Alien Covenant *spoilers*

RRschultze

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Watched it last week.... to be fair i was a bit disappointed. To me it was the Michael Fassbender show, he's a good actor however, the whole plot revolved around him. However, I did like the fact that Ridley Scott has reintroduced the 'alien' we all love from the previous Alien/Aliens films. Also not sure about the crew landing on a hostile planet and splitting up! or the bit after they have been attacked and fled to David's place and they split up again and get picked off. It did answer a few questions about Promethesus. A 6/10 for me.
 

Dr Zaius

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*SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS*



After a long wait and decades spent wandering in the wilderness with nothing but the execrable Alien vs. Predator movies to fall back on, the Alien franchise is finally back, and this time under the helm of Ridley Scott himself. So is this the long-overdue return to form fans of the original have been waiting for? Sadly, no. The answer why lies in understanding what the first film was.

More than anything else, the original Alien was a Lovecraftian construct, a universe where humans are small and unimportant and unfathomable horror lurks out there in the darkness. And in true Lovecraftian style, it left many questions unanswered as original creators Dan O'Bannon and Robert Shusett were insightful enough to understand the unknown is usually far more frightening than the known. Taking a cue from the best horror literature, Alien left viewers with plenty of mysteries to ponder, and an intuitive sense that we (humans) will never come close to unlocking whatever dark secrets the universe has up its sleeve.

Evil often works best when it's enigmatic and beyond normal human experience. Showing too much too soon, or explaining too much to the viewer is a surefire way to kill the horror vibe. When O'Bannon and Shusett brought in Ridley Scott to direct the first film, they emphasized the importance of keeping the pace slow and deliberately revealing as little of the alien as possible. Even after the movie ended, moviegoers had a difficult time explaining what the alien was or exactly what they thought they had seen. All they knew for sure is that they had been scared out of their wits and had witnessed some kind of existential horror which had assaulted their senses.

From the ship to the spacesuits to the engineering equipment, Scott, with a lot of help from visionary surrealist H.R. Giger, created one of the most believable "worn future" sci-fi settings ever to grace the big screen. Even today, the original's bizarre and creepy visuals stand apart from anything which has come after. Too, the characters were simple, yet strangely effective. They didn't come off as movie stars or the beautiful people, just ordinary and flawed human beings thrust into an extraordinary situation. They argued about pay, got on each other's nerves, and for the most part acted like we would expect normal people to act. They weren't idiots, nor were they heroes. And there was certainly none of the hackneyed, "Don't go in there, girl!" antics which tend to plague modern horror films, far too many of which are made to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

In short, Alien was an unapologetic horror film made for grown ups; one which wasn't afraid to take its time to get where it was going.

In contrast, Alien Covenant stands all that on its head. Calling the characters cardboard is being generous, as most appear on screen just long enough to die. And because they're essentially throwaways which we care nothing about, their deaths are meaningless and hollow and fail to inspire any genuine fear. Faceless crewman number five just bought it two decks down. Oh well, who cares. In fact, the inexplicably poor judgement and well-nigh suicidal stupidity exhibited by these intrepid geniuses throughout the film leaves the audience secretly rooting for all of them to be exterminated as quickly as possible, lest they pollute the cosmos with their banality. Surely, people as dumb as this wouldn't be capable of space travel...

Even more unforgivable, we see lots of aliens of different sorts, often and up close. Unlike the creeping sense of escalating dread so masterfully nurtured in the first film, here the alien is, sadly, reduced to being little more than yet another tired CGI fest. The horrifying evolution of the alien, so slowly and painstakingly revealed in the first film, is wiped away in Alien Covenant and replaced with something akin to monsters spawning in a video game. The bizarre alien lifecycle played out over the course of a few days in the original film, and this transformation was slow enough to be believable yet fast enough to be shocking and horrifying. There's none of that in Alien Covenant. Instead, we get cut and paste scenes where the alien lifeform goes from infecting a human to bursting out to then morphing into a full-fledged Xenomorph, all in the span of about 15 minutes.

Who the f*** thought that was a good idea?

These missteps, along with the cringe-worthy stupidity of the characters, combine to drag down Alien Covenant and turn it into yet another frustrating missed opportunity. At times, it seems like Ridley Scott almost intentionally set out to spike his own series and repudiate everything that made the original great.

Fassbender is entertaining, as usual, but he's about the only bright spot here. Nevertheless, after a while he occupies so much of the screen time that the other characters become almost completely superfluous. In fact, one can credibly argue Alien Covenant isn't really a movie about killer aliens at all, it's a movie about killer AI with some alien stuff thrown in as window dressing.

Instead of returning to its roots as a true horror film, leaving enough dark mystery to allow the audience to fill in the blanks, Scott doubles down on all the weak points of Prometheus. In reality, this film should have been called Prometheus 2: Covenant or some such, as its relationship to the original Alien film is tenuous at best, despite the writers' ham-handed attempt to impose some kind of cohesive story line on all thee films. In the end, mostly what was accomplished was to diminish the legacy of the first film.

Alien Covenant isn't a complete failure, as the film does serve up some cool alien vistas and for brief moments is able to conjure up a little creepiness here and there. But it doesn't last long as Scott substitutes hackneyed action scenes where there ought not to be anything except the cold horror of empty space.

Apparently, in space you can only hear the audience scream.

Some additional reviews:

Alien Covenant Review: Scott may not be done with Alien franchise, but I may be
CNN: Alien Covenant doesn't deliver much
Review: 'Alien Covenant' dilutes the 'Alien' series
Review: 'Alien Covenant' is intended to act as several things, none of them particularly admirable
 
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Dr Zaius

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Some additional thoughts.

