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Alien: Covenant

918 words

I saw Alien: Covenant on the big screen this summer in Budapest. I didn’t write a review then, because another reviewer had it covered. But having seen it for a second time, now on Blu-ray, I feel moved to comment.

Covenant is an excellent film, indeed the best in the series since Scott started it with his path-breaking Alien (1979) — although James Cameron’s Aliens is excellent and iconic in its own right.

This is especially surprising and welcome, given that Covenant is the sequel to Prometheus (2012), Scott’s retina-scorching attempt to launch a prequel series. Prometheus was not just awful for its portentous, arbitrary, incoherent, and sometimes downright stupid script by Damon Lindelof (Lost), but for its vulgar promise to “explain” the xenomorphs rather than just allow them to be menacing mysteries. (See my review here.)

Covenant is set 10 years after Prometheus. Perhaps because Scott came to realize that Prometheus is God-awful, he basically abandoned as much of the detritus as he could, including Lindelof. The only characters who remain from Prometheus are Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland (who appears only in the prologue) and Michael Fassbender as the android David. Scott couldn’t really abandon the conceit of explaining the xenomorphs, but the end of Covenant does not set up the beginning of Alien. (The ship that crashes in Covenant cannot be the ship that is found in Alien.) So we are all left wondering. It is as if, after the debacle of Prometheus, Scott decided to simply make the best possible movie, “franchise” continuity be damned. I’m not complaining one bit.

Covenant is not really about the xenomorphs. Unlike Alien, it is not a haunted-house movie in space. Nor is it an action movie like Aliens. Instead, Covenant is a mad scientist movie. The android David is our modern Prometheus/Dr. Frankenstein/Lucifer figure (originally the movie was titled Alien: Paradise Lost), and Fassbender plays him as a cross between HAL-9000 and Hannibal Lecter, right down to his musical taste and exquisite drawings. (Scott, of course, directed 2001’s Hannibal.)

The script of Covenant is intelligent and highly literary, weaving in Wagner, Milton, and Shelley. The music by Australian rock musician Jed Kurzel is effective, utilizing Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting, Debussy-like main theme from the original Alien. The visual style and effects are simply dazzling, with spectacular location shots, superb sets, models, and paintings, and a minimum of digital trickery. The detail and feeling of realism on the large screen were stunning. I especially appreciated the recreation of Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead. Simply as a feast for the eyes, Covenant offers scene after scene that will fill you with wonder and delight, as well as sheer visceral terror.

I enjoyed the pacing of Covenant. The opening is slow and deliberate, with a good deal of time spent developing characters, although I never really liked or cared about any of them. (It is almost as if Scott wants us to sympathize with David’s genocidal misanthropy.)

When we finally set down on a hostile planet, we are nearly an hour into the film. Then things get pretty frenzied, and, aside from a couple of calm interludes, the suspense and action never let up until the end. The aliens are genuinely terrifying: both the classic xenomorphs and the so-called “neomorphs,” which are new to us but “paleomorphs” evolutionarily speaking. And although much here pays homage to elements of Alien and Aliens, where it counts, Covenant is a genuinely imaginative and original film.

Scott is a highly PC director. Remember, this is the guy who brought us Thelma and Louise and G.I. Jane. But there are some subversive elements to Covenant. First, the 14-member crew of the Covenant consists of 5 women and 9 men. There are at least five married couples, including a black man with a white wife and a couple of macho homosexuals.

This is a plot in which bad decisions lead to disaster. Predictably, when one spouse is in danger, the other becomes emotional and makes bad decisions, and it only gets worse as spouses start dying horribly. The biggest catastrophe, though, happens because two women who are left in charge go completely to pieces in a crisis. Some have pointed out that the race-mixers get their comeuppance, but so does practically everyone else, so there is no moral there.

The final scene of Covenant is magnificent and far more terrifying than the giant bugs. Having placed the two surviving crew members into stasis, David, who earlier complained that his experiments lacked only one thing — human test subjects — enters into the compartment where two thousand colonists and more than a thousand human embryos are stored in stasis, accompanied by Wagner’s magnificent “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla.” Then he vomits up two xenomorph embryos and places them among the human ones, like a cuckoo laying its eggs in an unwitting host’s nest.

