Oh my. Oh my oh my oh my…..well, I finally worked up the courage to go see an Alien film in the theater, and the experience was exactly what I suspected it would be: I.Was.TERRIFIED!!!! Not all the time, but enough that I was thoroughly weirded out by the time the movie ended.
And every time I relate my fright to someone, the first thing they ask is: but did you LIKE it? And…well….I’m actually not sure. I THINK I liked it, I mean if the goal of the film was to scare it’s audience half to death (and gross out the other half) than I think it succeeded).
The story is eerily similar to the original Alien film (which I believe was the idea): the colony ship Covenant is en route to Origae-6 with 2000 colonists (and 1000+ human embryos) in hypersleep and cryo-storage. With seven years and four months left in the voyage, the ship is overseen by the synthetic Walter, who is a physical duplicate of David, the android we met in Prometheus (the events of which are revealed to have occurred ten years before this film). Everything is fine until a random neutrino storm damages the ship. The crew is woken to deal with the problem, but the captain’s pod malfunctions and Branson (James Franco!!) burns to death trapped inside his pod (in the first majorly disturbing scene of the film).
From that point, through pretty much the rest of the film, the crew makes one bad decision after another, and the only one who speaks any degree of sense is Daniels (Covenant’s version of Ripley), who vehemently protests departing their original course to pursue a mystery planet that was previously undetected. This planet turns out to be where David and Shaw ended up after departing at the end of Prometheus. The Covenant crew lands to explore (leaving the main colony ship and a few crew members in orbit) and finds a gorgeous planet, fertile and perfectly habitable (bad weather notwithstanding) but no animals of any kind. Still, there’s no apparent danger until one crew member steps on a pile of half buried jars that release the same pesky pathogen from Prometheus. And a little while later, a second crew member ingests the same pathogen at the site of Shaw’s crashed ship.
Well, you can guess what happens: chaos!! The first crew member becomes host to a “back-burster” because, well, it claws its way out of the poor guy’s back in a terrifying scene. And, I have to admit that the one critic was right; these crew members act really really dumb. I mean, the one is trying to fend off this newborn Alien with a KNIFE, like that is going to do ANYTHING!! And the one crewmember who DOES go for a gun, misses at point blank range!! *facepalms* As bad as all of that was, it’s nothing compared to the “mouth-burster” that appears from the other crew member. I can’t describe it to you without feeling nauseous, but you can imagine what it looked like.
(Un)Fortunately the crew is “rescued” by David, who has been living alone on the planet for the last 10 years. Claiming that Shaw was killed in the crash and the planet’s population wiped out accidentally, David takes them to the heart of a city that is now a necropolis, literally. The square is full of thousands of blackened corpses, all twisted up in terror from the pathogen that killed them.
The truth about what David has done is absolutely horrifying (especially given that Shaw rescued him and put him back together). Not only did Shaw not die in the crash, she was systematically tortured as David experimented with what the pathogen would do to a human body. It is further revealed that David deliberately released the pathogen on the planet, knowing what it would do to the people living there. It seems that from the beginning David has had nothing but contempt for the humans who created them, deriding them to Walter as “a dying species” who are not worthy to start a new life elsewhere. It seemed to me that David hoped to sway Walter to his side, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the dynamic between Data and Lore in Star Trek: The Next Generation. David refers to Walter as “brother”, and like Lore, he possesses advanced emotional capabilities that Walter does not have. In fact, Walter informs David that others were afraid of him for that reason, which is why subsequent models were made with less emotions (almost the identical reasoning for why Data was made without emotions). Seeing that Walter will not join him, David attempts to kill him, but Walter has a secret: his body is capable of self-repair (something David is unaware of). The first climax involves a tremendous fight between Walter and David (essentially Michael Fassbender is fighting himself and it’s great!!) but the outcome is left unresolved, we only see “Walter” running out after the few surviving crewmembers when pilot Tennessee brings another ship down to rescue them.
It should be mentioned that before all this, David revealed to the captain that he has created eggs, yes THOSE eggs, facehuggers and all. The captain is lured into peeking into an open egg in one of the stupidest moments I’ve ever seen (I mean seriously, looking into the scary alien egg because the untrustworthy android told you to? Seriously?) Revealing David to be the creator of the traditional xenomorph to me turns the history of Alien on its head. Because, it now comes out that the most deadly creature in history was created by one of our own androids for the express purpose of wiping out the human race. But then again, if THAT is true, how is it possible that Predators have been hunting Aliens for thousands of years (per the events of Alien vs Predator and Alien vs. Predator Requiem)? Ah plot holes…don’t you just love them?
Returning to the story, there’s one last fight between Daniels and the xenomorph who is clinging to the ship, but it is disposed of. The fight is over, good guys won, but just as we all breathe a deep sigh of relief…it turns out it’s not over at all. See, the one surviving crewmember, turns out he was already infected with a chestburster (when or how that happened, I’m still not sure, though I have my suspicions. And don’t even ask me why it took longer for this one to gestate). Now there’s a fully formed Alien loose on board the Covenant. It takes out two more crew members (who are too busy getting “busy” in the shower to hear the alarm bells) and it takes the combined efforts of Daniels and Tennessee (“Walter” is watching in fascination) to eject the Alien from the ship.
NOW the crisis seems to be over and Daniels and Tennessee can return to their sleep pods for the remainder of their trip. But just before she goes to sleep, Daniels asks “Walter” if he will help her build the cabin she talked about at the beginning of the film. But the android doesn’t answer…because he isn’t Walter. He’s David…and now he has control of everything on the ship. The last scene with Daniels is the most horrifying at all because she knows exactly what David plans to do with her (the same that he did to Shaw) and watching her futilely bang and scream inside her sleep pod before she is yanked into cryo-sleep is terrifying to watch. And that’s where the film ends, with David in control, looking over the 2000 colonists that are now his unwitting test subjects. A final transmission reveals that any news of this “incident” won’t be relayed to Earth for at least 18 months. It’s a dark ending, and a terribly dark film, one that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch again because it was just that terrifying.
But one detail in the film intrigued me to no end: at least half of the film uses Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien score to the exclusion of any other type of music. Even the opening titles (where and how the main title appears) is done in the same way as the original Alien title. It’s an interesting decision that makes sense to a certain degree. Ridley Scott is determined to have Covenant (and the films that follow) set squarely in the Alien universe (no confusion like what happened in Prometheus). What better way to do that than using the original Alien music? When in doubt, set the world with music.
Final verdict: I liked it, but now there are some interesting plot holes in the chronology that will be hard to rectify. (Do not see this film alone if you can help it).
Continuing thoughts on Alien: Covenant
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