Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott, and the Half-Life of Artistry

Of recent years there’s been a bit of a backlash to critical thinking in relation to film. I don’t think there’s a better example of this than DC’s cinematic universe, the DCEU. Quite simply, fans fucking hate critics. It’s the critics who fail to see that these films are made “for the fans”, and that pulling apart all the aspects of ‘Batman V. Superman’ or ‘Suicide Squad’, or even Marvel’s first absolute failure, ‘Iron Fist’, is a failure on their part to enjoy the films as the fans do. Due to this, any critical thought about a film means an instantaneous dislike for that film, and there is no middle-ground, no grey area, nor any room to move from that position.

This, of course, simply isn’t true, and is a ridiculous simplification of the mindset of critics as to derail any argument that they might have against a film that fans happen to love. Because in truth, the reason why critics are critical is not because it keeps them from liking bullshit pieces of art, but much more likely because it allows them enjoy a wider range of art. Regarding fan-service films like that of the DCEU, unfortunately more often than not it means derision. But as many have argued to upset fans about the critical bashing those films have taken: it’s not that we want to hate them, we actually want to love them… but we hate them.

The reason I stress these points at the beginning of my article about Alien: Covenant I’m sure is already clear: I do not like this movie. Was this to be expected based on my thoughts on Prometheus? Maybe, but I didn’t shit on Prometheus. I had issues with it, but there was a lot I liked in that film, and ultimately, with all its stupidity aside (primarily in its second half), I felt what Prometheus suffered from most was a lack of any real antagonist. As it turns out, in exploring that idea I inadvertently happened to come up with an alternate plot for the film that has now turned out to essentially be the plot of Alien: Covenant.

And yet, I don’t like this movie. It’s not without its perks, and I do think this film starts fairly strong. Some things are a little too on the nose, and once again for some reason all the characters are stupid horror cliches and you know exactly who’s going to die and in what order. But the pacing for the first 30-40 minutes is strong, and I was honestly enjoying the film to begin with. But then the film cameto a grinding halt, and for 45 minutes to an hour this film is fucking boring, which just so happens to be when my plot idea starts to take place.

Was I wrong about that idea being a strong one? Maybe I’m arrogant, but I don’t think so. It’s hinted at in the opening scene of Alien: Covenant, and I was immediately excited for it, and I still stand by the idea. But Ridley Scott and co. went way too far with it, branching into new territory that not only shits on whatever mythology they built up with Prometheus, but also shits on everything the xenomorph was to begin with, and thus fucking up the entire mythology of the Alien franchise.

So what went wrong, and who’s to blame? In the latest episode of the Weekly Planet, James and Maso discuss at one point essentially the half-life of a filmmaker, specifically Ridley Scott, and whether given the reaction to Alien: Covenant he should call it a day. Now, generally I’d say who cares, and so what if the majority of Scott’s work these days isn’t great, or that Francis Ford Coppola hasn’t made a notable film in 20 years, or that Oliver Stone’s recent films are all middling at best? None of it matters really, and good on them for keep on keeping on.

That is, of course, unless they start stepping my toes as a fan. As I said in my Prometheus article (and the Weekly Planet boys discuss on their podcast), maybe for some franchises its better to let some new blood come into the mix. Blade Runner 2049 looks genuinely impressive, but it’s all the more exciting being that the director is Denis Villeneuve, who has not only proven himself a fantastic director time and time again, but has also proven himself a fantastic science fiction director. And we’ve now seen that all it took was getting rid of George Lucas to make Lucas’s very own brand of stories good again. So perhaps Ridley Scott just isn’t the guy to be doing these Alien prequels? Maybe it’s time to let somebody else take reign of the series?

As I said in my Prometheus article, I love the set up of these prequels. But not only was Prometheus a misstep, but if you were genuinely interested in seeing where that plot was going you’re now shit out of luck. So it concerns me that Scott is apparently going to continue this franchise, especially off the back of a film that so utterly fucks up the mythology. And to be clear, it is fucked. I’m doing my best to not spoil the film, but the xenomorph is no longer the force of nature it had been in the past, and whatever way an engineer ship filled with face-hugger eggs ends up on LV-426 now given the events that take place in this movie (and will supposedly extend on for a possible two more films before leading into Alien) will be the most contrived storytelling possible.

It’s not that Scott is a poor director, and this film I don’t even think reflects that. It’s just that he’s nothing without a good script. His films can still look amazing and he can bring out fantastic performances from actors and the guy does sci fi in a way that makes you just want to love it… but if the script is poor, the film will suck, and unfortunately it seems that these scripts are just reflections of his ideas. When Prometheus was initially a more straight-forward Alien prequel, it was Scott that ordered the rewrites by the king of confusing storytelling Damon Lindelof. And given the reaction to Prometheus not being gushing like Scott had hoped, he then decided to make a more straight-forward Alien film with Alien: Covenant. Given the reaction to this film, what will be next?

And as a fan, I’m just disappointed. I can still get behind Prometheus to an extent, because as frustrating as that film ended up being, I feel the intentions were there in its first half and that it was sincere in what it was trying to do. It may not have had a great sense of direction, but there was something there. With Alien: Covenant, the direction is more clear, but it is completely baffling how this series will pan out in relation to the original Alien franchise, and it sadly hurts the mythology of the creature itself. I want to like it, especially because there’s some really strong and exciting scenes in the film. Quite likely I’ll watch it again and maybe enjoy it a bit more knowing what it is, much the same as I have with Prometheus. But where Prometheus left me with a feeling of wanting something more, Alien: Covenant has left with a feeling of wanting something completely different.

-louman

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