Screen Anarchists On ALIEN: COVENANT

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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("And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
The Second Coming, 1919 - W. B. Yeats)

Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant has arrived in cinemas, and a strange film it is indeed. Like with Prometheus five years (already!) ago, people all over the Internet are pointing out flaws, or bending over backwards to try and explain them. Just the question of whether it is a sequel, a prequel, or an equal is enough to ponder over endlessly with friends.

Is it a good film though? The answers to that question are impressively diverse, ranging from all-out hate to people who say it's brilliant. Some say Scott has redeemed himself for Prometheus, others say he's letting that film down with Covenant.

Our reviewer Kwenton Bellette liked some parts of it, yet wasn't impressed with the overall end result (read his review). But what did the rest of us here at Screen Anarchy think? Time for a round-up! Here are eight mini-reviews. You can click on the small pictures or on the arrows to move between them.

Note: normally we try to keep these articles spoiler-free, but with this film that was pretty hopeless. While small spoilers are all over the place, two of the reviews (hi, Kurt and Izzy!) do a deep-dive, and I've placed warnings on them so that spoiler-wary readers can quickly skip to the next ones.

And as usual, the original reviewer gets to speak up first. Any added insights, Kwenton?


Kwenton Bellette, Peter Martin, Zach Gayne, Ernesto Zelaya Miñano, Kurt Halfyard, Michele "Izzy" Galgana and Jason Gorber contributed to this story.

Kwenton Bellette, Contributing Writer

Quoting from the review: Alien: Covenant is an at-times cliché sci-fi and horror effort burdened by its unnecessary over-explanation of what the aliens actually are, where they came from and the purpose of this horrible madness. Relentlessly nihilistic in its approach, Alien: Covenant actually dims the uncanny horror and thought-provoking feminist slant of ‘the other’ that defined the franchise. In trying to ask and answer the big questions, both this and the disappointing prequel Prometheus dilute the genuine unknown and terrifying horror that drives it.

(Editor's note: Kwenton says "I don't have anything to add, other than that the film is quickly fading from my memory.")

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God of JoyMay 26, 2017 1:22 PM

it's a love/hate thing for me. (Spoilers) I loved the film for picking up the loose narrative threads left over from Prometheus, Fassbender was clearly the MVP here, the themes and questions brought up by his actions as David and his inactions as Walter made this fascinating and was a welcome respite from "the stoopid humans doing stoopid things". I was surprised to really have an affection for Danny McBride's character of Tennessee, though in hindsight he was the only character that had much of an arc here (beyond the Androids). My hate comes from the sequences that play like a greatest hits compilation from the earlier alien films. Herding the xeno through corridors (Alien 3), Xeno versus industrial equipment (Aliens), We can make a better alien (Alien:Resurrection), Ripley-esque character (Why is it so critical that she resemble Ripley? I found it distracting.) and the really odd naked people about to have sex in shower (Which is Friday the 13th more than anything else). And the really, REALLY obnoxious on the nose Blade Runner reference - nail used as weapon followed by the line "that's the spirit!" (completely pulled me out of the film)
At six films in I can appreciate that it might be tough to re-invent the wheel, but come on, the filmmakers could at least try. Prometheus felt like a step in the right direction in that regard, Covenant feels like several steps back.

It is frustrating for me because I know I will be seeing this a few more times, despite the hate, to re-examine and pick apart the things I love.

KurtMay 26, 2017 2:02 PM

I really love the COLOUR comparison that Ard did here. I will also be partial to the black of the first one and the urine-yellow of the third one, but the 'negative' of Prometheus is pretty swell.

TotalRando(dot)comMay 26, 2017 3:44 PM

Loved it. Don't care what others thought.

EyeGodZAMay 26, 2017 4:48 PM

So, these were my thoughts upon leaving the cinema:

As an ALIEN movie, 6/10 (loads of narrative inconsistencies (compacted xenomorph lifecycle (seriously, from facehugger to full scale xeno in what, thirty minutes!?); how did David grow a body (apparently this was explained, but I missed it somehow); humans making some really dumb decisions; the mystery that made the xenomorph so utterly terrifying completely and utterly dispelled, making its origins rather disappointing and a little lame). I did, however, like David's "I hate God and want to take revenge on God, and God's creator, and anything fucking else that's not as perfect as me!" approach to the narrative. But is this a film about androids or aliens!? Ridley is getting a little confused in his old age, and I fear Villeneuve is gonna surpass even his best attempts at unpacking theodicy with BLADE RUNNER 2049.