Buttercup Dew is right to see Covenant as an unconscious anti-Semitic allegory, and the final scene encapsulates the full horror we all feel at the spectacle of our sleeping race being turned into experimental playthings then corpses by beings that look huwyte on the outside but operate on a misanthropic, genocidal code on the inside.

Frankly, I hope the Alien franchise ends here, on the highest note since it began 38 years ago. At the age of 79, Ridley Scott has made more bad movies than good ones. But when he’s good — Alien, Blade Runner, Blackhawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, The Martian — hoo-boy. With Covenant, Scott can retire with us all wanting more.

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26 Comments

  1. DJF
    Posted September 9, 2017 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I found it funny that one of the complaints about Prometheus was that the crew took off their helmets on an alien planet before properly testing air

    In Covenant they fixed that problem by not having helmets on a alien planet

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 9, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      They received data about the atmosphere as they orbited/descended to the planet.

  2. Q.
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    An interesting review of a potential film to view. Yet, at least from this review, it seems unclear what would motivate David, an android?

    Does an Artichect (from commentator P. Quint), or paleo-Architect(s), perhaps reside within the android? That is to say, one may see the Architect(s) in the android? And what of the various -morphs?

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 2, 2017 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      David’s motivations are fairly clear in the movie. He is Lucifer/Satan as configured by Milton, in rebellion against his creator (and his distant ancestors, the architects), and desiring to become a creator himself, creating monsters as biological weapons. Scott’s other Lucifer figure is Roy Batty in Blade Runner, who kills his creator as well.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted September 3, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      The problem with David is that he has a malfunction. Remember when Walter asks him who wrote the poem”Ozymandias,” David replied, “Lord Bryon.” During the final confrontation with David, Walter corrects him by telling him that “Shelley” was the poet, and follows-up with a comment about an instrument being slightly out of tune, that leads to malfunction. David was malfunctioning from the beginning, which lead to him having a bad case of hubris. We see the same sort of malfunction with the android on the original “Alien,” remember.

  3. 1rw
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    The problem I have with Covenant is that it’s about incredibly dumb people dying because they do dumb things. And other dumb things. Like when the race mixers get aced in the shower, it’s retarded. Most of the crew just died, people whom they worked with and presumably were friends with. Perfect time for a tryst – not comfort sex mind you, basically porn sex. Sorry, no amount of reading WN themes in the script can cover the crass stupidity the movie feeds the viewer

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 2, 2017 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

      Yes, well, so is King Lear for that matter.

  4. Ogier the Dane
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    Agree with the list of great Scott movies, except Kingdom of Heaven, which was my most disappointing movie experience to date. Building up the entire movie for a battle of dimensions, it turns into something like the end of the Monty Pythons knights movie, except its also revisionist in the Edward Said alley, muselmen – good, forgiving fair, et.c., european knights – primitive, weak and dishonorable. I really didn’t think much of Ridley Scott after that, and it opened my eyes to the betrayal of the elites, of european culture and pride.

    • Pietas
      Posted September 2, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      I agree with your observations overall, but I think the subtext of the movie, set as it was in the 2000s, was against the middle eastern/Zionist wars, equating them with the crusader ethos. That tends to be a point of convergence between WNs and the far left. They are “right for the wrong reasons” here. I feel that way about the left with Vietnam and Korea too.

      • Pietas
        Posted September 2, 2017 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        I liked Thelma and Louise as well. It may be feminist, but it’s entertaining, and of all the leftist bastions that’s the least odious to me, until it gets to women in combat and such.

  5. A narco capitalist
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    When are you going to drop your review of the greatest alt-right movie of the last year, “The Accountant?” You’re holding back!

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      OK, ordered it.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted September 2, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Now what on earth does “The Accountant” have to do with white nationalism?

    • Matthias
      Posted September 5, 2017 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      “The Accountant”
      Thanks, great recommendation. You’re right, an implicitly white™ movie.

  6. ThuleNord
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    If you understand the esoteric meaning of Prometheus you’d be shockingly disappointed at how horribly Scott missed the mark in covenant.

    Prometheus was terrible on the surface when dissecting the writing and external plot. Where Prometheus shined was its esoteric vein in questioning racial existence and the possibility of a higher race long extinct, the Over-Man or Aryan.

    I was hoping Scott would explore these mythologies more but he derailed the deeper story in order to placate the rabble and gave them a half backed action movie with a mixed bag of odd ball actors. The story was cringe worthy the set pieces looked second rate, even the CGI looked second rate. It felt like he breezed through the whole project because the studio wouldn’t let him offer any content of value.

