Alien: Covenant – Ridley does not honour his audience agreement [SPOILERS]

The latest entry in the so-called Alien-franchise disappoints as much as it frustrates the film market.

When director Ridley Scott first announced his return to the “saga he created”, it was universally understood to be fundamentally necessary to resuscitate a film series more or less moribund following franchise-skewing (and -chewing) Aliens V Predator hybrids. Audiences opened their arms welcoming Ridley Scott back, who smartly established that he would leave the titular xenomorphs behind to pursue a new science-fiction saga inquiring the origins of mankind. The new approach would invariably spawn tangential stories with the intention of eventually segueing smoothly into Alien, the 1979 original that started it all. Prometheus, the resulting 2012 film that Ridley Scott marketed as the first in a trilogy of such sci-fi tales is the literal covenant that the British director signed with film audiences worldwide. Watching Alien: Covenant, it is clear that Ridley Scott all but burned said agreement in favour of “market-tested” check-boxes of story beats.

The fallibility of online-based research

Prometheus laid an intriguing foundation for the planned trilogy: Scientists discover what seems proof of a mysterious race of “engineers of life” populating worlds around the universe, including Earth. A mission is afoot to investigate this tantalizing, religion-defying theory that eventually reveals marble-skinned giants who travel through space in the same types of ships that the doomed crew in the 1979 original discovered stranded on a lifeless moon. By the end of Prometheus, heroine Elizabeth Shaw plots to travel to the Engineers’ home planet. Although Alien:Covenant opens with a well-made scene of the birth of David, a “synthetic”, an android, who accompanied Shaw in Prometheus, it quickly breaks the new mould Ridley Scott made in 2012 to get the tried-and-tested one from storage. Alien: Covenant deteriorates into a cookie-cutter repetition of the monster-eats-women-and-men ballet.

The juxtaposition of narrative promises with Alien tropes bears a cunning similarity to some of the criticism levelled at Prometheus ever so dashingly by brave online commentators, most importantly the absence of xenomorphs and the introduction of marble giants questioning the history of our universe and, indeed, the very concept of religion itself. The proponent of this quest, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, found herself equally targeted while the creepy android David received rave affirmations. The production team of the Prometheus sequel then put several years’ worth of Prometheus analysis into a blender and poured out Alien: Covenant inspite of the worldwide box office success Prometheus enjoyed to the tune of nearly half a billion dollars.

The forgotten journey

Audiences were already on a journey with scientist Elizabeth Shaw and android David when 20th Century Fox announced the production start of Alien: Covenant. The film, however, then introduces an entirely different line-up of new characters hoping to colonize a far-away planet. Their goals are furthermore not only different, they have no intention whatsoever to ponder the origins of man, nor are they aware of the outcome of the failed Prometheus expedition. Audiences consequently realise they may be watching a completely different film than they were expecting, namely Shaw’s quest to learn more about our de-facto creators.

Did David rig the screenplay?

Ridley Scott drops the quest for the beginnings of life to probe the moral deterioration of artificial intelligence. Preparation for the Blade Runner sequel may have had something to do with this drastic change of mind that kills off Elizabeth Shaw off-screen. As interesting and topical a question on the implications of autonomous AI are, they were meant to play off of Shaw’s eventual introduction to the Engineers’ world. As it is, Alien: Covenant brutally ignores the promises of its predecessor and, most curiously, those of director Ridley Scott himself. 

“Crossings”, available on You Tube, is an official Alien: Covenant prologue, a beautifully made farewell to what could have been.

Xenomorph upgrades

Alien: Covenant is a technologically upgraded Alien film that is visually stunning, so much so you would like to frame individual shots right on the spot. Yet the sixth entry in the so-called Alien “franchise”, and the second one in the Prometheus canon, retreads far more gladly than it presses on with purpose. It is the opposite of what we were promised by Prometheus and the same of what had come before. If you have been missing xenomorphs on the big screen, Alien: Covenant will not disappoint.

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