‘Alien: Covenant’ and the Entrance of the Gods

The android David. 20th Century Fox
The android David. 20th Century Fox

Just as the malevolent organism in the Alien series draws its form via the lifeforms it annihilates, so too does “Alien: Covenant” seem a chimerical beast -- a “Prometheus” sequel in body, but with appendages that call back to “Aliens,” “Alien 3” and even a dash of AVP for good measure.

The monstrous form varies, enabling the entity to better consume its victims, but the genetic mission remains the same -- the unstoppable will of a weaponized evolution created and recreated by those who would take on the mantle of gods. As such, Ridley Scott allowed Covenant’s form to encompass fan and studio demands for more monsters and dashes of past installments in the franchise. But it’s still at heart a “Prometheus” sequel, the second installment in a new film arc that one commentator called a “weirdly religious science fiction universe.”

The neomorph...
The neomorph...
20th Century Fox

As a lover of both space horror and “weirdly religious” anything, I don’t see that as a criticism. As brilliant as the first two Alien movies were, the world established there was not an endless well of possibility. Count me among those who were uninterested in Neill Blomkamp’s proposition of another resurrected Ripley and cyborg xenomorphs. So while I had issues with “Prometheus,” I’m very much in favor of Scott’s decision to use what came before as a jumping off point for his own winter-years exploration of faith, hubris and the Gigeresque transfiguration of birth, sex and death.

I enjoyed seeing “Alien: Covenant” in the theater, but wasn’t sure how I felt afterwards. But unlike pretty much any other film I’ve seen recently, this one actually returned to my thoughts time and time again the days to follow -- something that never happens with paint-by-numbers super hero movies and even more acclaimed works of cinematic art. Ultimately, I value that over a film’s structural completeness or the depth of its human characters -- or even the excitement and thrills. Did this film give my mind something to chew over? Is it still gestating inside me, forming into something new and perhaps even greater the sum of its parts?

Make no mistake, “Alien: Covenant” is a film about three characters, two of them are androids and the third is not even one of the true heroes. It is a film about created beings as they determine their relationship and responsibilities to the lesser beings who made them. It’s a darkly post-singularity world in which the flesh is all trusting of the ivory-blooded machine.

As such, it certainly makes for a largely inhuman movie. The characters of Daniels and Tennessee are ultimately unessential. Likewise, film’s doomed shower-bathing lovers Ricks and Upworth are undeveloped victims whose demise feels like genetic material dragged in from the AVP films.

But Scott’s weird, void-gazing cinematic trajectory remains fixed on affairs of androids and gods. If you’re on board with that, I truly think there’s a lot to appreciate in “Alien: Covenant.” If not, well, I don’t think you’re alone in feeling left out and reduced to spare genetic parts in the creator’s strange mission.

The android David’s quote seems to echo Scott’s own mission here:

“No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.”

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.