ALIEN: Covenant would surely make for a better novel than a film–which is not to say the film is bad. Quite the opposite. The film has a set of goals, and whether you enjoy them or not, the plot is in service of those goals. The problem with the goals Covenant posits are not in their intentions, but in our knowledge of what we feel an ALIEN film should be.
Expectation is a brutal condemnation to be bestowed with. The newest installment in the ALIEN franchise doesn’t seek to inspire dread as its masterful older sibling did some forty years prior. It doesn’t inspire awe and wonder in the startling fashion that Prometheus conjured with its stark vistas and galactic scope. No. Covenant’s singular intention is to elaborate on the genesis of the Xenomorph. Its maker. How it came to be this biomechanical mass of predatory perfection.
Prometheus, a film I personally enjoyed, sought to explain the Engineers in greater detail. Those massive, elephantitis space creatures fossilized on a downed space ship on the planetoid LV-426 encountered in the 1979 ALIEN film. Prometheus imbued a sense of cosmic dread I found uncomfortable. In the vastness of all the unknown swirling about and in the middle of it, us, and behind all that a purpose behind our being. A sort of scientific experiment gone awry. Ironically, this narrative isn’t too far off from some other narratives held dearly by peoples across the world. The idea that we didn’t come from nothing, that chance and chaos were not the agents that sowed our DNA into primordial earth–that we were designed, that we were meant to be. Yet, in Prometheus, our design wasn’t for righteous reasons but experimentation. The idea posited by Prometheus was uncomfortable. The scope. The scenery. And ultimately, the lack of an answer as to why. Why were we not loved by that which created us? Is there anything more crushing to the human spirit? To know, beyond doubt, that our maker regretted their work. And that if it had the means, our maker would wish to end us. Where Prometheus failed wasn’t intention but plot. A last second twist which failed to execute on the desired cleverness it so sought. It wasn’t needed. Instead, it robbed the big question of its brutal answer. The idea that things are made simply because they can be, not because they are needed.
And now there’s Covenant. The same great visuals, the same dark, inky atmosphere, but misguided when its hash mark is struck on the same ruler as the original ALIEN. Covenant has all the essentials. A beautifully realized world. A gritty space ship. A strong female lead. Even Danny McBride, who I was skeptical of in an ALIEN film, was serviceable. But out and out world building is not for films. Novels do that much better. Word has a way of sticking, of making the less egregious mistakes blend with more nuance yet. To read of the Engineers and their home planet, to read of the Xenomorph and how it evolved, that would be a thrill, a great interest; something written word could accomplish greater than moving pictures. To present it on camera when in the midst of a horror film, it feels rushed and compromised. Its incompetent in its mission. It would require at least three more films to adequately flesh out all the goings on in the ALIEN universe. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the viewing audience will give the ALIEN franchise three more chances. Nor am I sure it deserves it.
Body horror–the real staple of ALIEN. Covenant had scarcely any. And that’s a shame.
Having said all that, it’s still a decent movie.