I think there was room to do at least one sequel to Alien and have it come out as spectacular as the original. However, a lot of thought would have had to have gone into it, and in all likelihood it would have required the people from the original team to successfully pull it off.

A big part of what's missing here is Giger. Hans Ruedi was one of the most visionary surrealists the world has ever known, and his art was utterly unique and unlike anything which has come before or since. And just as importantly, he was extremely prolific and possessed a tireless energy in his heyday. He could churn out airbrush "sketches" and concepts which were more detailed than most other artists' final works, and he could do it in just a matter of a few hours. Seeing his works in person, his technique is breathtakingly good.

He broke every rule of art design because he wasn't an artist by training, but an industrial engineer. His art started as a side project and eventually morphed into an all-consuming passion which cost him a great deal on a personal level. He didn't really like working for Hollywood, as his art was very personal to him and he had a very hard time watching others put it to use without his personal involvement. As an artist, I very much understand that. I don't know how I would handle watching some company take my art and bastardize it in ways I don't approve of. That would be hard.

Personally, I believe Giger's absence is a big part of what's missing in these new movies. Sadly, I don't believe he would have approved of what has been done to the alien. If there's one lesson I internalized from Hans Ruedi it is the idea of merging beauty with darkness. If you pay attention, you will notice Giger's alien design, although dark and bizarre, is also beautiful in its own way. There's a grace to the lines, and an feminine quality to parts of its face, the shape of the feet, and its overall proportions. This was quite intentional and part of what H.R. referred to as "his lady." Yes, it was intended to be very frightening, but it was never intended to be just a monster. It's better than that, it's something much more than that. It's a nightmare vision of surrealist beauty, part human, part industrial, part dark fantasy.

It's perfection.

Few people realize just how much Hans Ruedi Giger contributed to the first movie. He actually personally built most of the sets, including the epic Space Jockey. Nearly everything you see in Alien was his design, except for the Nostromo. Budget limitations kept many of the concepts he did for the movie from actually making it in, but the movie did manage to capture his essential vison. He took the complicated biological lifecycle that O'Bannon and Shusett came up with for the alien and made breathed life into it. He was an industrial engineer by trade, and all his works clearly display the exhaustive attention to detail characteristic of Swiss and German designers. Though he was a surrealist and a master of impossible visions, his nature drove him to try to bring some sort of logical rationality to his works. In short, although the alien might be an impossible fantasy, he strove to make it as believable as possible within the context of what it was intended to be.

That's unique, folks. Combining surrealism, darkness, beauty, and industrial practicality into a cohesive vision is an extraordinarily difficult endeavor. Trust me, I know from my many, many failures.

I have nothing but respect for Ridley Scott and think the world of him. But the alien wasn't entirely his. The original concept for the movie came from O'Bannon and Shusett, and Scott is the one who put the whole film together and deserves a ton of credit for that. But the alien itself belongs more to Hans Ruedi Giger than anyone else. The idea for it came from Giger's Necronomicon, which pre-dates the movie by years. And I think this vision, this drive to reconcile surrealistic nightmare with beauty, and a decayed, industrial future are what's missing here.

These guys know the notes but they don't know the music. That was H.R. Giger's symphony, and he's off to other worlds now.
 
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Dr Zaius

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If you want to know more about how the alien came to be, start here.


 

Dr Zaius

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Some final thoughts.

I actually like Aliens quite a bit, but I agree with others who've criticized some of the things Cameron did as being unnecessary and a betrayal of sorts of what made Alien great. First and foremost, the whole movie would have benefitted from getting Giger involved. But I think Cameron's massive ego precluded that.

What Cameron mostly changed was the top of the head, as he removed the transparent part and made it more insect-like. The original alien is an amalgamation of Giger's Neconom IV and Necronom V paintings. Originally, the concept design for the movie had eyes, like Neconom IV. I think I read that it was Ridley Scott's idea to combine the tail from IV with the eyeless head from V. I believe it was Hans Ruedi's idea to then enhance the whole thing by making the top of the head transparent, so you could see the outline of a skull inside.

Due to the dark sets and the slime and sheen usually seen on the body of the alien, you have to look really close to actually see that transparent effect in the original movie. It's subtle, but when you watch a high quality Blu-ray version it comes across pretty well, and it does make the alien more unique and scary in some ways. I think that was Giger's way of suggesting the Xenomorph lifeform takes some characteristics from whatever host species it reproduces from. It looks like a human skull when seen frontally in the right lighting.

Another point is the way the original alien moved. Giger's alien was actually very slow and deliberate in it's movements, as it snuck up on you like a constrictor snake rather than charging you head-on like a lion. Cameron started that crap, and it got worse with the following films. It could move extremely fast when it needed to, but it's clear the original alien was envisioned as an ambush predator, and so it preferred dark places and confined spaces.

Also, it's important to note the alien almost never killed unless it was attacked or disturbed. It's primary purpose was to reproduce, thus it was looking to capture additional hosts. This made it far more terrifying. But in the later films they misunderstood or intentionally bastardized the original concept, and reduced the alien to nothing more than a senseless brute of a monster who killed for no apparent reason. And that truly was a blasphemy of what the alien was supposed to be, and the true kind of terror it represented. For the alien just didn't kill you, it took you and infested your body with snakes and tentacles. It used you horribly and then discarded you. But even in all this horror there a kind of strange beauty: the creation of a shiny new alien. Again, Giger's vision at work.

Giger speaks extensively about snakes and tentacles in his various documentaries, and how he sees theses as representative of real-world horrors. The new movies completely failed to capture any of that.

All that said, a big part of the alien lifecycle was Shusett's brainchild. He came up with the idea of a monster which "impregnated" a human. And I think it was O'Bannon who took that basic idea and linked it up with Giger's Necronomican book. And it was O'Bannon who showed that to Ridley Scott.
 
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