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Alien: Covenant

Entry updated 9 July 2017. Tagged: Film.

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Film (2017). 20th Century Fox presents a Brandywine Productions, TSG Entertainment and Scott Free Productions film. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Michael Green, Dante Harper, John Logan, Dan O'Bannon, Jack Paglen and Ronald Shusett. Cast includes Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender, Danny McBride and Katherine Waterston. 122 minutes. Colour.

A Spaceship containing a skeleton crew, one thousand human embryos and two thousand colonists held in Cryonic suspension is tricked into disembarking at an unknown planet by the lone survivor of the Prometheus (2012) expedition.

Ridley Scott constructs the imagery of his films with the care and attention of a Baroque painter. This – the second of four projected prequels to the Alien franchise – seeks to reproduce the far-reaching influence of the first four films' visual register rather than mimic their narrative shape. Alien (1979), directed by Scott to enormous acclaim, provided the canonical template for deep space Horror in SF and its sequel Aliens (1986) the box-office fuel for many of the cinematic excursions into Military SF since – these were two of the most important films to the commercial development of science fiction Cinema – whereas Alien³ (1992) emerged from a difficult gestation as a claustrophobic detour into Religion on a Prison planet, and the poorly-received fourth film, Alien Resurrection (1997), as an interesting precursor to tv series Firefly (2002); Alien: Covenant seems intent on leaving no narrative interstice left by those films unfilled.

We know what will happen the moment we hear about the "next generation" human embryos aboard the colony ship: a xenomorph will impregnate them. Here though, the marriage of the fine-honed excitement of the Monster-slaying story arcs of ancient Mythology to the richness of existential inferences from the initial run of films – that Evolution occurs along a little-understood plane of immanence, that Life on Other Worlds is likely to be at least as terrifying as life on this, that Aliens allegorize aspects of organic behaviour not yet fully-explained by Scientists, that the xenomorph represents something about species' will to survive, much, indeed, as did the alien Shapeshifter from John Carpenter's remake of The Thing (1982), that there is, in short, something real and meaningful going on – is exchanged for a blood-spattered retelling of the European occupation of North America as the Colonization of Other Worlds.

"Jake had this idea of us building a cabin on a new world," says Terraforming expert "Danny" Daniels (Waterston) on learning of the death of her husband – formerly the captain of the ship – in the accident that occurs at the outset of Alien: Covenant. His replacement is "person of faith" Christopher Oram (Crudup), who makes the decision to divert the ship at the behest of a "rogue transmission" from a suspiciously-paradisiacal planet in a nearby Goldilocks zone. "It's too good to be true," says Danny. "That was a human voice on that transmission and we have a responsibility," Oram replies. James Blish's formulation of the "idiot plot" as central to certain forms of Genre SF only intensifies from this point in Alien: Covenant, as the crew deviates from every conceivable safety precaution, first abandoning their environmental protection suits (see Spacesuit Films), then showing only curiosity at the presence of cultivated wheat on the planet's surface before rooting around in rag-tag fashion among the remnants of the good ship Prometheus (see Prometheus) and the alien spores left behind by planetary Forerunners, the Engineers. The visuals are beautiful. Scott shows his usual facility for the lighting and design of Ruins and Futurity: the City of the Engineers resembles a circular Tenochtitlan or Angkor Wat. "There's so much here that doesn't make sense," Danny says. "I'll speak to him, brother to brother," next-generation Android Walter (Fassbender) says of his shipwrecked predecessor David 8 (Fassbender). We know the latter is Cain to Walter's Abel (see Villains) the moment he reveals his cut-glass English accent and willingness to ascribe the famous poem "Ozymandias" (11 January 1818 The Examiner) – here quoted in full – to Lord Byron rather than Percy Bysshe Shelley. "You're not allowed to create," Walter says to David: "You make people uncomfortable." Mad Scientist David has been producing fast-maturing alien-human hybrids (see Parasitism and Symbiosis) and requires new hosts for his "perfect organism". David deactivates Walter, subdues Danny – complete with "That's the spirit!" quotation from Blade Runner (1982) – and allows xenomorphs now-matured from human hosts to go after what remains of the ship's human crew. Walter has had a few upgrades since his brother's iteration, however, and manages to distract David sufficiently after reactivating himself to allow Danny to escape. A further confrontation between the two androids takes place off-camera; conflicts between crew and xenomorphs leave only Danny and chief pilot Tennessee Faris (McBride) able to board the colony ship, with the assistance of the apparently-victorious Walter. It is only as Danny is being put into stasis by Walter that she realizes that he is in fact David, who enters a false entry into the ship's log before setting course for the ship's original destination, Origae-6.

"If you really want a franchise, I can keep cranking it for another six," Ridley Scott told The Sunday Morning Herald in March 2017. Production on the next prequel, Alien: Covenant – Origin is scheduled to begin in 2018; this will also feature the Engineers. Both novelizations are by Alan Dean Foster, that of the present film being Alien: Covenant (2017). [MD]


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