    • Greg Johnson
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Obviously I completely disagree.

    • Pietas
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

      Yeah I think you’re right, but you misapprehend the purpose. The aryan overman is evil, isn’t he? I need to watch it again, but I don’t want to sit through it!

      • ThuleNord
        Posted September 1, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

        He’s portrayed as cold and logical which (((mainstream media))) would label as “mean spirtited”. So in that regard he’s evolutionarily superior by a Darwinist perspective. I guess it all depends on ones perception of good, evil and morality.

        I don’t think the underlying story in Prometheus was to portray good and evil but rather genetic lineage beyond man’s historical perspective and the mythos of the Aryan. Easily missed if you’re not somewhat knowledgeable in esoteric mythology.

        Just a hypothesis anyway.

  7. Peter Quint
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    ” Scott couldn’t really abandon the conceit of explaining the xenomorphs, but the end of Covenant does not set up the beginning of Alien. ”

    That is just the beginning of the problems. It does not explain the premise of “Alien vs. Predator (2004)” in which a Queen alien has been kept captive in a pyramid buried under miles of Antarctica ice. This pyramid is visited by Predators who engage and destroy the aliens as a rite of passage to manhood. They have been doing this for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of years. It was also revealed that one of these battles might have triggered the destruction of the Mayan, or Inca civilizations, when we are showed a flashback of a Predator on top of a pyramid swarming with aliens, and then the Predator setting off his wrist nuclear bomb. No, I disagree “Alien: Covenant,” and “Prometheus” are pieces of crap, and have destroyed the franchise.

    • Captain John Charity Spring MA
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      Is Alien V Predator canon?

  8. Proofreader
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    “Perhaps because Scott came to realize that Prometheus is God-awful, he basically abandoned as much of the detritus as he could, including Lindelof. ” As a racial alien, Lindelof should have been blasted out of an airlock.

  9. Vick
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Alien 4 is the most over looked of the franchise.

    Aliens is the greatest space action/scifi movie of the 20th century.

  10. Jez Turner
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    Lynch is the best movie reviewer there is. This is not the sort of film I would usually have risked time watching, but the character of ‘David’, so described, does sound intriguing. On a general note, popular culture, surprisingly, can provide a lot of sustenance, once, that is, we learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. It also gives us an effective way of interacting with the still slumbering un-awakened. Importantly, in these dark days of oppression, it also allows us to relax in the face of relentless pressure, for to paraphrase a liberal criticism of the Middle Ages, ‘Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we go to the gulag!’

  11. Peter Quint
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    “Alien: Covenant” is crap, a piece of dogshit! In “Promethius” we find that the original virus in a liquid form in canisters in what I call a gothic catacombs environment (where is all the advanced equipment to create such a virus?). In “Alien: Covenant” we view David releasing the virus in liquid form over the “Architects” world (Is that what they were called, anyways that’s is what I am calling them?) in which it tears through the Architects population in a matter of minutes, and probably around the world in an hour. After the liquid virus does its work wiping out all organic life, it somehow turns int seedpods filled with spores which infect the settlers as the tread on them, and otherwise squish them. Then we are told that David perfected the virus by giving it an insect life cycle, he created the: pods, face huggers, xenomorphs, and queens from the bugs he found on the planet (remember in his lab he has all these bugs penned to the wall?). We see a grisly picture of where he has preformed a vivisection (Is that what you call it?) on Dr. Shaw to remove her reproductive organs to create the pods; the pods look like a uterus turned upside down–get it. He does all this without any scientifice apparatus; I didn’t see any did you? The only scene that I liked was the one in which Oram (That was the captain, right) who was a miscegenator, and bible thumper (I am only falling that path as it is revealed to me. He repeatedly states.) down into the catacombs to be the first victim for a face-hugger. Which brings up an important point, there were more than one pod in the catacombs, so that must mean that there was a “Queen” down there laying pods. Am I right, I must be right where else are the pods coming from? I’ll tear into this crappy film again tomorrow, when I have more time.

    • Captain John Charity Spring MA
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      The Xenomorph is a sorta shape shifting Jew in these two films.

  12. Captain John Charity Spring MA
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    David is a very interesting character, right up there with Patrick Bateman.

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