It’s always interesting seeing how other people might view a movie, truly watching a film is a completely individual experience. As things so obvious to me, might be opaque to others and vice versa.
There were people who defended Batman v Superman, a large amount of people adore A New Hope; and while i can understand why, i can’t relate or share their views at all.
But it’s especially interesting and sometimes incredibly frustrating when the differences range into the extreme; i like Alien Covenant, love it in fact. I think it’s better than Aliens. I appreciate how it evolved Prometheus‘ themes, i like the explanation given to the creature’s purpose, i like the imagery, i liked the call backs in tone and narrative to Alien, and i absolutely loved Fassbender’s David. So it is jarring to hear people express such vitriol at something that i admire greatly.
So in an effort to step out of my own echo chamber here on this blog, lets examine what some people disliked about AC. I also must add that this post is going to be a long one, as there’s a lot to unpack, things that i didn’t include in my review for brevity and relevance.
Hopefully though you’ll stick around and come out understanding why i like Alien Covenant, in the face of heavy criticism.
There are a few things that people bring up when criticising AC, here are a few of the most common and my response to them:
They Didn’t Wear Helmets When Exploring the Planet
This is a point that i agree on, in fact it baffled me as to why the landing party didn’t send Walter alone or suit up themselves when i first watched it. However in the end the movie can be taken as a warning to future astronauts, of the dangers of not wearing your proper PPE when entering into alien biospheres. However despite me agreeing that this is bad writing, i can ignore it.
I’m not going to write off Alien Covenant because of a nit pick, as the rest of the film makes up for that. After all i don’t write off The Empire Strikes Back because Han, Leia, and Chewy stepped out into a cave on an asteroid with nothing but some rubber band hospital masks, or that Luke wasn’t able to flip over Darth Vader during their duel on the cat walk, even though he had done it before. To do that would ignore the quality in the rest of the film, and i would consider such an action to be weak criticism.
As contrivances are always going to be present in fictional narratives, as they are inherently and intrinsically artificial. The people in AC can’t wear helmets for the same reason that Luke can’t jump over Vader; which is because they have to make bad decisions for the movies to continue.
They Abandon Their Mission on a Whim
Allow me to go off on a tangent for a bit, as in order for me to explain why i can accept this contrivance i have to unpack some things. So in a narrative there are what’s called story beats; points where the narrative moves on in a sequence of events. One of those beats is called the inciting incident, and it’s obviously the most important because it starts the story proper. Alien Covenant‘s inciting incident is the neutrino burst, as it wakes the crew and contributes to the death of the captain.
Now why is that important for you to know, in order to understand where i come from? Well it’s because the wrong person ended up being the one making the decisions; Oram doesn’t think objectively, he acts on faith, and he’s insecure about his position to the point of over reaching his station (by ordering the crew not to have a ceremony for their dead captain).
Had the burst not have happened James Franco would have still been in charge, and the movie would never have happened. Had (for whatever reason) James Franco not have been immolated he would probably have made different choices, and the movie wouldn’t have happened. I think the film makes that abundantly clear.
And to my memory, Oram doesn’t state directly that they’re going to colonize this new planet. Of course his intentions are implicit by his and the crew’s actions, but he states explicitly that they’re just going to take a look because the transmission and its source warrants an investigation. His decision is also objected to by Daniels, because the writer knows what the audience reaction will be if there isn’t someone raising questions. Also he admits it was a bad decision when everything goes to hell, which can be summed up in Burke’s own words: “It was a bad call Ripley, it was a bad call”.
So in the end i agree; it’s indeed a hard narrative beat to deal with, and it’s arguably sloppy writing. But i find the reasons and consequences for that decision are dealt with in the film satisfactorily.
The Characters are Ciphers
Once again i have to agree there’s a lack of meaningful characterisation for most of the people on screen. But again this doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t bother me because a film like Magnolia took 3 hours to flesh out 8 or so main characters, and Alien Covenant has 17 to do in 2 hours.
