Same deal as earlier this week, as I find myself on a bit of an uptick in trips to the cinema. Unstructured grumbling, spoilers abound. Let’s do this.
- Rumour control: here are the facts. I have been a big fan of the Alien franchise since the late seventies. Slightly too young to watch Ridley Scott’s iconic movie on the big screen, I nevertheless soaked up the production designs of Ron Cobb, Chris Foss and HR Giger, and still own battered copies of The Book Of Alien and Walt Simonson’s astonishing graphic novel adaptation. I saw Aliens in its first week of release at the Odeon Marble Arch back when that was one big screen showing films in 70mm. I’ve been around these movies, this universe, for quite a while. I have skin in the game.
- Prometheus, Scott’s attempt to fill in the backstory of the mythos, satisfied no-one. It didn’t help that he was trying to make an Alien film without, yannow, Aliens. Bloated, pretentious, self-indulgent and bewildering, it left me angry and more upset than I’d like to admit. I’ve laughed long and hard at the Star Wars man-babies complaining about how George Lucas consistently trampled over their treasured childhood memories. Now, here comes Ridley, stomping his expensively-shod size tens all over a world I love dearly. Gotta admit, there were man-baby tears from me after Prometheus.
- Which brings us to his attempt to re-bootstrap the legacy, taking on board the wails of us man-babies and making something more tailored to our tastes. Alien: Covenant is supposed to be the story the fans want to see. And, well, honestly? He’s gone too far the other way. Covenant is fan-service.
- Consider: he re-uses the classic ‘fade-in typography’ of the first movie. Jerry Goldsmith’s classic theme is larded all over the place. We see elements of Ron Cobb’s innovative Semiotic Standard designs in alert screens. There’s even a big, loving close-up of the dipping bird toy briefly glimpsed on the bridge of the Nostromo. ‘Here,’ says Ridley. ‘This is what you want, right? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?’
- And actually, I was for the most part. There’s plenty of money up on screen, and John Logan’s script is pretty solid. I have issues with the attempt to make every female lead in an Alien movie into Aliens-era Ripley (sorry, I simply don’t buy the notion of gentle Katherine Waterston with a gun). Similarly, the inference that Billy Crudup’s captain is weak and ineffectual because of his faith is problematic, and the source of way too many weak religious puns.
- Of course, even through the Alien fan-service, Covenant is a movie that wants to deal with Big Themes. Creation. Life. Meeting your maker. It’s become increasingly clear that Scott’s heart is not in making more Alien films. He wants to make a statement, an epic SF take on Milton’s Paradise Lost (which was of course a working title for this movie). Unfortunately, the only way Fox will give him the dough to make it is if he throws a few chest-bursters into the mix.
- Which is a shame, because the Alien stuff is the least interesting thing about Covenant. The film really comes to life when the Luciferesque figure of David finally appears, messianic in long hair and robe. He’s literally playing God (or at the very least Dr. Moreau), and not that bothered about creating in his own image. His playful taunting of the Covenant’s resident synthetic Walter are real highlights (and the seductive scene where Michael Fassbender teaches Michael Fassbender how to play the flute is a technical triumph–’I’ll do the fingering’ indeed). These gave me a sense of the film that Scott actually wants to make–a darkly gothic take on creation mythology. Not an easy sell, though.
- Largely, then, Alien: Covenant is a mishmash, a slumgullion, a cut-and-shut that, while it has a lot to recommend (it’s a huge improvement on Prometheus) is still frankly a bit of a mess. It’s a big statement on epic themes that has a skewed monster movie wrapped around it. I’m still chewing over whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I think I did. Even though I know when I’m being pandered to.
- That being said, I do want to know what David gets up to next. Scott finally has an anti-hero as delightfully amoral as Hannibal Lector. I still dig his take on everyone’s favourite cannibal, and David is cut from the same cloth. The ending of Covenant finally sets up a dark new path for the franchise–one that, despite all my man-baby tears, I’d be happy to tread.