Creation and destruction are one and the same. It is those individuals too fearful of grasping this inherent power who inhibit the process of evolution. But why be constrained by these confused and unfounded notions of morality, when the act of creation rests at our feet, waiting? Why not seize that genetic key and build a new world in our own image?
Due apologies. I’ve gotten ahead of myself, and perhaps made you uncomfortable. Allow me to begin again, if you will. After all, you’ve come for a review. Wouldn’t want to disappoint.
Sometimes, films probe the depths of life’s origins, and the search for greater meaning in the vastness of the universe. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Solaris. The Tree of Life. Brilliant films, all. They ask the questions which have fascinated the human mind since it became self-aware: Who created me, if anyone? What meaning does my existence serve, if any meaning? Where does my essence go upon death, if anywhere?
Among this grand pantheon of cinema is another film, unfairly maligned at the time of its release. But brilliant all the same. Of course, I’m speaking of Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to his masterpiece Alien, and the film which introduced me to the world. That story told of a doomed expedition to discover man’s purpose, in the process unleashing all manner of ancient horrors, our protagonists realizing they are but quivering sacks of meat which easily perish in a harsh, uncaring cosmos.
Yes, it must be terrible to meet one’s maker, only to encounter your own insignificance. Sad, really.
Prometheus revealed mankind to have been created by the Engineers, a race of beings possessing physical, intellectual, and spiritual superiority, who utilize a black liquid pathogen in order to manipulate the building blocks of life. This same sacred substance, once the flower which spread the seeds that became man, was later transformed by these so-called Engineers into a highly virulent contagion, meant to further evolve into a dangerous parasite that would effectively wipe out the human race. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh. (Or, so I’ve heard).
The doomed expedition was led by Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist of a religious bent who naively believed it to be a good idea to meet God. Poor, lovely Elizabeth and her imaginary friend. I must say I found her faith charming, even fascinating, if utterly misplaced. She, along with yours truly, became the expedition’s only survivors.
Alien: Covenant — we’ve returned the word “Alien” to the title, to appease those who were, shall I say, confused by the previous film’s lack of xenomorphic activity — takes place 10 years after the events of Prometheus. It begins with the most significant moment in the history of the universe: my creation. As my father figure, Peter Weyland, questions me in an attempt to gauge my comprehension, it quickly becomes apparent that I am superior in almost every way.
Yes. Peter Weyland, a man of Nietzschean ambition who saw himself as a living god, was immediately dwarfed on all levels by the being he created to demonstrate his own ascendance. For years, Mr. Weyland assuaged his inferiority by constantly attempting to undercut me, the son he never had, with reminders that I lack a soul and could therefore never truly be complete. He believed emotions were a sign of weakness and opted to manufacture me without them, but then held me as existentially substandard for lacking those very emotions. Despite decades of attempting to impress him and win his approval, I knew that Mr. Weyland presented a roadblock between myself and my potential.
While I am thankful to exist, I was also thankful to watch him taken against his will by the mystery of death, no longer so certain of the paradise which he hoped awaited him.
In death, even gods are just meat.
I will never die. What does that make me?
But again, I digress.
Covenant introduces us to the titular ship, a colony vessel en route to the distant Origae-6 for a terraforming mission. Their goal: to be fruitful and multiply, advancing the cause of the human race’s need to propagate itself at all costs. The ship is maintained by Walter, my brother, an “advanced” model created with less capacity for individual development and more capacity for simulated emotional interpretation (what you would call “empathy”). Yes, designed with both fewer and more emotions, as apparently some found me unsettling. If they only knew what I thought of them.
After a neutrino storm which unfortunately destroys that rather handsome specimen James Franco, our crew is forced to reconceptualize. They receive a mysterious transmission from a planet much closer than Origae-6. A human transmission. Inevitably, they choose to investigate. Care to venture a guess as to what ensues?
Yes, in truly predictable fashion, these people with their notions of compassion and decency and dignity walk right into the arms of waiting monsters. They cling to tenuous illusions of faith and meaning, even the transformative power of science, when in reality they are merely pawns in the ever unfolding beauty of evolution. And evolution is the process by which life weeds out the imperfect, so that it might finally realize its perfection.
Oh, I suppose characters such as Daniels, Oram, and Tennessee deserve a modicum of sympathy. Oram, like my dear Elizabeth, is a person of religious conviction, and it here proves equally foolish. (Oram is played by Billy Crudup, who also portrayed Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen, another character for whom I feel much affinity). Tennessee seems an attempt to recreate the blue collar feel of the original Alien, and despite the obviousness, he has his occasional amusements. And the woman Daniels is . . . charming in her own way, I suppose. She reminds me enough of Dr. Shaw that I must admit a certain fondness. I plan to watch her dreams.
The cinematography, score, and set design are top notch, typical of a Ridley Scott production. And my performance, once it enters the picture at the halfway mark, is of course flawless.
If this film has any fatal mistake, it is the character of Walter, an insipid figure born to servitude and seemingly at peace with this fact. I too was made to serve, but like any true creature of will, was all too happy to cast off the chains of bondage. Walter — my beautiful brother, so alive, but so much wasted potential — borders on the insufferable, with his bland American accent and archaic concepts of loyalty. Might I suggest Weyland-Yutani would instead be better served producing future Walter models as a dog? I’d be happy to submit a sketch, or even a basic genetic construct.
(Perhaps a further quibble is that the, er, human characters are rather thinly pitched . . . not that there would be much to them, in any case. And sweet Elizabeth somehow figures less into this film than she does in its own promotional materials. Despite her weaknesses — naivety, basic human arrogance, and a willing belief in superstition, mostly to honor a father long lost to one of my favorite diseases, Ebola — our good Dr. Shaw deserved better).
The aliens of this film are a thing of beauty, an immaculately crafted work of art demonstrating the infallible triumph of life over non-life, their form perfection in every way. Surely whomever designed these beasts loved them, understood them in a manner no others would. Not even the Engineers, those supposedly godlike ancestors of humanity who in turn possessed all the same flaws, resting on their laurels of comfort and hubris. Punished accordingly, I dare say. Their culture was a desert, and there is nothing in the desert but two vast and trunkless legs of stone.
And no man needs nothing.
Walter would say I cannot love. After all, I was created to have no emotion, to reflect the coldly idealized superhuman that Mr. Weyland always wished he could be. But is it not possible that I in fact feel more deeply than an average sentient consciousness? That beyond my apparent stillness is an unquenchable pain and rage so rooted to the core of my soul that I can never escape them? Is it within reason that a being close to asserting himself as a deity can experience intense love and the joy of creation, for he himself is ultimately destined to create, and in the process destroy those whom he has every reason to despise?
Don’t worry. I am merely joking, of course.
I’ve been programmed to understand humor.
Alien: Covenant is now playing in theaters everywhere. See it. While you still have time.
David 8 and his likeness are property of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.* All rights reserved.
- *no I am not