In space, no one can hear you scream.
Unfortunately for movie makers, this statement does not apply to super-fans of the Alien franchise and some of their screaming about the newest addition to the family, Alien: Covenant.
Released on May 19th, 2017, Alien: Covenant has been a much-anticipated follow-up to Prometheus, which many considered a flop. For some fans, however, Alien: Covenant was a deep disappointment because they felt it too much resembled the original Alien. I find this incredibly interesting, although I tend to disagree.
Before I continue, if you haven’t seen Alien: Covenant, please do so before reading further. I don’t intend to include every spoiler or go into even the majority of the movie, but there might be enough to potentially ruin it for you. Read at your own risk!
Parallels and Prometheus
I will admit, there are definite parallels between Alien and Alien: Covenant:
- Strong female character
- A distress call that leads the ship off-course
- A rogue droid
- An effort to keep unknown “infection” off of the space ship
- Political shenanigans that leads to crew deaths
Parallels is the appropriate word here because even though yeah, sure, there are similarities…this is truly a different movie with a lot of moving parts that simply do not exist in Alien. Ridley Scott made Alien: Covenant in such a way that these parallels have more of an Easter egg feeling than a tired Haven’t we been here before? way. As a super-fan, I felt nostalgic, but I was still kept on the edge of my seat and genuinely curious as to what could happen next. As beautiful a movie as Prometheus was, I didn’t get that same feeling, but I think that the reason comes down to one word:
Alien: Covenant answers all of the pertinent lingering questions left from Prometheus such as:
- What happened after Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and David headed to the Engineers’ home planet?
- What were the Engineers like? Are there any left alive?
- What is the black goop?
and of course the most important question many people had (though I felt the answer was obvious in Prometheus):
What does any of this have to do with the Xenomorph?!
Alien: Covenant and the Xenomorph
For me, the absolute coolest thing about Alien: Covenant was the macro-evolution of the Xenomorph. Prometheus set the stage for the rapid evolution by showing the earliest versions of the Facehugger and the Chestburster/Xenomorph. If you didn’t catch it, the funky alien baby Dr. Shaw gave birth to around the middle of the movie was shown to be the first (albeit giant!) Facehugger when it ate the Engineer at the end of the movie, thus becoming what is known as the Deacon once it exited the Engineer’s chest. If you’re confused as to what I’m referring to, watch Prometheus again, particularly the ending—you’ll know what I’m talking about.
With that in mind, Alien: Covenant does not waste a lot of time when it comes to developing the ferociousness and aesthetics of the Xenomorph we have become familiar with. However, the movie does take the time to explain exactly how the Neomorph/Xenomorph came about. David’s revelations are fascinating, yet absolutely terrifying, but all loop back to the famous question Mr. Weyland has posed since Prometheus: “Where do we come from?” Even more so, David’s actions of creating the Xenomorph as we know it beg the question “If we can create, are we not gods as well?”
Cue the existential crisis!
Ash in Alien may be a rogue droid, but the similarity ends there in that regard. David is a mad-scientist who is angry at his creators, and though I was really surprised the story went down that path, I’m glad it did because it closes the who-created-who loop and adds an incredible amount of depth. Aside from the awesome Xenomorph infection scenes and kills, David’s story is horrifying in an unexpected way because it forces the audience to look at their own humanity and capabilities as creators and destroyers. David is an exceptional villain and easily steals the show.
Alien never came close to developing this kind of plot on its own because, honestly, Ridley Scott did not foresee Alien being as popular as it ultimately was—it was originally intended as just a monster movie. In fact, the original working title was Star Beast!
Daniels and Ripley
Yes, Daniels and Ripley are both officers on their respective space ships. Yes, they both destroy the Xenomorph that manages to sneak on board. Yes, they are both strong(ish), yet unassuming, female characters in their films.
None of that means that Alien: Covenant is not an original (not to mention beautiful!) movie. Much like Ripley in Alien, Daniels does not immediately jump out to viewers as a heroine. She is incredibly human and vulnerable. Unlike Rey in Star Wars: Episode 7, Daniels is not a Mary Sue: she is not inherently powerful, nor is there anything unusually remarkable about her. She sticks to the rules and seems like a generally nice person, especially when it comes to synthetics (droids, for the uninitiated).
I would say this where the biggest criticism for Alien: Covenant lives—Daniels is not Ripley, and will never be Ripley. Dr. Shaw was not Ripley, either. Ridley Scott seems a bit obsessed with re-creating Ripley that he under-develops characters. In fact, had I not watched the movie clips like The Last Supper before watching Alien: Covenant, I would have no idea most of what is supposed to be driving Daniels as a character.
On the other hand, if we were to take a hard look at Ripley’s character development in Alien, I think a reasonable conclusion is that her development was not inherently intentional. What about Ripley really changed from the beginning of the movie to the end? Perhaps I am alone in this sentiment, but we don’t really have any idea about who Ripley is in Alien besides the fact that she is a stickler for rules. We don’t get an illustrious backstory for any of the characters in the film—we can only assume that the Nostromo’s crew has history of working together.
There is no backstory for the characters because it doesn’t truly matter.
Survival is the only thing that matters, and I think Scott took advantage of what worked in Alien and tried to apply it to every other movie. His mistake, in my opinion, is that he keeps creating obviously complex characters at face-value, but doesn’t develop them into anything meaningful because they die anyway. There seems to be a magic formula that works for stand-alone monster movies that simply does not translate well into franchises. You see it all of the time, from Nightmare on Elm Street to Friday the 13th and Halloween.
Is Alien: Covenant a carbon copy of Alien?
I say no.
Again, there are definite parallels. Easter eggs, if you will. But they are not the same movie. I think Star Wars: Episode 7 was a carbon copy of A New Hope, but I don’t think Alien: Covenant is the carbon copy of Alien.
I really enjoyed Covenant. I loved seeing the Xenomorph develop, I loved David’s psychosis (erm, or whatever it is called for synthetics), and I thought it was fun and beautiful. I also enjoyed Alien vs. Predator so maybe my opinion doesn’t mean much but shhhh…
As fans, we can’t try to measure every Alien movie in the franchise against the original and expect to be happy. Alien was unique and there will never be a true comparison. Aliens doesn’t count because it is so different from Alien! I think a lot of people are shitting on this movie and I don’t think it’s warranted. There is a lot more of the movie that could be discussed but at 1,300+ words, I think I’ve said enough.
Have you seen Alien:Covenant? What did you think?