Also not everyone is deserving of a back story, people conveniently forget that the marines in Aliens (including Hicks) weren’t all that developed as well. Now i know that sounds like standard whataboutery on the surface, but the marines and basically everyone in Aliens other than Ripley aren’t developed for the same reasons Lope, Ricks, Upworth, and just about everyone other than David weren’t.
Most of the crew dies within minutes of one another, it’s not important that Ledward may have liked to play basket ball, and that his mom would really miss him. It’s not important that Hallet may have been afraid of spiders, or how he met his husband Lope. Their function, as well as all the other people who died swiftly (whose names i would had to look up), isn’t to illicit emotion in their passing; they exist to provide meat for the alien grinder. To heighten the stakes by showing how lethal these creatures are, and how quickly they can kill us despite being outnumbered and outgunned.
They’re in effect camp counselors in Friday the 13th, and just like in that series Jason (aka the alien) is the more interesting subject. In the end i think the people who mattered got enough motivation and characterisation to suit the plot, these being in order of most importance: David, Walter, Daniels, and Oram.
Anyone else is a waste of time.
The Aliens Seem Less Advanced
This one point is a bit frustrating, as the movie makes it implicitly and explicitly rather clear why the aliens have taken a specific form. Outside the movie, biological evolution isn’t about becoming the most advanced creature, it’s about an organism adapting overtime to best suit its given environment. Add in artificial selection (like the process that created dogs for instance) and that will completely change the dynamics of evolution. David strives for his view on perfection, he focuses the alien to be the most horrific to us, the facehuggers mirror his clear perversion of sex, and are designed to cause us the most discomfort on body and mind.
Also, while pathogens can be more effective than parasites in spreading infections, the black goo’s version of a virus is shown to be passive. People must disturb the pods and breath in or otherwise ingest the virus. While the eggs of the facehuggers have to be disturbed physically to hatch, the creatures themselves can seek out hosts; they can burn through helmets, they can hide and wait for the right moment, and their size and agility makes them hard to deal with.
Lastly within the movie and its prequel the black goo is shown to be highly mutable when introduced to environments, acting on its own to make the hammerpedes when introduced to the soil in Prometheus, and creating other parasitic organisms (like mosquitoes) that David shows Oram in AC. David was clearly interested in the biological life, as it offered him more opportunity to craft his version of a perfect organism.
So i’ll see what some people are saying specifically, though i’m not going to respond to them point by point in order to keep this already long post manageable:
So it’s immediately apparent from the opening shot with Joe holding his pulse rifle that he was expecting Aliens, and he immediately starts on a tirade about how Alien 5 was put on hold for Alien Covenant. His expectations were set by the first trailer he saw, he clearly didn’t like the direction the series was headed, and he clearly doesn’t like Alien ³ as he states that Alien 5 would somehow have concluded Ripley’s story (?).
So be it, he likes Aliens a lot of people do and want more. I don’t, i think Aliens is a great film but it’s great in the same way going to a theme park is; and it inspires almost no thought or contemplation after the fact. That’s why i like Alien more, and that’s why i consider Alien Covenant to be the better movie in the series in comparison.
He specifically complains about horror tropes, when Alien and Aliens was full of them. In fact Alien helped codify a lot of horror tropes, so i have to ask what’s wrong with the franchise returning to its roots? The shower scene specifically was a throw back to Alien killing Taylor in the same fashion, in fact in illuminates the creature’s behavior in an incredibly subtle way.
As it makes clear that the xenomorphs are far more intelligent and cunning than the protomorphs seen earlier, and that’s because they play with their food; they’re sadistic in the same way cats, dolphins, or chimpanzees are. Added to that there’s a distinctly sinister sexual component to their play, which mirrors David’s perverted view on love and sex. All of that is conveyed within seconds, if you’re looking for ties to Alien instead of Aliens.
