Here’s Some Homework to do Before Seeing “Alien: Covenant”
I just returned from an early morning viewing of Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. I won’t bother to write an extensive review, since there are plenty of those out there and the critical consensus seems to be pretty on the money here. Suffice it to say that if you are a fan of the Alien franchise or the Sci-Fi / Horror genre in general, you should probably see this movie.
I’m writing instead to assign you some homework that I wish I had done before seeing this film.
Alien: Covenant is much less of a standalone film than I expected. Although it is the first movie to bear the “Alien” name since 1997, it is not a light-continuity soft reboot like Jurassic World or X-Men: First Class. Instead, this movie is almost a direct sequel to its much-maligned predecessor in the franchise: 2012’s Prometheus.
Did you forget about Prometheus? Ridley Scott sure didn’t.
What is Prometheus?
Prometheus was itself intended to be a soft reboot and secret prequel to the Alien franchise. A “spiritual predecessor,” if you will. There would be some hints to Alien’s famous Xenomorph, but no face-huggers, chest-bursters, or desperate crew members asking “mother” to track the stowaway beast.
Instead, we got Michael Fassbeder playing a creepy android (the best element of both that film and this one), Guy Pearce in old man make-up for some reason, a bizarre but terrifying scene involving an automatic c-section, and these guys:
Not quite as memorable as H.R. Giger’s original Xenomorph, am I right?
Although Prometheus was decently well-reviewed at the time and did pretty well at the box office, it has mostly faded from the cultural consciousness.
The reason for that is probably its weak script. Although we are supposed to believe the characters are brilliant scientists, they behave like dullards for most of the movie so that they can be more readily killed off. There are also unnecessarily prolonged and unsatisfying attempts to explain the Xenomorph’s origins and how it is related to humanity. Say it with me, Patton Oswalt: “I don’t care where the stuff I love comes from; I just love the stuff I love!”
So yeah, we would forgive you for not seeing this movie. And certainly, you couldn’t be expected to remember it in detail. You’d have to be crazy to want to watch it again right before you go see Alien: Covenant, right?
Homework Assignment #1: Watch or Review Prometheus
I’m sorry to do this to you, but if you want to really understand what is happening during the middle section of Alien: Covenant, you should probably go back and watch Prometheus. Hey, maybe you’ll even find more to like this time. Maybe.
If you have tickets to Covenant tonight or otherwise lack the time or inclination to watch Prometheus, you should probably at least read a good recap of what happened.
Here’s a pretty quick recap from Yahoo Movies that covers the necessary plot points.
Here’s a lengthier Youtube video where a real Alien fan goes through the plot and how it connects to everything else in the franchise.
But your homework doesn’t stop there, my friends.
Homework Assignment #2: Watch the Web Content for Alien: Covenant
Fox made the fairly unusual move of releasing two “short films” to the internet ahead of Alien: Covenant. While I usually consider this type of stuff kind of throwaway filler “just for the fans,” that is not the case here. Both of the promotional web shorts for Covenant are required viewing if you want to fully grasp what is happening during the movie. They probably should have been included as scenes in the film itself.
The first, entitled “Last Supper,” sets up the mission of the Covenant and introduces the crew, including a cameo by James Franco (but don’t get too used to him):
The second bridges the gap between the ending of Prometheus and the point where it connects up to Covenant. This is the one I missed before seeing Covenant, and I sincerely regret it.
Homework Assignment #3: Manage Expectations
As I mentioned above, Alien: Covenant is a pretty good movie. It does its best to combine the things people love about the various entries in this franchise into one film. And then, for some reason, it brings back a lot of stuff from Prometheus, good and bad. That means it wanders during the second act, spends too much time over-explaining stuff you didn’t care about in the first place, telegraphs all of its surprises ahead of time, and often forces its characters to behave like idiots so that they can be slaughtered for your enjoyment.
But hey, sit tight, and soon enough you’ll be wandering the halls of a spaceship waiting for a giant scary Alien to burst out of the pipes, just like you wanted.
Just make sure that you have done your homework.