As a sci-fi survial horror genre flick, 9/10 (seriously had me on the edge of my seat almost throughout its entire running time; action was visceral; gore was of the highest gross out quality (though it didn't quite compare to PROMETHEUS's abortion scene (which I didn't mind, as that scene almost made me lose my lunch back in the day...).

Overall, high 7/10.

Overall entertaining and worth a watch for fans of the franchise, genre, Scott and pretty looking sci-fi romps.

KurtMay 26, 2017 4:52 PM

David's body is not explained. It's actually SHOWN in Prometheus, you see Dr. Shaw winching his body down out of the ship as she puts his head in a duffel bag. It's right there.

Ard VijnMay 26, 2017 5:11 PM

I don't remember that from Prometheus (or I didn't understand it as such, rest assured I'll check...), but in Covenant David clearly says that Shaw gave him his body back.

Ben de KlosMay 26, 2017 5:51 PM

Like a pie with cherries on top. And cream. And marshmallows, chocolate, candles, sprinkles, disco dip, icing, etc.

Only when you wipe all that away there's nothing underneath. Not even a main character.

What a pile of garbage.

And that's even without taking the cgi aliens into account (which are basically as convincing as they were in alien 4 26 years ago. Plus the fact there's rarely a moment in the whole movie without "music" telling us exactly what to feel. Like a soap opera.

But I totally love (the long versions of) the counselor and kingdom of heaven.

mr Scott still has what it takes to be a great director.
So why invest all this money, talent and time (especially his own) in such a crappy script?

Elytron FrassMay 26, 2017 9:57 PM

It's nothing that I was hoping it would be, but the new meanings/pathos it brings to David and the Xenomorph is equally as intriguing as having the Xeno we know preexisting as some ancient species. It's almost Cronenbergian to think that David engineered this literal rape monster from a form of asexual frustration and bi-curiosity along with some loathing for his own creator and his creator's creators. An inevitable set up for David's creations to turn back on him.

On the other hand, some of the plotting, action beats and the cgi renderings of the creatures themselves didn't work for me. It's half a great film and half of a B-film. An interesting/experimental failure which will garner cult status for sure.

Gopal NatarajanMay 27, 2017 2:53 AM

The biggest and most glaring logic gap in "Prometheus" was made even wider and more idiotic by "Covenant." If "Covenant" tells us that the Xenomorph is the result of David's experiments that wasn't perfected till the Covenant crew arrived, then how was there an elaborate carving of the Queen Xenomorph in the Engineer's compound that the Prometheus crew explored? Never mind the fact that when the Nostromo crew in "Alien" comes across the derelict Engineer ship, they find the iconic 'Space Jockey' is already a fossil, meaning that the derelict ship is already thousands of years old. None of this lines up since "Alien" supposedly takes place some 20 years after "Covenant."

And, since we've all seen "Interstellar," we are all internet experts on time relativity. Thus we know that there's no way that the Covenant mission could have been launched a mere 10 earth years after the Prometheus disaster. How did anyone on earth even know about the fate of the Prometheus before the Covenant was launched? Dr. Shaw's final message would have taken years to even reach earth.

Idiotic scripting all around.

MehliensMay 27, 2017 4:22 AM

The mural does not depict a queen. Ridley Scott removed the queen from the canon and lifecycle of the xeno entirely as it was never supposed to be there in the first place. That was Cameron's lame idea who turned the Xenos into space bugs

Ard VijnMay 27, 2017 10:59 AM

True that the queen is Cameron's idea, not Scott's.
NOT TRUE that the queen is lame.

MehliensMay 27, 2017 12:02 PM

I disagree. I don't like the design as I don't think its something Giger would have done and it totally undermines the clever body horror of Alien with..... SPACE BUGS bullshit. I like Scotts direction a lot more and celebrate the fact I won't see that Queen in future films anymore. People complain about Scott removing the mystery of the Xeno when it fact it was Cameron who demystified it by making it nothing but a big insect with a Queen - Egg - Larva - Adult lifecycle. Scott gave us mysterious biological agent made by 'gods' then FULL BLOWN almost indestructible MONSTER within minutes. I totally don't understand the incessant whining about this. Scotts version is WAAAAAAY better and more mysterious.

