The Alien pictures are all about that one moment in the first film, when the alien unexpectedly and horribly tears out of Kane’s chest and scampers out of the dining room. The best way to experience this scene is with total surprise, but we’re too far away from it now. It’s already out there in the culture and four subsequent Alien films (AVP is not cannon, do not even.)
By the time I saw Alien (1979) for the first time (as a teenager in the 1990s, I’m guessing), the scene had already been ruined for me; I think I saw it in a documentary about special effects or something, divorced from the overall narrative. But still. Nothing can take away from the thrill of an alien jutting out of a man’s stomach—the blood splattering on the 0nlooker’s horrified faces—while he’s still alive and gagging. This is the scene that everyone remembers, and everything else in the franchise builds around that discrete moment of terror.
If you’re reading this in 2017 and you don’t know what I’m talking about, whatever, you deserve everything you get and more.
Ridley Scott has since reinvigorated the series, and now with the release of Alien: Covenant, we have the second of three planned films leading up to the timeline of the original. In 2012 we got Prometheus, an uneven, hokey mess, but still, not entirely without merit. (The part where Elisabeth Shaw has the makeshift cesarian in a med pod is, in my estimation, damn near as good as the aforementioned chestburster scene.)
Prometheus covered a lot of mythology and bullshit, paving the way for the chilling space misadventure to follow. As such, Alien: Covenant is hands down the better movie. First off, we get a much simpler presence. It’s been 10+ years since the Prometheus crash landed. Entirely unrelated, the Covenant spacecraft carries 2,000 frozen colonists on a multi-year trip to colonize a new planet. Remember David, the robot in the last movie played by Michael Fassbender, the one with dubious intentions? They didn’t make just one! They’ve got another android on board that looks just like David, named Walter this time. He wears futuristic hoodies and sounds like a Texan or something.
There’s a disturbance in the force, the crew wakes up early and shit is generally fucked up. The beloved captain dies in a fire, leaving the less beloved Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge. Some other shit happens, and long story short, they find themselves marooned on the planet that the Prometheus crashed on so many years ago. David and Walter meet, and it’s rad. Fake twin technology has come a long way since The Parent Trap! Their interactions are weirdly erotic, which I was delighted to see, although I wish they’d taken it a little farther.
Walter versus David inhabit the classic sci-fi evil twin dichotomy; they’re made from the same creator but with key differences to make them sufficiently at odds. This is their movie, as Fassbender’s top billing plainly gives away. The twins’ beef feels like a classic Twilight Zone episode. We’re not exactly breaking the mold, but no harm in repackaging the hits if it’s done well, am I right?
Besides science fiction, we have an action film, lots of crash boom bang and the thing is on fire got to run away from the other thing and loud boom scare, etc. Most movies fuck this up royally—everything looks churned around in a garbage disposal, you can hardly tell what’s happening and you’re too disoriented to care about the victims. The action looks good here, likely aided by Scott’s dark, dark palette.
Oh my god, Ridley Scott hates color so much! It’s like before every day of shooting Ridley’s like, “Hold on, let me shoot the sun out of the sky. Okay, let’s get started.” It’s a fine backdrop for a straight-up horror picture, which is, more than anything else, what Alien: Covenant delivers. The movie has a body count to make PG-13 movies blush. Crew members die in a variety of interesting ways. Plenty of chest bursting, thick maroon blood, and mercifully, the kills come in such quick succession that we don’t have to spend too terribly long on grieving.
Alien: Covenant rules, go see it.