' ' Cinema Romantico: Alien: Covenant

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Alien: Covenant

After the meaningless meaningfulness philosophical gobbledygook of “Prometheus”, less A Ridley Scott Film than Deep Thoughts by Damon Lindelof (co-writer), “Alien: Covenant” returns the series to its horror roots as a spaceship crew is picked off one-by-one by villainous extra-terrestrials. Still, there is a strand of philosophy that emerges from the human characters, many of whom are granted no shading outside of whatever the performer brings to the part, being portrayed as tangential not only to the aliens but to the synthetics, or androids, of which there are two, Walter (Michael Fassbender), aboard a colonization ship called the Covenant with thousands of colonists and embryos en route to a distant planet, and David (Fassbender again), lone holdover from “Prometheus”, whom the Covenant crew will eventually encounter and who proves to be a malevolent puppet master. Indeed, the philosophical statement of “Alien: Covenant” goes like this: humans, who needs ‘em?

The people’s superfluousness correlates to James Franco’s cameo, which is barely a cameo, playing the Covenant’s Captain who perishes in his sleeping pod when trying desperately to awake from cryogenic slumber as his ship’s progress is suddenly thwarted by a solar flare in the movie’s almost instantaneous inciting incident. Anyone is expendable, I suppose, but because you barely even realize it’s Franco before his character is gone his expendability is just sort of a throwaway. The captain’s death leaves First Mate Oram (Billy Crudup) in charge and upon receiving a transmission from a nearby planet that seems as inviting for colonization as their pre-programmed destination, Oram orders a detour. This is the planet, of course, where David is waiting, along with a host of alien spores, the set-up for a two-part haunted house, with part one unspooling on the planet and part one taking place back on the ship.

Because this is the CGI era, the aliens are often less like the aliens of yore than Gollum crossed with “Jurassic Park” velociraptors, which does not have to be a bad thing necessarily except that Scott’s camera often cannot keep up with the manic agility of these aliens, inevitably resorting to frenzied camera movements that, while occasionally mirroring the mood of hysteria, like the ferocious blood-splattered denouement of Faris (Amy Seimetz), too typically renders nothing but a boring, noisy blur as scares evoked through elegant shot composition mostly fall by the wayside.

Perhaps just as inelegant is a narrative built on the necessity of the characters’ head-scratching decision-making, from ignoring quarantine protocols to launching rescue missions that only have the interests of a few at heart, so poor that the viewer will instinctively align with Dany (Katherine Waterston), the original Captain’s wife, who objects to nearly every decision made by Oram, not forcibly but more with Waterston’s skeptical eyes, like the kid in the backseat who knows her parents are fighting even if they keep telling her they are not. But then, these repeated managerial fails are decidedly not simply of the You Wouldn’t Have A Movie Without Them variety.

For one thing, Crudup slyly oscillates between a palpable need to be liked and to demonstrate his character is in charge, illustrated by how he allows another crew member to effortlessly influence his order to check out this mysterious planet and then, moments later, gets indignant when Dany questions his order. He is not a very good Captain trying really hard to be a good Captain, an evocative desperation that adds legitimacy to every poor decision, including the decision that does him in, which is so obvious as it is happening yet so believable because Crudup has done such a masterful job laying the groundwork to make you believe that this dunce would do that. At the same time, such rampant idiocy is paramount to the film’s central thesis of android > human.

The opening scene is not in space but in a spaceship-ish looking home, not unlike Tony Stark's bachelor pad, where Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), whose corporation gave birth, so to speak, to David, converses with his creation. What stands out, however, is not the traditional prattle about What It Means so much as the distinct air of disdain between Man and Synthetic that slowly rises, emblemized in conversational close-ups that repeatedly cut to wide angles to show just how far apart they actually are. Weyland considers David beneath him, and vice-versa, and “Alien: Covenant”, in the end, comes away siding with David, which is, intentionally or not, underlined by the transparency of the Big Twist. It is not a twist that drops your jaw; it is a twist that makes you shake your head and think “Boy, did you deserve it.”

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