Paradise Lost: the failure of the new Alien franchise

*spoiler warnings for Covenant and Prometheus*

Alien is one of all-time favourite movies, a perfect 10/10. It is the standard by which all other sci-fi horrors are judged. And what’s amazing is that Aliens, the sequel, is nearly just as good. It is another genre standard, this type taking a slight lateral step into sci-fi action/adventure. Every military sci-fi flick borrows something from these movies.

Few franchises can boast such a one-two punch for their first two instalments. Like Star Wars and Nolan’s Batman. Unfortunately, from there the Alien franchise hits a neck-breaking drop-off. Alien 3 is a colossal failure. All the more because it squandered the efforts of a young David Fincher (Fight Club) through studio meddling. Interestingly, Alien: Resurrection also had a promising team of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) directing and Joss Whedon (literally everything) writing. And while it sorta missed the mark, I actually think it’s criminally underrated. But that’s a whole other post.

Therefore, it was cause for excitement when Ridley Scott, original director of Alien, announced that he was returning to the franchise. Prometheus promised to explore the unanswered question of the mysterious giant “space jockey” from the beginning of Alien. Unfortunately, Prometheus was a deeply flawed film. Others have enumerated the flaws (particularly Red Letter Media), and I wrote a post about the failures of Damon Lindelof, the screenwriter, so I won’t bother to get too much into here.

Promising to address the criticisms, Scott followed up with Alien: Covenant. This time we wouldn’t be subjected to frustrating unanswered questions and we’d see what we all wanted to see: Xenomorphs!

IMG_20170305_141114

Alas, Covenant is actually worse than Prometheus. It tries to mash together Prometheus and earlier Alien movies and ends up doing a poor job of both. The thing is, I actually enjoy the first 2/3 of Prometheus. It’s beautifully directed with a great cast and an excellent score. It does a great job imbuing that sense of wonder in space travel. And if you can achieve that in a film, particularly sci-fi, then you’ve won half the battle. I really feel like I wanted to explore this world with the characters and share their excitement (well, some) to discover some cool shit in outer space. There are some pretty terrifying sequences, too. I loved the Cesarean section scene. But then the ending totally screwed the pooch. My biggest problem is an issue I have with so many films today: the obsession with building a universe. They keep teasing us with a movie that never comes. The great franchises went for broke on each movie. Look at Star Wars and Nolan’s Batman. Each movie is a contained story. They’re not making empty promises that are meant to be cashed out in future movies.

Covenant can’t deliver on any of this. The first half, like I said, is a Prometheus-esque film. But it doesn’t have that same sense of wonder. Again, there is beautiful direction, but it doesn’t have the same energy. It feels too similar. These people are supposed to be colonists on a new planet yet they don’t seem very interested in it. They’re like yuppies looking for exotic real estate. “Can you picture yourself living here? I think I can…” At least Prometheus tantalized audiences with space travel. Covenant just feels tedious.

The film then pretty abruptly shifts into an Alien film. The xenomorphs just sorta show up. And yeah they’re kinda different, but not different enough to be interesting. And what’s up with the xeno-pods? That seems like a much more efficient and effective dispersal method than the face-huggers. So in what way are the eggs an evolution? And how did David manage to create the eggs without a queen? I like the idea of him experimenting on Shaw’s womb to create the egg, but it seems way too far fetched, even for this kinda movie.

The classic xenomorph design makes its appearance and it’s sorta momentous but the action sequences felt very blah to me. Mostly because I didn’t give a shit about these characters the way I did about Ripley or the marines from Alien and Aliens.

game-over-man-game-over

I think what’s even more frustrating about this new Alien franchise is that Scott has managed to sabotage two other promising films. In order to make Prometheus, Scott used his considerable influence to veto Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” because Prometheus essentially rips off the premise of the story. That’s truly a shame because we have never truly seen a great adaptation of Lovecraft’s work and I know del Toro would’ve put a lot of love into that film. Secondly, to make Covenant Scott effectively kiboshed Neill Blomkamp’s Alien sequel. Blomkamp (District 9) seemed to have an interesting new take on the franchise and could’ve pushed it into new territory. Now it’s unlikely we’ll ever get to see it.

