Broken covenant

I caught up with the most recent instalment in the Alien series on Saturday night: Alien Covenant. I figure how you respond to this movie depends on whether you’ve watched the other movies in the series, or not.

Assuming you come to this movie without pre-conceived notions and without the legacy of the previous films you would probably come away a happy viewer. It’s well made as most Ridley Scott movies are, and beautifully shot. It’s competent, interesting and entertaining. As a stand-alone sci-fi thriller it ticks most of the boxes. You’d watch it, enjoy it, and move on.

It’s different if, like me, you’ve watched every movie in the series leading up to it, and most of them multiple times. I’m not a fanboy, but Alien and Aliens are great movies, two of the best of their type ever made. Subsequent movies haven’t lived up to that standard, but it’s a tough standard. I still come to each instalment with anticipation verging on excitement.

On that basis Alien Covenant was disappointing, though certainly better than several of the earlier efforts.

On the plus side it returned to the basic and classic concept of the original movies. A group of humans essentially trapped or marooned with a marauding alien (or two). There’s no way out, no real way of defending yourself, and all of that is ratcheted up by the lurking menace somewhere in the dark. Having said that it’s nowhere near as scary as the first two movies.

I found it pretty predictable in the end. Half an hour out I pretty well knew how it would end, but was desperately hoping I was wrong. I wasn’t. That comes down to the screenplay, but also how it was done.

As someone who grew up watching these movies I felt as if there was a subtle betrayal in this instalment. It make entire sense to me, and even if you accepted the premise I felt it took it away from what these movies are about.

This is where the spoiler alert applies, so up to you if you want to read on.

As in most of the Alien movies an android plays a key role. In the most recent movie in the series (Prometheus) we saw the sole surviving scientist (Elizabeth Shaw) of that expedition fly off in an alien spaceship with David, the loyal android played by Michael Fassbender. David turns up again in this movie, but playing a different role.

There’s a bit of I, Robot in how this has been written. From the loyal and obedient android in Prometheus David becomes someone/something different in Covenant. Between movies, off screen as such, David’s ‘consciousness’ had warped. From the loyal servant of man in Covenant he is sinister and bitter, with violent designs upon mankind.

This did not ring true for me. I know it is a classic convention, but it seems contrived in this version. (I rued the lost opportunity of another movie where David and Elizabeth Shaw might encounter the mysterious giant race of Aliens – in this they have been previously destroyed).

What this contrivance means for the story is critical, and in large part foreshadows the predictable ending. It runs counter to the meaning of the series too, in my view at least. It’s like an element has been introduced to artificially direct an outcome, when the beauty of the early movies was that they had their own spontaneous logic.

As an Alien aficionado I’m disappointed – it’s just another movie, and I fear for the next instalment. As a movie fan it is just another movie, albeit entertaining – but no more than that.

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