As it arrives on home video, isn’t it about time people gave Alien: Covenant a second look and appreciate for what it is?
Covenant was one of the biggest films going into 2017 – it ranked at #9 on Screen Rant‘s most anticipated films of the year – but, at the end of a summer dominated by binary successes and failures, it holds an ignominious middle ground. Few hate but fewer would say they love; it’s viewed as average, and flawed average at that. To top it off, it was also a box office disappointment, barely scraping its budget back and calling into question the future of the franchise.
There are lots of sides to this but the most prominent has to be the resistance to Ridley Scott essentially turning Alien in Blade Runner. Both Covenant and previous prequel Prometheus married the ambiguous terror of an unknown threat in the already daunting expanse of space with something more grandiose and existential; first the alien was presented as the result of us trying to find our own creators, now it’s further the direct product of us creating our own subservient beings. It’s Dante meets Giger; the biomechanical sex metaphor used to tell a new version of classical Old Testament concepts.
And that’s different. For all the traditional Alien elements present in the story (which, needing to say little more, provide the requisite horror and action) – ship intercepts distress signal, crew finds crashed alien craft, creatures impregnate humans, new birthed creatures attack, a robot isn’t what they seem, hilarity ensues – it’s a step on from what we’ve come to expect from a xenomorph flick. That’s admirable in and of itself when so many franchise films play it undeniably safe, although ambition is worthless without realization (otherwise Valerian would be the hit of the year).
But we’d say that Scott actually does deliver on his promises. OK, not entirely – there are logic gaps that defy his world=building skill and he’s sanded off several interesting-as-written characters – but as a high-minded exploration of the human condition, the immutability of familial constructs and the act of pure creation it’s a big budget treasure. And it’s all thanks to David.
Just Like Prometheus, This Is David’s Story
The perception of Covenant being about the crew of the eponymous colony ship – as all the adverts sold it – makes sense, despite on a thematic level being totally misrepresentative. Scott’s original title for the film was Alien: Paradise Lost and indeed the real center of the film is the Ozymandias figure, David.
As we wrote upon the release of its pseudo-sequel, Prometheus has now essentially been redefined as Satan’s origin story, but Covenant is another film where clear focus isn’t apparent until the end, making grasping its full scope unclear. Here, despite not appearing for the first hour, David is the undisputed core of the story; the entire plot is motivated by his desire to find more humans hosts for his experiments and leave the Engineer homeworld, making him the unseen motivator and the crew simply pawns slotting into place.
It’s a smart story trick realized by a set of game actors, none more than Michael Fassbender in the dual role of David and newer, more robotic synthetic model Walter. The scenes between the pair are some of the most technically adept – even in the extended long take of the duo interacting you totally buy them as distinct figures in the universe – and also the most divisive – that oner has the infamous “flute fingering” exchange. That sexual undercurrent is often used to lambast the film’s supposed overreaching, although what’s more fitting of a series built around a penis-headed alien found in an egg inside a splayed-leg ship with entrances that look like vaginas than scientifically neutered synthetics expressing themselves through an Engineer-made phallus?
More than just a means for nostalgic titillation, across the film David is presented as the epoch of a tiered creator family – Engineers, humanity, synthetics, and xenomorphs – that culminates with the first two generations being pushed aside when the third gains autonomy (the closest thing to a soul); as we end, David descends into his sanctum to enact unthinkable xeno horrors on the Covenant’s 2000 sleeping colonists. And yet we know this isn’t a true victorious march into Valhalla due to a clearly established glitch in David’s framework – he mistakes the work of Shelley for Byron – making him as flawed as those that made him; and doomed to meet a similar fate. It’s a bleak suggestion that our creation which overtakes us is still as inherently broken as we are, one seeded through a focused story.
There Are Answers – But They’re Not Important
The other major criticism of the film seems to be that there’s still a needless ambiguity to the alien’s origin, the thing that Scott is ostensibly trying to tell; Prometheus was vague and although Covenant connects some dots, it keeps many unclear.
Or does it? Between the prologues released on YouTube before the movie hit and the deleted scenes and epilogue video files on the home release, the full story of what David did between Prometheus and Covenant – he killed the Engineers, experimented with the black goo, developed the alien and murdered Elizabeth Shaw in an attempt to “evolve” her – and the practical mechanics and motivations for his plan are known. There is, of course, the argument to be made that supplementary materials shouldn’t be part of a singular story, although you can reach these conclusions from what’s offered in the two hour runtime; we made an in-depth analysis of everything in the film upon release that relied just on what Scott offered.
The short of all this is that there are answers – they’re just not leaned on because that’s not the point. Indeed, the initial screenplays for both films are much more clear cut and forthcoming when it comes to real details, which after two movies Scott appears to be purposefully cutting back on. The origin of the xenomorph isn’t singularly what interests him; what does is what it represents. And so the thematic underscoring of the movie is the story, explaining the unconventional focus. What does the creation of the xenomorph mean? Where does it take us? It’s as abstract and large as Paradise Lost.
The umbrella criticism of the whole Alien prequel enterprise is that by explaining all the mysteries of the original film you nullify its unknowing horror. And the films seem to know that and so jump straight to the repercussions – the area where you can make grand statements.
That’s not to say others flaws don’t exist, but that the oft cited problems are all working to create something greater than what the movie is often credited for. Give Covenant (and, hey, why not Prometheus while you’re at it) another chance and you might find something that really makes you think.
Alien: Covenant is now available on Blu-ray and digital download with the following special features. Be sure to keep an eye out for the #AlienCovenantContest hashtag for the opportunity to win Alien prizes.
Audio Commentary by Ridley Scott
12 Deleted and Extended Scenes (17m 58s)
5 Featurettes: Meet Walter (2m 19s), Phobos (9m 8s), The Last Supper (4m 36s), The Crossing (2m 32s), Advent (6m 40s)
Master Class: Ridley Scott (55m 25s)
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
4K Blu-ray: Dolby Atmos
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