Gopal NatarajanMay 27, 2017 4:26 PM

Queen or not (arguable), the sculpture is of a Xenomorph ("https://tubgoat.files.wordp..."), which is now supposed to be David's creation 10 years later. Scott keeps retcon-ing the entire "Alien" universe at a whim. Foolish.

Gopal NatarajanMay 27, 2017 4:32 PM

Ummm, the Queen - Egg - Larva - Adult lifecycle was Scott's idea. He based the Alien's biology on a species of wasp that lays its eggs in the bodies of host animals.

MehliensMay 27, 2017 4:59 PM

Thats probably why he filmed the Alien transforming humans into eggs. The only reason he left it on the cutting floor was that it didn't look convincing enough. Also why did he then abandon that concept if it was his idea? So either he changed his mind on his own idea (good) or it wasn't his concept and he turned his back on what Cameron did (even better)

guestMay 27, 2017 5:09 PM

cant wait for the prequel that explains how the engineers that created the prometheus engineers also originally created the first david.

MehliensMay 27, 2017 5:12 PM

Back in the 80s was a period where the queen was perceived as an idea that could and made people go wow (since it gave them something relatable), but thats exactly what I don't like about it especially in the light of Camerons steroid bug hunt action schlock. All that action Zerg / Swarm idea was derived from that and couldn't be less interesting. War films in space...vs bugs, I wasn't aware that was a thing that was cool for people above 14 years of age. Thanks Cameron.

MehliensMay 27, 2017 5:15 PM

Clearly not a queen. Its a Deacon coming from a sort of vagina or pool of liquid doing the jesus thing

MehliensMay 27, 2017 5:22 PM

In issue #27 of Cinefex, Stan Winston had this to say on the genesis of the Queen's design: "Right from the start, Jim had a concept of the Alien Queen in the back of his head. In fact, when we first began talking about the project he showed me the beautiful rendering he had done of it which I liked immediately."

jcoa2May 27, 2017 9:28 PM

At one point, when Walter stabs David, David exclaims "That's the spirit!" just like Roy Batty did in Bladerunner. Ridley Scott is putting in movie references to his own movies. Everyone in the theater I was in had a group-cringe at that moment. I'm surprised none of your reviews called him on this egotistical bullshit. I was down with the the Lawrence of Arabia references, since David and T.E. Lawrence both have a similar aura of effete menace, but it's clear now that Scott has lost his way in his own creation.

Gopal NatarajanMay 28, 2017 11:51 AM

The Alien does not transform humans into eggs. The humans are used as hosts for the parasite. Scott never explained where the eggs came from since his original idea only had one face hugger and one Xenomorph. Cameron then extended the insect idea with the queen laying eggs and cocooning the host organisms.

As to why Scott has now abandoned the wasp/parasite idea, he has just retcon-ed his entire narrative basis to make room for his faux-philosophical musings on God and man in "Prometheus." Quite frankly, Scott's original presentation of the Alien as an unexplained and (virtually) unstoppable killing machine is far more terrifying than this half-assed attempt to give the Alien a backstory, thereby de-mystifying it. As we can see from "Prometheus" and "Covenant," the result is thoroughly uninteresting.

MehliensMay 28, 2017 5:33 PM

Dude you have no idea what you are talking about. First you say it was Scott idea and it wasn't. Then you say the humans were not supposed to be transformed to eggs but thats exactly what was supposed to happen. If you knew anything about the original alien then you wouldn't spew such missinformation. Just shut it if you don't the right information at hand and stop your pseudo criticism based on nothing.

Gopal NatarajanMay 28, 2017 8:50 PM

Stop being an obtuse fanboi. Scott's original idea for "Alien" was based on the parasitic wasp. That is a fact. And the humans were used as hosts for the Alien eggs. That is a fact. Cameron extended that insect/parasite idea with the the Queen alien. Nowhere in the "Alien" film series (including "Prometheus" and "Covenant") were humans ever "transformed" into eggs. If Scott did filmed such a sequence at some point for the original "Alien," he never included it in that film and never made reference to it again, rendering that particular narrative pathway irrelevant. If you were as "informed" as you pretend to be about the franchise, you'd understand that. Now just shut it with your pseudo-defense of an obviously weak and inconsistent narrative based on nothing.

