Making great movies is hard work. Making great Alien movies is even harder. However, making a great Alien movie that resonates with fans, critics and the general public? Well, that’s mostly a seemingly nigh on impossible task… mostly.
Now, I’m not saying it can’t be done — you simply need to go back to the original trilogy to see what a great Alien movie can be, but it’s very clear that the franchise has lost its way over the course of almost forty years in cinephile’s hearts and minds.
It’s safe to say that since the fourth instalment — Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection — the series has been on a downward spiral, both critically and commercially, with the notable exception of Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel Prometheus, which eschewed the parasitic body horror roots of the original trilogy in favour of a more cerebral, philosophical, sci-fi parable that aimed to untangle an elastic ball of complex, grandiose themes: Where do we come from? Who created us? Why are we here?
These are all compelling tenets to the archetypal sci-fi roots of the genre godfathers of yore; Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert — you name it — they’ve attempted to unravel these great mysteries of existentialism within their fictional worlds, too. Prometheus tried (and maybe failed, depending on who you ask) to steer the Alien series back on course, with its heavier focus on pure, unbridled sci-fi, and because of this it’s hard to not at least admire Scott’s attempt to shepherd 20th Century Fox’s franchise in a braver, new direction.
I really enjoyed Prometheus, and despite a somewhat lukewarm reception from hardline Alien fans, I respected Scott’s bold step into fresh, new territory. Alien: Covenant feels like a direct reaction to Prometheus’ confident, heady, world-building sci-fi; a safer step in a more predictable Alien direction — you can almost hear Fox’s executives rubbing their eager hands together. This movie’s more easy-to-digest marketability was clearly a much safer bet. Essentially, we — the audience — spoke, and Fox’s higher-ups and Scott listened. You wanted more aliens and facehuggers in Prometheus? Ok people, you know the drill, assholes and elbows!
The thing is, I think moviegoers were left a little disappointed because a) Prometheus fans who craved a satisfying conclusion from 2012’s creative and astutely constructed sci-fi opus were left wanting, and, b) Alien fans who were hankering for a slow-burning, claustrophobic, balls-to-the-wall tale of cosmic terror were also left baffled by narrative choices that Scott and his screenwriters took in the film’s final act.