Femininity, motherhood and birth have always been key themes in the “Alien” series. They are what made these movies so much more than your average sci-fi horror flick.
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It was Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Ellen Ripley, one of the most impressive female characters in contemporary cinema, that embodied this femininity, but unfortunately, in the new film "Alien: Covenant,” as in its predecessor, “Prometheus,” Ripley has no suitable replacement.
Ridley Scott, the renowned director of the last two films as well as the original one, clearly realizes the importance of these female themes. That is why he did try to incorporate them in the "Alien" series, for instance having the crew dub the spaceship “Mother.” But as in “Prometheus,” his attempt seems forced, and therefore exploitative.
The good news is that “Alien: Covenant” is better than “Prometheus,” but it’s still a far cry from the first "Alien” film, directed by Scott in 1979; Aliens,” directed by James Cameron in 1986; and even David Fincher’s “Alien 3” (1992) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Alien 4: Resurrection” (1997).
“Alien: Covenant,” which like “Prometheus” is a prequel, is not as tiring as its predecessor. It includes exciting and terrifying moments, but in various respects, suffers from the same limitations as the 2012 flick. This is a well-oiled cinematic machine which careens along on its narrative track from one terrifying incident to the next. But while watching, you can sense the unrealized pretension that sets the film in motion, the carelessness that characterizes its plot development and the total absence of emotion, except for the instinctive reaction to the terror scenes.
Above all, there is no vision behind it. Therefore it also lacks bulk, except for that created by the large number of incidents contained in it. We are left with a sense of undergoing an experience that drew us into it with mechanical efficiency, but the farther we get from the film, even within minutes, the more we feel this experience was hollow. All that remains is the memory of the film's breathtaking appearance. The main problem is that the action is not accompanied by something that is essential for creating a real and authentic cinematic experience: the human dimension.
Who created the father
The prologue seems to have been inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and evokes curiosity. The android Walter (Michael Fassbender) and his “father” (Guy Pearce) discuss whether the father created the son, and who created the father (all the films in the series considered questions of creation). The film itself takes place in 2014, a decade after “Prometheus.”
The main plot, the details of which I won’t reveal (and there’s not much to reveal), describes the spaceship crew’s wanderings around a distant planet, its realization that it is devoid of human beings and its conflicts with the creatures that attack it one after the other. Scott and screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper thicken the plot by revealing to the viewers that David the android, whom we were introduced to in "Prometheus," lives on the planet and that he was the only one to survive the catastrophe at the end of that film.
"David" looks exactly like Walter because he is also played by Michael Fassbender. The film presents the conflict between them and raises the question of which is the good android and which is the bad one. This part adds some interest and even some exceptional scenes, but it can’t save the film, despite the impressive and somewhat entertaining appearance of Fassbender in the dual role.
The film looks good: Scott is an experienced director, even if his overall oeuvre is uneven. Therefore, even if the plot is not very interesting, even if it’s hard to identify with the human characters, and even if the pretension is predictable and shallow, there’s always something to see on the screen, and that’s no small feat. But the film is no more than a cinematic machine, part of which works and most of which doesn’t.
“Alien: Covenant.” Director: Ridley Scott; Script: John Logan, Dante Harper; Photography: Dariusz Wolski; Music: Jed Kurzel; Actors: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Callie Hernandez, Jussie Smollett.