Part 3: The Ret-Con Phase
After the weirdness of Alien: Resurrection the franchise would go dormant for the longest period of its history. For nearly 15 years, there would be no Alien films, while the previous longest drought was the nine year gap between the first two films. But like any good Xenomorph, the franchise did not stay down for long, and it would makes its triumphant return with 2012’s Prometheus. Not only would it be the first Alien film in over a decade, but it would see its creator, Ridley Scott, return to the helm to direct a prequel which would show the origins of the Xenomorph, the Space Jockey, and everything else any fan could ever want.
Well, at least that is what most people seemed to expect from the film. Instead, we embarked on a new journey to change the continuity of the franchise, and weigh it down with a mountain of philosophical/biblical nonsense.
Prometheus is the prequel to Alien. It was mean to set up the continuity of the entire franchise by explain who the space jockey is, where the Xenomorph came from, and why it was causing such a ruckus. Well, we didn’t get that. Instead, we got something completely different, weird and slightly confusing. We got a brand new story about an android named David trying to discover himself. And by discover himself, I mean try to take on a mythological/biblical role in the creation of a new species through his pursuit of creating perfection.
We are getting a little too ahead of ourselves; for now let’s focus on the events of Prometheus and how it in almost no way fits with the continuity of the Alien franchise, and didn’t really serve a purpose until this year. I was released in 2012 to a series of poor to middling reviews with some good ones sprinkled in. A metacritic score of 65 basically translates to, “eh, its fine.”
The film begins with a big blue man ingesting some black substance before disintegrating into a river and apparently creating life on Earth. Additionally, another blue man must have come back to Earth and visited the various human civilizations on the planet and encourage each of them to point up into the sky and make cave paintings about it. Many millennia later, some of these depictions have been discovered which prompts an exploration to the planet being pointed to.
Thus we follow our intrepid crew as they search for our creators on a distant planet while also thinking, “Huh, what does any of this have to do with Alien?” Good question viewer! The answer is, unfortunately, nothing. But bear with us, all will become somewhat clear soon.
Once our crew has landed on the new planet, they proceed to take their helmets off in a mysterious alien space ship against all logic, and to no one’s surprise, some of them get infected with some sort of weird alien goo and attacked by mutated worms. A series of escalating events happens in typical cinematic fashion leading up to the big reveal that this expedition had nothing to do with an academic pursuit of knowledge. It turns out, Peter Weyland of the corporation that bears his name funded this in order to meet the architects of humanity so that they could make him younger.
Thanks to David, his android, he is able to meet a blue man. However instead of helping Weyland, the blue man ripped off David’s head and proceeded to beat up old man Weyland with it. Apparently, despite going around the galaxy and creating life on different planets, including Earth, some of these blue dudes were going around and planting black goo which would lead to the extermination of all the life they created.
Meanwhile, our protagonist who discovered the evidence of these blue men and led the expedition has been infected by some of the black goo indirectly by David, and she has to have an emergency C-section in order to rip an alien quid monster out of her body. The film ends with her taking the still functioning head of David onto a blue man space ship to find the home planet of blue people and ask them why the heck they wanted to kill life on Earth.
Oh, and the blue man fights the aborted squid monster who has become a giant by now and who proceeds to impregnate the blue man who alter gives birth to a sort of proto-Xenomorph that is not actually a Xenomorph and who is not even on the correct planet.
“Hold on Mad Prophet, I thought you said things would start to become clear. None of this makes any sense.” Correct! That exact sentiment defines Prometheus, a film advertised as a prequel to Alien which ends up being the beginning of something completely different. Instead of explaining who the Space Jockey is, and why he had a massive supply of Xenomorph eggs on his ship, it introduces an entirely new narrative and mythology to the franchise. Instead of Xenomorphs being the result of eons of evolution that have become the perfect organisms, they are this bizarre end game from blue people, black goo, humans and a bit of fingering from David. It sets out on an entirely different direction to explore the meaning of life and creation.
The film is fine on its own merits. Isolated from the rest of the Alien films, it is an interesting scifi film that explores the origins of humanity. Unfortunately, it cannot be viewed in a vacuum, and must be seen through the lens of the Alien franchise. Through that lens, it is a flawed film. It breaks continuity so much that it becomes a confusing mess. It has almost nothing to do with Alien outside of having an android, a weird proto-Xenomorph and hints of other things such as face-huggers. Instead of answering questions, it simply raised many more and left many with a bitter taste in their mouths after viewing.
No definitive statements can be made in regards to Prometheus without first discussing its mate, Alien: Covenant. With that in mind, we will move on to the most recent film in the Alien franchise.
Alien: Covenant came out earlier this year to very mixed reviews, including a shameless plug for our review. Some were quite good, others were quite bad, but they were consistently split. There are some that liked it while others hated it, which is perfect for a film trying to balance two separate identities.
Covenant is simultaneously a sequel to Prometheus and a prequel to Alien, It manages to straddle that line fairly effectively which has not only led to the diversity of different reviews, but its split identity as well.
In terms of general tone and design, this feels much more like Alien than Prometheus. It just looks like an Alien film. Beyond the obvious aspects of the female protagonist and most of the technological designs (some of them are far too advanced for what was present in Alien). The color, camera work, the moody atmosphere and other elements all contribute to a film that openly attempts to be more of a proper Alien film than its predecessor.
However, at the same time, David plays a central role in the film. Because of that, it cannot avoid much of the same philosophizing that Prometheus employs. In fact, it is that philosophizing that gets Covenant in trouble.
