Sound Off! Alien: Covenant

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, check yourself for alien parasites (especially in the chest area) and discuss Alien: Covenant, which premiered in the United States on Friday, May 19, 2017.

Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching.

Now, join Shara White as she talks about Alien: Covenant! [Note: Would it be a post from our editor-in-chic without SOME spoilers? She outdoes herself here: if you plan on seeing the movie, you may want to come back and read this later.]


Shara: I shouldn’t be surprised. By time Alien: Covenant was over, I actually wasn’t surprised. If you didn’t see that “twist” coming, then either you weren’t paying attention, or you just aren’t familiar with how stories work any time identicals are involved. Spoiler alert: swaps always happen. No matter how they tried to play up the brother angle between David and Walter (and don’t get me wrong, it was rather fascinating to see one synthetic interacting with and teaching his later model), the moment David started cutting his hair, you knew there David would inevitably pose as Walter. So of course it unfolded that David didn’t have Covenant‘s best interests at heart. Of course we didn’t see who won the final fight between him and Walter. The writers might have well have hung a giant neon sign over the android’s head saying, “This is David!”

But let me back up. I was excited for this film because the very first trailer (which was actually a prologue to the movie itself) seemed to harken back to Alien’s actual roots. A synthetic and a crew on a ship, in space. It showed us joy before the inevitable horror, and I thought, okay, this could be amazing. Because Alien is one of my favorite films. Yes, I love the sequel too, and I agree the rest of the franchise is rather meh if not worse (but Prometheus was so very, very pretty, and it had Idris Elba in it!), but if Covenant could bring back the wonderful sense of horror that the very first Alien movie brought us, I’d be thrilled.

But really, I was expecting too much, wasn’t I? Because it’s been almost forty years since the Xenomorpth was first introduced, and we’ve seen this creature in Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator, Alien vs. Predator 2, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Prometheus, and now, Alien: Covenant.

Let’s be honest: the Xenomorpth just isn’t that scary any more.

And it’s interesting to track the evolution of these films. If you take out the Alien vs. Predator franchise (though, I’ll admit, the first one is a helluva lot of fun), and then just ignore Alien 3 because even David Fincher, who directed it, has had it struck from his record, and since I completely forgot about Alien: Resurrection when I originally made my list, let’s ignore that too, and you’ve got the following:

  • Alien: a quiet, tense, edge-of-your seat horror film set in space
  • Aliens: a horror film on a bigger budget, more on the action-movie side, set in space
  • Prometheus: a science fiction film, with a deep focus on creation, fatherhood, and horror that happens for mostly stupid reasons.
  • Alien: Covenant: a science fiction film, with a deep focus on creation, fatherhood, and horror that happens for reasons not quite as stupid, but this is starting to feel a little old now.

My biggest complaint about Alien: Covenant, aside from its horrifying predictability, is the fact that is just muddles the genesis of the Xenomorpth itself. For all of the criticisms Prometheus took, I thought it did a relatively decent job in answering the question: who was the space-man the Nostromo crew discovered in the first Alien movie that unleashed the Xenomorph we grew up with?

Prometheus also introduced the idea that the Xenomorph took its form based on the genetics of its host, so that it would make sense the Xenomorths from Prometheus wouldn’t IMMEDIATELY look like the ones we know from the early movies. I could roll with that. But Alien: Covenant screws all of that up with David’s experiments. Yes, it drives the point home that depending on what biological matter you introduce it too, the form will change (the one David is bonding with — you’ll know the one, it’s the BIG one — reminds me way too much of the monster from the Upside Down in Stranger Things). That’s nice, but it boggles my mind to think that it’s David’s tinkering that led to the Xenomorphs that our original Nostromo crew runs into, and my brain is just having issues. Maybe it’ll all make sense in the end, because it is chilling to think that by time Covenant is over, David is going to continue his experiments to make a perfect Xenomorph. But I also can’t help but compare Ridley Scott to George Lucas, someone who’s fallen so in love with his own world-building that he can’t leave well enough alone, and as a result, he’s making things more and more complicated than they should be. Because honestly, did we really need an origin story for the Xenomorph? At this point, I feel like it’s about as necessarily as midi-chlorians, and it’s worse, because with horror, it’s what we don’t know that fuels the fear.

Was the film beautiful to watch? It was dark. It had some good shots, but the darkness worked against it for me, though that may be a result of the theater I was in. I also couldn’t help but notice a particular scene that looked like it was an homage to Jurassic Park, when an injured Faris is running/limping away from a newly hatched Xenomorph (Ellie Sadler running away from a Raptor, anyone?). That shouldn’t be a bad thing, but I was already a little grumpy because of the music (I swear, it felt like I was listening to the happy, optimistic part of a Star Wars score), as well as the opening sequence that started off the entire conflict, which was such a tired use of a trope that I nearly rolled my eyes when it happened on screen.

Predictable. Confusing. No adorable cats to cheer for. Oh, and while the Alien franchise has always had, at its core, themes of motherhood, pregnancy, and even rape, Covenant took this to 11 with its implied treatment of Shaw, and its threatened treatment of Daniels, whose character I did like despite being so clearly cut out of the Ellen Ripley cloth.

No, I don’t think the Xenomorphs are supposed to scare me anymore. Instead, the villain of the franchise has become a white man — oops, sorry, android — and yes, there’s a meaty story there about creators and fathers and responsibility, but this story’s gotten a lot more convoluted, and a lot creepier, and not in a good way.

3 Comments

  • Nicole Taft May 24, 2017 at 12:34 am

    “Let’s be honest: the Xenomorpth just isn’t that scary any more.”

    I fussed and sassed about not wanting any CGI aliens because they aren’t scary (and true,CGI is all too clearly fake, hence not scary), but at the same time, you’re right. Ultimately at this point, they’re not.

    Still, I think it would have been great if they’d fully regressed to original Alien style. Darkness. Lurking. Uncertainty. I mean, the Alien video game did that and it was a resounding success. You never knew when that thing might be lurking around, and it wasn’t always lurking either. Sometimes that sucker was straight up strolling through the halls listening for you. Granted, it’s scarier when you’re the player and the creature is going to jump in your face personally, actors that do well at portraying fear can help drive that point across. Is it around the corner? Will I be safe in this room? Have it unfurling from the wall behind someone who is too panicked in the first place to notice it, only to turn around and lose their shit.THAT’S the movie I hoped for.

    Sounds like it turned into what I expected. Rather a disappointment. Ah well. Good thing I didn’t have high hopes of any kind.

    Reply
    • Shara White May 24, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      You know, I didn’t think about the contrast between practical effects and CGI…. I thought the CGI was well done when it came to the Xenomorpths (especially the initial little bastards), but what downplayed the scare factor here was with the exception of a scene towards the end, they don’t tease you with glimpses of what’s hunting the characters, you know? Sure, back then you got glimpses because of practical, budgetary reasons, and now they can show the whole thing because WOOOO CGI, but there’s a certain level of suspense regardless.

      I wondered about that game…. maybe one day I’ll convince my hubby to pick it up and play it.

      Are you going to go see Alien: Covenant? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Some people think it’s the best film since the original two.

      Reply
      • Nicole Taft May 26, 2017 at 12:30 am

        I probably won’t really bother until it’s out on DVD. It doesn’t sound enticing enough to me to watch in the theater.

        Reply

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