Alien Alien Covenant

ALIEN: COVENANT's David and the Creator's Dilemma

Monday, May 22, 2017 Rob Samuelson

Alien: Covenant is fundamentally a vehicle for good even if it is just an okay movie. It’s best to think of the latest Ridley Scott film as a prompt. It makes the audience think about some of life’s big questions, like whether the human race -- with all of its arrogance and malice -- deserves to reign supreme over all other life forms and if ultimate freedom is truly the best thing for us.

Photo credit: Alien/Facebook

What does it mean to overstay your welcome as a species? That’s what android David (Michael Fassbender) broods about on a secluded planet that is home to nothing more than alien xenomorphs, the killing machines that give this series its name. He connects with the xenomorphs’ cold, mechanical survival instincts. David admires their efficiency and longs to see the humans who cast him aside be replaced by a more elegant form of life, one that he can appreciate. The xenomorphs, David can work with. Humans are messy and manipulative, but these smooth and nearly indestructible aliens are just what the (android) doctor ordered.

The crew aboard the spaceship Covenant arrives on the planet David has called home for 10 years -- Covenant takes place a decade after the events of 2012’s Prometheus -- to respond to a human-sounding distress beacon. The crew is made up of people. David doesn’t like people. Xenomorphs live on this planet. This set of facts does not portend good things for the members of the Covenant’s crew. If you’ve seen an Alien movie, you know what it means: Bing, bang, boom, aliens are going to burst out of some bodies in spectacular explosions of viscera.

It has never been a problem for Scott and his collaborators to create unsettling atmosphere or to put together grotesque set pieces. He started the chilly, dank Alien franchise in 1979, after all. Alien: Covenant has all of those elements intact, albeit in a way that often feels like a page torn out of a paint-by-numbers book. Spores infect crew members, some of whom quickly start spewing blood and mucus. The small aliens scatter and systematically hunt the panicked people who have no idea how to contain the threat. As far as Ridley Scott pictures go, this is a fairly pedestrian piece of action filmmaking. Luckily, these scenes still have the power to startle even when they don’t surprise, per sé.  Best of all, they feel refreshingly beside the point, because Scott cares deeply about what David thinks about humanity.

David’s thoughts reflect those of a Hollywood lifer who has long wished for more autonomy over his creations. The android wishes to create. That’s it. Thanks to his programming, which includes a Wikipedia-sized database of reference materials, David can access the blueprints for every creative pursuit known to humanity -- his creators, the bane of his existence, and the symbol of his every limitation. He whittles flutes out of sticks and he writes symphonies, but these are merely human inventions. He wants something more, something where he can truly break from human tradition. His frustrations are an artist’s frustrations, and worst of all for him, they are human frustrations, too. For all of his delusions about being apart from the environment that birthed him, he cannot escape.

Or can he?

David recognizes that he can get out of this rut by running experiments on the xenomorphs. His scientific abominations give him something the human race cannot: authorship. But the cost of this ownership of his ideas is the destruction of everything that created him. It is a shortsighted and ultimately self-destructive goal. At times, it’s a slightly noble pursuit, because who wouldn’t want to be slightly closer to controlling the world around them? Who wouldn’t want to create “the perfect organism?” The problem for David is that control and his ideas about creation are illusions. He cannot have them. The things he makes while “constrained” by humanity are things of beauty, and the things he makes on his own are things of horror. Tension in this context is productive and freedom is destructive.

Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, Dante Harper
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride
Rating: 3/5 stars
Available in theaters now

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