Fake News and Misselling Covenant
When you’re doing a feature on something you either love or hate, a fun part is coming up with a title in order to capture the attention of the prospective reader. My original title for this was “Alien:Covenant’s Fake News Gospel” which is, you know, taking something popular in the public consciousness, in this instance fake news, and attempting to commingle it with the awful film I intend to talk about (or eviscerate in this instance). But I didn’t do that and instead opted for a title as uninspiring as the movie under dissection.
I can’t be sure why I initially made the connection between Alien:Covenant and fake news – I may have been under the spell of something stronger than coffee or alcohol but lost the thread under the harsh microscope of reality – but it could have been that picture of Katherine Waterston wielding a gun like the heroine of Alien franchise yore, Ellen Ripley.
For those who have seen the movie, Waterston’s Daniels is no Ellen Ripley. But it was an important image in the marketing of the movie. And when you see the film, Scott is very firmly relying on the knowledge that certain members of the movie going public will recognise Daniels as that badass female who will inevitably survive the movie.
But this is incredibly insulting on the part of Scott and the screenwriters. Waterston is damn fine actress but she is wasted in this film as Daniels is given little more to do than look worried, randomly trust a rogue android that shows up out of nowhere and then hold a gun and run about a space ship killing a xenomorph. It’s false advertising and a weird concession to those who thought Prometheus didn’t have enough “Ripley” or xenomorph.
The David Problem
What Scott appears much more interested in is Michael Fassbender’s David and that’s surely a retroactive step for a major franchise that bucked so many trends, the biggest one being that instead of a damsel in distress, you had a level-headed, determined and smart female character. You had, certainly after Aliens, the first action heroine.
Proof of Scott’s sole interest in David is provided in Walter (the logic problems of that character we’ll get into later) and the film’s ending. The ending, supposed to be shocking, has no weight because you don’t remotely care about Tennessee and Daniels because they are merely there to serve David’s story. And let there be no doubt, the Alien franchise is now David’s story (well, there’s a twist to that but you’ll have to read to the end of the article).
And what is David’s story? Well there’s something about Milton’s Paradise Lost and David being a Satan analogue and oh yeah, David created the xenomorphs because we need to give Michael Fassbender something to do! That’s quite a retcon right there not least because there was a xenomorph mural on a wall in Prometheus and (again) oh yeah, there was a suspiciously xenomorph-esque looking monster in the coda of Prometheus.
The Flaw with Prometheus and the Prequel Sequel
I’m going to overlook those things (temporarily) and look a bigger problem facing Alien:Covenant (and by extension Prometheus) : namely that it’s bad. Midichlorian level bad. I’m not talking about continuity issues either or the lazy plot that features a distress signal (yet again!) and a fully functional and non-decapitated David when by all accounts, if Shaw was behaving like an actual human character, she would never have trusted David enough to put him back together again. No, I’m talking about the prequel problem. Let me pose to you, dear reader, a question.
Do you want to know the real reason for human consciousness? I mean, that would presumably tie into the reason we exist, so yeah, you wanna know!?
Noooo! Of course you don’t want to know! That’s dumb! Why? Because it’s gonna be disappointing. We, individually, have to find our own meaning in life. We can’t have someone tell us. If some cosmic entity came along and just told you, it would never satisfy you. It would only disappoint you. As Iris DeMent so beautifully and eloquently put it, we should just let the mystery be.
Prometheus and now Alien:Covenant are essentially taking that (in a literal sense too as Prometheus was literally about where humans come from) idea of a mystery and just going right ahead and explaining it to you. And guess what, that’s boring!
And if it’s not boring, I can least say that it’s not satisfying. Do I really need to know the mystery behind the eggs on that alien space craft and what happened to the pilot of that ship? Better yet, do I need to know that the pilot (or space jockey/Engineer) was a member of a race of aliens that created humans? Nooo!
Mystery is inherently tied to existence – there are some things we’ll never know and sometimes it’s just plain better we don’t know because our imaginations can do so much more and when you explain something, you take away the magic. I’m fine with the idea of the aliens as a bio-weapon (an idea first explored in William Gibson’s unfilmed Alien III script) but I don’t really need to know who created them nor do I need to know that said race of aliens also created us! The main consequence of this is that the xenomorph is no longer scary or frightening. Plus it’s become so CGI-ed that they don’t look real anymore.
The Problem with Walter
And let’s avoid some of the silly stuff (Was David trying to tame the neomorph before Billy Crudup’s character killed it?) and get into a logic/continuity problem that I had a major problem with: Walter’s existence makes no sense.
Alien:Covenant explains that Walter exists because David was too human and freaked people out essentially (which begs the question, why model him on the look of the original David?). If that’s the case, how do you explain Ash in Alien?
Prometheus (and Covenant too with the Walter commercial) threw a spanner in the works by creating ads for David. Because if that’s the case, we can assume that there were ads for Ash and following that logic, why doesn’t Ripley know that Ash is an android? Better yet, if Walter was an upgrade of David to make him less human, why is Ash acting all human-like in Alien? This stuff makes your head spin in utter annoyance at the ineptitude and lack of care involved in crafting these stories.
The simple fact, however, is Ridley Scott and the prequel money making machine don’t care. And if you didn’t get the midichlorian reference, see Star Wars for further details (midichlorians being one of a myriad of continuity ruining missteps).
The Last Straw for a Failing Franchise
Perhaps Alien:Covenant’s greatest sin (which also doubles as the biggest slap in the face to fans of the original franchise) is also something that’s endemic in modern blockbuster films: plot over character and logic. The gestation period of the alien in Covenant bears zero resemblance to the gestation period of the alien that we see in Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 (obligatory shudder) and Alien Resurrection (less of a shudder after reading this). Why is this? Because the people who made this film don’t care about what has come before it and the plot needed to have that chest-burster come out of Billy Crudup’s character quickly so we could move on to the next set piece.
It’s sad when you think about where this franchise started and now ultimately where it has ended up. A once interesting monster now reduced to schlock shower scenes.
You remember that plot twist with David and Walter (Dear screenwriters, if the entire audience can see that coming, that’s BAD SCREENWRITING!!!) at the end of Covenant where Walter is really David? Well, here’s a plot twist for you but you may not have seen this coming (though if you saw the movie, you probably did): There won’t be any more David and his adventures in… trying to do whatever he’s trying to do.
Alien:Covenant is a box office dud. An 80% drop off is bad news for any movie but for a tent pole like Alien:Covenant, it’s a disaster. And it’s right that, for now, the franchise is dead.
Much talk was made of Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 project and there are so many conflicting reports about why it didn’t happen, it’s pointless going into the finer details. But if you’re really truthful about all this, you know that the franchise died in 1986.
So don’t think of David floating in space with all those colonists. Think about Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop floating in space. Why? Because that’s the truth I want to believe in.
Because that’s where the franchise really ended…..