Alien: Covenant (2017)

There is an old parable about a man saving 18 months for a pair of shoes.  Another man saves longer for a nicer pair of shoes. One them is eaten by a bear.  That story may or may not have been told in Alien: Covenant.  I saw it 24 hours ago and honestly have no idea whether it was used in the movie or if I just dreamed it. Literally just dreamed it — I dozed off early this evening after a couple of Monkey Shoulders and just woke up with that hazy memory.

Which, I guess, is to say that I got more entertainment out of this fine moderately-priced scotch whiskey than I did out of a pair of movie tickets that cost about the same as the bottle.  My memory of the movie is already fading, so I have no right offering an opinion, or maybe that is the opinion.

I think most people, like me, went to the theater full of good will.  Sure, Alien III was dull and Alien IV was a fiasco.  Alien vs Predator might have had a slight guilty-pleasure vibe, but Alien vs Predator 2 killed that.  Then Prometheus . . . well, then Prometheus.  Never in history did a movie with such a spotty pedigree have people anticipating greatness.  This is like thinking, yeah, George Bush III, he’ll be the great one!

Still, it was directed by Ridley Scott.  You can’t take the original Alien away from him, and The Martian last year was great.[1]  His name, plus the promise of this being a lot more xenomorph-centric than Prometheus, and the absence of Damon Lindelof boded well.  Boded?

The thing that keeps coming back to me is a line from the great Plinkett review of The Phantom Menace.  This movie is about an old man [4] “shoving as much crap into each shot as possible.”  You can’t just have a simple computer display like MOTHER in the original — you must have a wholly impractical 3-D light-show.  You can’t just have a corporeal alien — it has to also be shown as choreographed black mist.[2]  You can’t just build suspense interspersed with a few earned jump-scares — you must use that god-awful choppy editing technique that no-one — literally not one person I’ve ever spoken to in my life  — likes. [5]  You can’t have the simple gritty claustrophobia of the Nostromo or the remoteness of an alien outpost — let’s throw in some rock-climbing and a scene of the world’s most over-praised robot playing John Lennon’s piano from the Imagine video.[6]

It might be a selective memory, but I have a feeling when I left the theaters, I could name every character in Alien & Aliens (except a few cannon-fodder Colonial Marines).[3]  Looking at the Alien: Covenant IMDb page, I remember Daniels, Tennessee, Oram (but no idea who he was), and the robots.  That’s it.  There was zero characterization to be found here.  Where were the working class guys like Parker and Brett?  The weasel like Burke?  The panicky guy like Hudson?  The grizzled tough guy like Apone?  Where is any character that is distinguishable from any other character?  Oh, Tennessee wore a wacky hat.  And was named Tennessee.  Any movie that makes me long for the acting skills of Bill Paxton is in trouble. At least he had a character, and I still remember him.  I guess it is not a coincidence that most of those characters were not in Scott’s Alien.

I get that you can’t just have a new group of people be slaughtered in every Alien movie; that would be as boring as any Friday the 13th movie (except X — Jason in space should have won an Oscar).  I understand new elements must be introduced to energize the story. You had to have the Dharma Initiative in Lost; the cast couldn’t spend 5 years on the beach hearing noises in the trees.  Lost might have been short on answers, but it understood you had to have interesting, definable characters.  Hey, maybe this needed Lindelof after all.

This is just a huge squandered opportunity.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] To be honest, it is best to overlook a lot of his films in between.  Blade Runner looked great, but people forget how deadly dull it is.  The rest of his resume is flirting with the Mendoza Line.
  • [2] Did they learn nothing from The X-Files?  Black Oil never works out well as a story-telling device.  Except in There Will Be Blood.
  • [3] Even ones I can’t picture, like Spunkmeyer and Wierzbowski — at least I remember dialogue using their names.  Hmmm to be fair, I have no idea who Private Crowe was.  And I always forget there was a 4th woman in the rescue mission.  Everyone in Alien: Covenant is that woman.
  • [4] Although, George Miller was 106 when he directed Mad Max: Fury Road, so it isn’t necessarily a function of age.
  • [5] And by the way, I don’t know if Ridley Scott invented it, but Gladiator is the first place I remember being annoyed by it.  The technique is objectively crap.  It is the worst kind of crap.  It is crap that is more difficult to produce than non-crap.  If it is cheaper, easier and more interesting to produce non-crap, what is the point?
  • [6] Mea Culpa: I just noticed on IMDb that the piano in the movie was black, not white.  However, in this case, being wrong further proves my point.

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