among the crew and the over 2,000 colonists they are transporting to colonize a new planet. While making repairs, they discover a possible distress signal of some kind that they realize is human, and decide to take a small detour to check it out since this planet, where the signal originates, is just as suitable for life as the planet they are traveling to. Of course, something will happen while they investigate this signal, and it probably has something to do with an alien.
Michael Fassbender returns as David, but also plays another synthetic, aboard the Covenant, named Walter. While they look the same, you are able to distinguish them due to Walter’s American accent and David’s British one. What they find will explain what happened to David and Dr. Shaw in the 10 years that exists between Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, but it is not a satisfying one at all, especially considering how big of a question they were asking as they set out to travel at the end of Prometheus. It is as if most of the story of Prometheus no longer mattered on one hand, but on the other, Alien: Covenant spends all of its time linking back to Prometheus as if it did matter. For the audience, this means lots of boredom as Ridley Scott seems to be having his own argument on screen between himself, the fans, and the studio about what kind of film this is, instead of just having a singluar vision and directing everything towards that.
By the time the film tries to kick into high-gear, it mainly just borrows from the other films in the series before it, and we don’t really get anything new. Even David Fincher’s “alien perspective”, from Alien 3, where the camera serves as the point of view perspective for the alien while it is running, is employed, as is the old tried-and-true methods of killing the alien when it is on board the ship. If you like the usual chest-bursting scenes from the Alien films, then there are several to choose from, as well as a back-burster. Unfortunately, you will see them coming from a mile away. They are there to simply infuse some life into the proceedings, but are more focused on some sort of unwritten gore quotient rather than instilling fear and tension into the storyline the way it was used in the original Alien, or its sequel, Aliens.
I am afraid that Ridley Scott is pulling a “George Lucas” in many ways. Both returned to their beloved franchises after a long break, and ended up watering them down and making them less than they once were, albeit in totally different ways.
Alien: Covenant relies too much on over the top gore to compensate for lack of true tension or danger. It also has a completely useless shower scene at the end of the film that is meant to induce some sort of terror to bring Alien: Covenant around to being a true “horror” film like the original Alien, but it feels out of place and more like it belongs in a slasher film of some kind rather than here. The point being that there are so many distractions that may fool the audience into thinking they are seeing a better movie than they are, but most will see right through these gimmicks and into the hollow shell that this film truly is.
So, as a fan of Prometheus I felt let down in how this film seeks to almost flippantly dismiss that entire previous film, while at the same time making it the centerpiece for everything that takes place in this one. I am disappointed that Noomi Rapace is not given the opportunity to appear in this sequel, as her character was a strong woman, with a strong sense of purpose that counterbalanced the ulterior motives of Fassbender’s David. Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carman Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, and Callie Hernandez are all fine in this film, but aren’t given much character development. All seem to go through the same tragedy at some level and all react the same way and move on.
I am afraid that Ridley Scott is pulling a “George Lucas” in many ways. Both returned to their beloved franchises after a long break, and ended up watering them down and making them less than they once were, albeit in totally different ways. Scott is at least maintaining the feel of the original, where Lucas added so much that it was just silly. Scott, has a huge continuity problem moving forward where the logic of what we learn in Alien: Covenant doesn’t match up with either what we learned in Prometheus or in the other Alien films. This could undermine the entire franchise and the foundation and mythology they have created. Ridley Scott has announced that he is probably going to make 2 more sequels to this film that will lead directly into Alien, so he could find a writer to help him sort it all out, or it may just continue down the current path to complete nonsense. I hope that he is able to sort it out, because right now, I just don’t care.
Honestly, what I immediately thought is how quick Ridley Scott was to pull the plug on Neil Blomkamp’s “Alien 5” film that was in development that would have brought Signourney Weaver’s Ripley back into the fold and that would serve as a direct sequel to James Cameron’s excellent sequel Aliens. With Scott back in charge, that film is dead in the water and we are left to soldier on through maybe 2 more sequels to Alien: Covenant where Scott will continue to wrestle with his love-hate relationship with Prometheus and Alien. In the end, you can’t serve two masters. As a result, his vision for these films is getting lost, and weakening both in the process. And despite feeling like they are being listened to, the ones who will really lose the most are the fans themselves, who in getting what they asked for, might lose the value of the very thing they love: the heart and soul of this movie franchise.