MehliensMay 29, 2017 4:27 AM

The wasp in this case is the facehugger. Scott never intended a queen - egg - larva - adult lifecycle. That is fact. And yes he filmed the transformation from human to egg and didn't include it because they couldn't pull it off well enough. Get your facts straight and stop spreading misinformation. Also I'm not defending anything I'm just saying that I personally don't like the queen concept and what Cameron did with it and I called you out on your wrong statements. Learn to take criticism where it's due and grow a pair

Ard VijnMay 29, 2017 9:53 AM

Fact-wise this debate goes to Mehliens. For the very first ALIEN movie, Scott shot footage of people being encapsuled and changed into eggs. This footage is available on several of the DVD releases as an extra, and survived a long time in the workprints, so this is not in any way an opinion or a fabrication. In the end, Scott thought the footage didn't add anything to what was already there, so he excised it.

Ridley Scott did indeed take the parasite wasp as an example, but the queen is definitely 100% James Cameron, both in idea and design.

As for opinion, I still think the queen rocks, but that may be nostalgia talking, as at the time no film rocked me as hard as ALIENS did. Re-watching it now, I'll admit ALIEN has aged better than ALIENS has, with its "so eighties" vibe. Still, it may seem obvious and droll now (decades of video-games later), but back in 1986 I did NOT expect that end-boss.

MehliensMay 29, 2017 10:00 AM

I even agree with what you are saying Ard. Back then the presentation wowed people to no end just by the sheer size of that monster and the sinister way it was introduced sitting on that sack of goo filled with eggs. BUT from a perspective of seeing the concept and the film as a whole its cringy. Don't get me wrong I enjoy alien for the brainless 80's romp that it is, I can even quote all of its one liners, but it has little to no 'Alien - horror' appeal at all. The Aliens are totally replaceable by whatever you want to replace them and except for (boring) human remake of Ash it doesn't have a single character with anything to say. For me Cameron Aliens is the epitome of the blueprint of what went wrong with Superhero films in the past 10 years.

JoshMay 29, 2017 3:10 PM

It wasn't as bad as Prometheus, but it was still weak. I like the idea of the alien being engineered by an AI, but I just hate the pacing of the movie. It just feels so fucking rushed. It felt like a facehugger could impregnate a victim in 5 seconds and the gestation period was like less than 2hours. The victim just wakes up to the alien bursting from their chest instead of having a few good hours to unsuspectingly enjoy life(even a last meal to be coughed up later). The alien seemed to grow to full height in a couple of hours as well. The suspense was weak. No tracking devices. No cool strategies. The only protagonist I cared for was stuck orbiting the action; dealing with bad comms...

Matthew McKinnonMay 29, 2017 6:25 PM

The CGI was flat-out terrible.

Matthew McKinnonMay 29, 2017 6:27 PM

Yes.
She winches it down from the Engineers ship at the end of Prometheus and 'gives it back' to him by reattaching it between films. Stupidly, as it turns out, but hey - that's pretty commonplace in these movies.

marllMay 29, 2017 9:03 PM

yes, the gestation periods ( or lack there-of) really makes this quite risible. the alien is now peripheral to the mythos which is now going to become crammed into a blade runner-esque type story, ai and frankenstein. it's a suprise how pedestrian and unengaging this film is considering i tried so hard not to have any expectations ( which is ridiculous, you want to see and Alien movie, right?) scott seems to have thrown his lot into building his franchise. so now ridley scott has his 'alien universe' to join all the other universe(s), marvel, dc, pirates, star wars, cinematic sci-fi has become such an enervated genre, which is a shame. scott seems happy to do thiskind of portentous -self-important schlock and possibly squeeze alien and blade runner together, stuffing the square peg into the round hole.. as some have pointed out, the "that's the spirit" line is cringeworthy and takes you out of the film. for a moment i had roy batty in mind as if he was just down the road in this banal universe, attacking ships on the shore of orion...zzzz... there are so many stupid things about this film there is no time to list them or rathe i don't have the desire to think about it any more, it's truly sad that scott did not learn from the mistakes of Prometheus. he seems quite happy to carry on regardless with what has become a quite soul-less exercise. i cannot see how any thing new will come from this botched mythos and as someone who loves alien that's just to bad... all we get are slighlty rearranged cliches. time to move on to other things...

jammamonMay 30, 2017 8:02 AM

Other than the fact that a good actor plays the android, it is not a character able of carrying the entire weight of this new Alien saga. Bad choice of direction for the script imo.