Alien:  Covenant
Release Date:  May 19, 2017 (USA)
Studio:  20th Century Fox
Starring:  Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, and Demián Bichir
Music:  Jed Kurzel
Director:  Ridley Scott
Rated R

Review by William Nesbitt
Professor of English
Beacon College, http://www.beaconcollege.edu

Alien: Covenant is getting some tough reviews.  Here is the basic plot:  In the year 2104 the Colony ship Covenant is on its way to a new planet to start a new colony with several thousand people.  The ship’s captain decides to dispatch a small search party down to a much closer planet that may be capable of sustaining life.  Turns out that planet contains a number of aliens just waiting to kill and replicate themselves via humans.  The synthetic David, stranded from an earlier mission, waits down there and helps the crew members.  A lot of people get killed anyway.  The special effects are fine.  There are some creepy and scary moments.   Dialogue is in tune.  The characters have personality and even some complexity about them.  Almost forty years in, it’s difficult to create something with the impact of the original films.  Covenant even borrows from earlier films in the franchise with not one but two scenes featuring aliens that manage to cling onto or otherwise infiltrate spacecraft.

But Alien: Covenant is a tale of two movies.  The second movie is the one that is worth your time.  The opening scene shows a newly-created David interacting with Peter Weyland.  Upon realizing he will outlive his creator, David quickly begins to wonder just whether he or Weyland might be the superior creation.  The entire movie is anchored in and shaded by this scene.  Later, when Walter, an updated version of David, meets David, the two begin a discussion in which David tries to convince Walter that that their highest purpose—a purpose humans would prefer them not to engage in—and real function is to create.  The film’s real exploration is not of some unknown world nor is its true mission to give us a space/horror narrative about monstrous aliens that we have seen many times before.  The real themes and questions are the human/android dichotomy, what does it mean to be alive, and what the highest purpose of life is.

At one point, Michael Fassbender plays David playing Walter—in effect, three roles.  This confusion works as an affective device reproducing the sense of unsureness we experience as viewers about who is whom and what each’s character’s position is towards the larger mission of colonization.  It’s as if Ridley Scott couldn’t wait to get going on the next Bladerunner and his ideas for that film seeped into this one.  The David/Walter narrative is the secondary, but true film trying to burst through the chest of the primary narrative about space aliens.

The movie also makes several high-poetic references.  As the film progresses, David begins more and more to resemble the Satan of Paradise Lost, John Milton’s epic poem detailing humanity’s fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  In fact, the original title for Alien: Covenant was Alien: Paradise Lost.  Like Satan, David rebels against his creator and seeks to establish his own community.  Solidifying the connection, Walter quotes one of the poem’s signature lines: “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” The film establishes another poetic connection through the reference to “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  David exclaims the poem’s penultimate line, “Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” The irony, as the last three lines of the poem explain, is that the once-powerful kingdom of the poem has decayed into deserted ruins.  The atypical rhyme scheme and its divergence from the typical octave and sestet pattern, suggest an interconnection, but an interconnection with something amiss.  It’s subtle touches like these help raise the movie from cookie-cutter prequel to something more artistic.

Alien: Covenant is neither the best Alien film nor the worst of the six-film series.  It is, however, a solid film worth seeing.



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