Alien covenant: A new low for Alien

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Oh dear Ridley, what have you done? I’m a huge fan of Alien (1979) but this film was not just a huge disappointment but painfully bad even without comparison to the original film, even in the wake of the half-arsed Prometheus (2012). And yet I can see why some fans of Alien have loved this film. Billed as a return to Scotts vision of the franchise, closer in tone and style to the first outing of the Xenomorph, almost a reboot of yet another classic, it is understandable that some fans will eat this up. But I am here to explain (with spoilers) why this film is a new low for the Alien franchise.

The first Alien was more horror than sci-fi but with subsequent films in the franchise, the mantra that “in space no one can hear you scream” was sadly forgotten and the tone shifted. Covenant is a welcome return to deep-space horror but sadly in emulating horror it lacks all originality and relies on the tropes of the past. This feels like a standard haunted house affair with some impressive jumpy moments but a lot lacking in between. As with many typical horror films, the characters here are stupid enough to get themselves in ridiculously dangerous situations, the villains are implausibly indestructible, the heroes predictably die in the order that we are supposed to care about them and the whole plot is completely nonsensical.

Of course, with horror the plot is secondary to the atmosphere and feelings of dread but its really hard to care about the characters here or share that feeling of horror. Firstly, it’s obvious that as a prequel, all the crew must die and the alien species must be spread from this planet, so there is no anticipation or tension and I found all the twists blindingly obvious. Whenever you don’t see a character die onscreen but their death is important to the plot it becomes evident that they will return to affect the plot later. It takes a long time to get to the genuinely scary moments and the build up fails to get us to care about the characters. The fact that all the crew are made up of couples seems pointless when one member of the couple dies before we get to know them as a couple and there is a limit to how many times we can relate to a grieving partner whose name we barely remember. As crew they are utterly useless given that the ship can pilot itself and a robot can do their job better whilst they spend most of the journey asleep. They go on to fail their duty to the colonists in so many ways and show no signs of even basic scientific knowledge. They head to a planet with no idea of the atmosphere or ecology and seem barely surprised that there is Earth-like plant life but no animal life. The idea of infection or foreign bodies is completely ‘alien’ to them and the reaction to unexplained deaths for all the crew is to get them back on board the ship with thousands of people. This crew deserves to die.

All in all, this film is practically a remake of Alien but nowhere near as good. The retroactive rewrite of Alien and its sequels is more annoying and confusing rather than the satisfying retroactive plotting of Rogue One to the Star Wars franchise. The ideas of humanity, religion and creation, which dominate the prequel series aren’t as thought-provoking as the filmmakers think and they become clunky cliches that weigh down the plot and get in the way of the action. They don’t explain David’s actions or any of the crew’s motivation. Michael Fassbender may be excellent in this but I still struggle to understand his character even as a great villain.

Ultimately this series is an origin story that didn’t need telling and takes more away from the franchise than it adds. I would sooner see it written out of canon than the AVP additions but then Prometheus wasn’t supposed to be a direct prequel. All that now seems to be out the window and a new prequel-sequel is apparently on the way to join the films up. In surely what amounts to nothing more than a sickening alien-milking (ew) the franchise is being dragged down to its lowest level ever.

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