The Lonely Perfection of My Dreams:
The brief prologue to Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant is as intriguing, clever and illuminating an opening as I’ve seen in while. In retrospect, I find that the film’s major themes are given to us here, in the time that it takes to run the opening credits.
Taking place before the events of the disappointing 2012 Prometheus, we see a younger Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the head of the sinister Weyland Corporation, in conversation with the perfect android that he has been responsible for creating, David (Michael Fassbender). He even refers to himself as its father. This is a man who is given to brooding on that most fundamental of all questions: who created us? We don’t get the impression that he’s a religious man, but we do know from the previous film that he hopes to be around for a while. Like forever. And up to no good for all of it.
The perceptive David, however, doesn’t take long to see the essential paradox: that the Creator will die while the Created will not. And that isn’t a situation Weyland is happy about.
We skip forward to 2104 and the good ship Covenant, which is taking 2,000 colonists – who obviously haven’t seen Passengers or they wouldn’t be sleeping so well– to a habitable planet. The ship’s crew is the usual mixture that we could nearly recognise from Scott’s 1979 original and yield few surprises. And of course there is another android amongst them, Walter, again played by Fassbender. The actor’s portrayal of both does raise them above the norm, however.
When they decide to investigate a planet from which a human signal has been emitted they find the original David marooned there – Crusoe-like, in his own words.
In fact, David and Walter are two extremely complex sentient creatures – and once again the theme of creation comes into play. But this time it is when we learn that after David, the androids were made to be less inventive. In fact, David had ironically been so human that he made humans uncomfortable. This may be why he’s just a couple of notes off, in fact. He may not think much of our species (not that I would fault him for that) but in ‘the lonely perfection’ of his dreams he is very human.
Walter, in another paradox, does not dream, despite being the more empathetic of the two.
I had better mention here that the various stages of the alien that we see are superbly executed, with some really tense action scenes. So I’ve gotten that out of the way.
But it was the film’s religious aspect that most intrigued and surprised me. It permeates the movie; and long before it is (perhaps too) explicitly spelled out, there are obvious references to Milton’s epic poem about Lucifer’s fall from grace, Paradise Lost. Then there is the sight of a seemingly crucified small alien hybrid. It’s tantalising, this: is it a nod to a certain abandoned back story from Prometheus that we heard rumours about?
Then there are the Old Testament overtones of the title itself: Covenant, an agreement ratified in blood, of which this film dispenses gallons. It really is startlingly violent at times.
Of course I may be reading too much into the screenplay by Jack Paglen and Michael Green; but there is no question that an opportunity is wasted with the character of first mate-cum-captain (Christ)opher Oram (Billy Crudup). He is described as a man of faith who’s personal beliefs make him suspect by the pragmatic and secular crew, especially Daniels (Katherine Waterston). But it never really goes anywhere, which is a pity. Along with David’s Miltonian allusions that could have been interesting. So was the whole Ozymandius/Shelley/ Frankenstein riff.
Well, it was interesting to me. Maybe it would have put everyone else to sleep. So congratulations to Scott and his team for giving us a film that is as spectacular and action-packed as it is thoughtful. There are also nice little nods to iconic moments throughout the previous films – not to mention a vey poignant scene that recalls Blade Runner.
Covenant has its flaws. For one thing, a couple of the crew have the same bizarrely easy-going carelessness about inspecting alien flora and fauna as the crew of the Prometheus had (remember the doped-up botanist?); but over all this is a good, solid outing in the franchise and a huge leap forward from the previous one.