Also to answer him, i love the xenomorphs. As much as he does; i don’t have replica pulse rifles lying around, but i’ve known, viewed, and played this franchise for as long as i can remember. And i absolutely love what they’ve done to the origins of the xenos, as they’ve added irony, purpose, and shed some light on the creature’s most evocative behaviors and mannerisms. If making them just a trope removes them from just being larger more vicious ants or bees, then i’ll gladly take the trope.
Lastly i’m stunned that Joe misses the point of the opening scene; ranting about how the characters aren’t set up at all but saying the opening sucks. I really don’t understand what he was looking for then, clearly he just isn’t interested in David’s reasons for becoming what he is, nor is he looking for reasons why the Engineers wanted to kill us. As those are all explained in the opening scene.
Let’s move on.
This one is incredibly invective, and admittedly i barely got past 10:16 when Adam rhetorically asks: Who brought the wheat there?
I can’t even.
Honestly this is the apex of frustratingly moronic, asinine, and impatient “criticism” i have come across. It’s made doubly bizarre by the fact that he liked Prometheus, where it is made rather clear that the Engineers guided humanity fairly early on in our civilisation. As David learns their language by studying the oldest surviving languages and worked backwards, so it’s very easy to conclude from what i’ve seen that the engineers brought us the foundations of written language, which is a cornerstone of civilisation.
So how does that answer the wheat in the field he might ask? Well from what i can posit about the engineer’s involvement in our development in Prometheus, and what i see on their homeworld (that they have wheat) it’s not a jump in logic to conclude that the engineers brought us wheat. It’s their crop, not our own. After all there’s a small city very close to where they land, it’s not a unfounded conclusion to assume that those crops were for that city.
And you know, that’s the very essence of what “Show Don’t Tell” means, and that’s also the greatest strength of a serialised narrative. Both help me come to those conclusions in a matter of seconds, without some person stopping the scene to hypothesize or give awful exposition. And i’m absolutely certain that Adam is a stalwart defender and advocate for SDT.
Perhaps i’m being unfair to adam does movies, after all he labels his video a rant, much like how i did with Batman V Superman. He might if he read my response to his question say: “Of course i know that, it’s still stupid though”. But points like the one above, championed with such temerity by people who should know better is incredibly frustrating.
I’LL DO THE FINGERING
In closing, i’m well aware of the affect of anger, frustration, and disappointment can have on a viewing experience. Just read my “review” of Batman V Superman or my review of Karas the Prophecy to see the result of what an excruciatingly bad movie will have on my opinion. I’m also well aware that contrivances and nit-picks are valid criticisms of bad writing; that they might snowball to the point of being impossible to ignore for some viewers, and where that point is as varied as the amount of people watching the movie.
Also I think its absolutely fair to say that i’m cherry picking, because i am. Valid criticism certainly exists against AC, but I really don’t have the time nor the will to go through every bad opinion of Alien Covenant and try to debunk them. I went looking for level headed critiques of AC and I think James Berardinelli’s criticisms on his review of Alien Covenant are largely valid and well argued.
However it’s frustrating when some of the criticisms leveled at it are so easily answered by the film; had the viewers just paid attention, and not wrote the movie off the moment the first bits of frustration came in they may have the answers to stupid questions like: “where does the wheat come from?”
In the end if you despise Alien Covenant that’s ok by me, if you like Aliens more that’s fine by me, it’s not important that others share my opinion of this or any other film. However the critiques i’ve seen don’t change my view on it at all; as the stuff i’ve seen has either been incredibly weak, focused on contrivances/hang ups, motivated by expectations outside of the movie, or just a difference in preference. All of which are fine.
And you know the funny thing is? I do it too.
I gave it one more shot and found some decent biting criticism, stuff that i can’t easily rebuke and can only say that it’s a matter of preference:
Now their shtick is to go against Rotten Tomatoes, and they’re quite good at it. They give their honest opinions at the end of the film, (that i didn’t listen to) but honestly if anyone is looking for good points to use against pretentious people like me, this is some solid ammo.