David turns out to not only be the creator of the Xenomorphs, but possibly the central character to the entire franchise. Sorry Ripley.
As far as the plot is concerned, it has a lot in common with Prometheus. The crew is made up of couples and an android on a mission to a distant planet to form a new colony alongside the many dozens of cryogenically frozen people on board the ship, Covenant. Just like in Alien, they pick up a strange signal and decide to investigate. What they find is a planet that is perfect for making into a colony, so they decide to land and check the place out. Again, just like in Prometheus, they decide that it is a good idea to not wear helmets to a strange planet that could have any number of kinds of crazy creatures running around on it.
Low and behold there are indeed crazy creatures in the form of some kind of fungus that replaces black goo for black dust that enters people’s bodies and makes a proto-Xenomorph pop out of them – but not the one from Prometheus so forget that one even existed. Just when it looks like these little Xeno-lights are going to kill our protagonists, none other than David shows up to save them.
This is where the movie stops being an Alien prequel and takes some time to be a Prometheus sequel. David and Elizabeth Shaw, the protagonist from Prometheus, took a ship from the blue people to the home of the blue people who, in spite of having interstellar space travel live in small stone cities that look like a Mayan civilization. Upon reaching the planet, David decides to comic blue man genocide and use the black dust to kill all of the blue people. No more of them, as they aren’t important anymore anyway. In the time between his casual genocide and when the Covenant lands, he spends his time dabbling in genetic experimentation and manipulation. David has been trying to create, which is the major theme of the prequels.
The film opens with David speaking to a young Weyland who is telling David that he is physically a perfect replication of a human, but that there are certain things that he will never be able to do. He can play beautiful music, but he can never write his own. He can imitate great artists, but he will never be able to make art of his own. He is a perfect replica of life, but he will never be able to create it. That is explicitly told to David and the audience in order for his motivation to be as clear as possible.
It is abundantly clear that these films are not about aliens or Xenomorphs at all, and instead about the android David. He is spending all of his time and efforts trying to create something. Weyland and Shaw from the first film both wanted to find their makers in order to have a better understanding of the origins of humanity.
David already knows who his creators are, and he is not impressed. Instead, he strives to create something better than humans. Ultimately he ends up creating the famous Xenomorph: rather than having this creature be the result of evolution over the course of countless generations, they are something created by an android in his attempt to create life. David seeks to create the perfect lifeform, and is willing to sacrifice all others in order to achieve that goal.
One thing needs to be made clear: these are not bad ideas. They are in fact the exact opposite; they are very good ideas for a sci-fi film, or series. There are humans who are searching for their creator, and who in turn create their own “life” in the form of an android or artificial human. While the humans engage in their search, the artificial humans try to define themselves before beginning their own creations. These ideas can explore the meaning of being human, the value of creating life which are both cornerstones of the sci-fi genre.
The problem comes when trying to shove the ideas into the Alien franchise. Alien is not a complex film. It is a haunted house film…but in space. It is a B movie script with an A movie cast and execution. If that is the case, then why does there need to be this mythology around the Xenomorph? To borrow some lines from Ash, Alien’s structural perfection is matched only by its simplicity.” There is nothing that really needs to be known about the Xenomorph outside of its desire to kill. It was a monster; it hunted and it killed. That’s it. Hell, the alien didn’t even have a name until James Cameron gave it one in Aliens. We simply didn’t need to know anything about the alien except that it was hostile. When you are being attacked by a shark, you don’t need to know the entire history of sharks to know that you are about to be eaten.
The attempt to make the Xenomorph into an almost biblical figure is not only awkward, but it comes as a disservice to both the sequel films and the prequel films. If this film was just called Covenant instead of Alien: Covenant it would be much better. If it and Prometheus were allowed to be their own property with original creatures, then they would be far more appreciated and well received. Instead, a separate story was crammed into the Alien franchise to the detriment of each.
There is nothing a Xenomorph makes me think of more than Jesus.
The final thing to wonder here is if this has been Ridley Scott’s intention for some time. This is not the first time that he has approached the idea of meeting ones creator. This was a major aspect of his film Blade Runner back in 1982. In the 30 years since Alien had he decided to go back to the well of ideas that powered Blade Runner and apply them to Alien? These are questions we may never get an answer to which is ironic coming from a film series which is now about finding answers from ones creator.
Where do we go from here? There was a much rumored fifth Alien film in the works that now appears to be toast– and it may have been killed by Scott. But it does not appear that Alien: Covenant will be the last Alien film that Scott makes. He appears to be fully behind making more prequels which will no doubt push the biblical and mythological aspect of the franchise even further. Is that a good thing? Probably not. This was a series of monster movies that have now become a template for Scott to explore and create his own religious mythology about the nature of man.
Even if there was going to be a fifth Alien film that would follow Alien: Resurrection would it continue the trend of making a sequel that is nothing more than a reimagining of Alien? Would Neill Blomkamp have been able to make a fifth Alien film that had a more distinct feel and unique idea to it? We may never know, and that may be a good thing. The first four Alien films are mostly the same ideas slightly changed from film to film. Some were good, and some were bad, but for the most part they were too similar. Unless someone can come up with an idea to take a sequel in an entirely different direction with brand new ideas and a brand new approach, then a sequel does not even need to be made. There would be nothing more disappointing than an Alien sequel that was simply a fifth iteration of the original Alien. For now, it is best to let the series rest until someone with a true artistic vision can come along and add to the franchise.
In the meantime we can all sit in anticipation of Scott’s next prequel which will involve David and a Xenomorph wading into more biblical and mythological garbage.