(Warning: Spoilers Ahead!)
Not long ago, I noted that the mad scientist film seems to have disappeared.
It never was exactly a realistic sort of concept, and as modern film has skewed away from non-realistic styles like expressionism and surrealism, it seems further and further out of place.
But that didn’t stop Ridley Scott.
Curiously, while he’s obviously responding to the fans who disliked Prometheus for its basic lack of Xenomorphs, and this time does give us a bit of intense creature stuff, the real story he’s interested in is that of David (Michael Fassbender) , the psychotic android from the last film, who is now set up on an alien planet in full bore German Expressionist mad-scientist mode, complete with long hair and cloak. If he had a glove on one hand you might almost mistake him for Rotwang from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
And this film finally explores a lot of things hinted at in Prometheus, from David deliberately infecting people to see what happens, to Weyland’s desire to find a way to cheat death. In a sense Alien: Covenant seems almost a second act to the story of David, whom we now see is motivated by his infernal pride and belief in his own superiority — and his disdain, perhaps even hatred, for everything human. He goes so far as to quote the Devil from Milton’s Paradise Lost, who would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. And this is expressed almost literally in the dead world he’s living on, which is littered with thousands of corpses.
And it should come as no surprise that he is responsible for their deaths. Or that he has rather unpleasant plans for the new arrivals on his world.
Somehow, I suspect that, if Scott makes a third “prequel”, it will again focus on David and perhaps complete his story — although, now that we know that he is the “creator” of the final xenomoph creature we’ve been watching for the last 38 years, I’m not sure where his story can go — except perhaps a final, epic, Götterdämmerung.
.And the rest of the film? Well, it’s exciting enough and I mostly enjoyed it. But like Prometheus, which I didn’t think was all that bad, I really have no desire to go back and watch it again — and I doubt if I ever will.
However, there are two things that struck me: the first was Billy Crudup’s character, Oram, who we are told, over and over again, had been discriminated against because he is a man of faith. I expected this to lead to a fairly routine stereotypical portrayal, where his religious beliefs end up leading to disaster. That doesn’t happen — not even close. He might be a little bit of a prick, but the decisions he makes on the whole aren’t that bad. But the truly curious part is that we never learn anything at all about what he believes, or how it shapes his actions.
One almost has to wonder if the studio edited that out. Or if it really didn’t matter to either the screenwriter or the director. Perhaps believing in anything is so negative to them they didn’t feel the need to say anything more. Who knows?
The second is the rather nasty offscreen death of Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, who survived the last movie. In a way, it reminds me of the offscreen death of Newt and most of the other surviving characters between Aliens and Alien³. I’ll confess that I find it far too nihilistic for my tastes: after spending two intense hours with a character, and watching her narrowly survive despite all the perils, it seems a cheat to have her die a horrible death after the camera stops rolling. Certainly, it makes everything we saw up to that point meaningless.
And frankly, I feel much the same way about this film’s last minute “surprise” ending, which, naturally, I saw coming a mile away.
So, in the end, Alien: Covenant is big, loud, overblown and, ultimately, meaningless.
Oh, well. I just hope they do better on the Blade Runner sequel.
Not that I think there’s much chance of that.
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