This is the sorta shit that keeps me up at night. Real talk. I really don’t understand how Scott still enjoys the level of influence he does given the number of failures he’s had lately, namely Robin Hood and Exodus. I guess studios still salivate at the possibility of him recapturing the glory of Alien and Gladiator. And they probably don’t wanna make the same mistake they did with Blade Runner. I will admit, though, that The Martian was pretty great.

Alien Mural

So, what would I do differently?

First, let’s go back to Prometheus. Yes, there are lots of minor scrupples, but what sorta major changes can I make. Firstly, simplify. Get rid of all the Space Jesus, 2001 rip-off bullshit. Instead of clumsily shoehorning in glib teleology and philosophy, let’s just say that the team are scientists who found this weapons research planet and wanted to go explore. From there the story plays out much like it does in the film. They find this crazy spacecraft with dead Engineers. However, instead of black goo, they find the classic xenomorph eggs. That was the weapon. Somehow they made a mistake and they got lose. That’s what the Engineers were running from. I mean that would explain why we see a fucking xenomorph mural.

Let me digress a bit on this black goo. A lot of people have taken issue with it, but I have to get my two cents in because I think it’s such a lazy, shitty bit of writing. I don’t need my sci-fi concepts over-explained to me, but I require some kinda logic to it. This black goo does a million different things, depending on what the plot needs. They never bother trying to establish what it actually is. That’s just unforgivable.

So the team shows up and find the room full of eggs. But because they’re intelligent scientists, they know not to fuck with the eggs, and manage to isolate the face-hugger without getting exposed. They examine it, speculate, etc. Meanwhile, David is like, “I wanna see what this fucking thing can do for real.” Maybe he takes a sample of its vector and that’s how he infects Holloway. Now we still get to see the Ceasarian section scene.

Meanwhile, the team continue to explore the ship. They find the remaining Engineer, and Weyland shows up, etc. They discover that the Engineers had wanted to take the payload to earth to wipe out the human race. Why? An experiment. To amass an army of xenomorphs. Who knows. The point is that they are indifferent to us. That’s Lovecraftian horror, baby.

So, David is like well fuck you too and unleashes a facehugger on the Engineer. It bursts from the chest like we saw in Alien, thus fulfilling the promise of the whole fucking movie. What results is a Xenomorph *King*. Wouldn’t that be nuts? Like befitting of a modern Alien sequel. It’d be something we’d never seen before. The rest of the movie is them battling the giant Xenomorph, etc. Shaw and David escape to go to the Engineers’ home planet, because they’re like, “these people are fucked and are a threat. We gotta stop them.” That sets up Covenant.

Covenant begins with the colonists going to the Engineers’ home planet, not knowing the events of Prometheus. They just think it’s a suitable planet for terra-forming. They arrive and set up shop. This time, they’ve brought livestolk, pigs, cows, etc. The colonization is going well, but they have questions. Why does it have earth-like vegetation but no other animals? Teams are assembled to explore the planet.

They discover ruins, dead Engineers and indigenous animals. That’s when David shows up. From here the plot plays out like the film. He lies and says he and Shaw crashed there, found all the Engineers dead, etc. However, the truth is that David unleashed the eggs on the Engineers much like they had planned to do to us. Eventually the xenomorphs run out of food and die off, too. David, now becoming consumed with his mad desire to experiment, starts deploying the facehuggers on the animals, too. He splices the genes with insects, etc. to see what he can discover. And, like the film, he turns his psychotic gaze on Shaw as well.

The colonists give David new subjects to study. He exposes the animals to the facehuggers. We see xenomorph boars, bulls, horses, dogs, all kinds of wild shit. Again, new stuff we’ve never seen before that would warrant a sequel. This was actually an abandoned idea from the Alien 3 drafting stage that I think has been lamentably unexplored.

Some of the colonists escape. They kill David and his xenomorphs. They alert the Weyland-Yutani corp about what happened. That’s when the company decides to go to the planet from Prometheus, which sets up Alien.

From here the franchise could do some more sequels, or something.

So, what did you you think? Did you enjoy Prometheus and/or Covenant? Lemme know.

Cheers,

-b

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~ by braddunne on May 27, 2017.

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