Sunday, 14 May 2017

Alien:Covenant. Big Stuff... with teeth, John Milton, and no obvious plot spoilers



A few years ago, a local museum staged a cut-down exhibition called 'Invaders from Space'- a collection of SF film memorabilia and fan artwork. I'm a sucker for this stuff and it was great fun, but one room had as its centrepiece, a fully-grown Alien from the film series- and something about it was so horrible, I couldn't bear to approach it for a closer look. Other visitors were wandering around with their children and had no problem showing off the fake beasty to their kids. Me, I hung back. It was strange. This was just a costume from a film-set, but I'm a usually-functioning-adult-male with an over-active imagination. There was nobody in there, but it was too close, too real. Why did it have that effect? I've just discovered How.

So, to business. 30 years after the first Alien movie, Alien: Covenant wasn't bad. (Yes, I am, absolutely, a complete sucker for this stuff.) Being Ridley Scott, we had excellent space-action, spectacular mountain forest landscapes and superb action-sequences. Being Alien, we naturally had the close-up body-shock stuff  too (close your eyes), but it was better than Prometheus because the plot mostly hung together and there were less 'How the hell did that happen?'  moments. Even if most of the cast were going to end up as breakfast, we still cared enough about them to be affected when they met their End.

But there were Big Ideas in there too.

'What do you believe in?'

'Creation.'

That was a particularly dark exchange .... especially when the questioner was quizzing an android 'synthetic' as to why he had been personally introduced to a parasitic alien life-form in an unexpected way.  But Alien: Covenant is all about Belief, Faith, Creation, Life, and Art. We had Romantic poetry ('Osymandius', a crucial plot-point), quotations from Milton's Paradise Lost, and music too (Wagner). Yes, some of the dialogue was magnificently over-the-top-camp, but the story worked, it looked great, and Michael Fassbender's dual role playing two subtly different 'synthetics' was stand-out. (He ought to be at the the centre of any sequel.)

So much of the plot hung on Origins. Where do we all come from, and how does that knowledge or belief affect our conscious lives now? That's why Creationism and Evolution get such a lot of airplay across the internet, especially in the USA- because all those debates about the past are really talking about who we are now, and whether our existence really matters. The synthetics of Alien:Covenant debate whether their own human creators are worthy- then respond accordingly, with devastating effect.

But the plot-themes go back much further. We were getting references to the Book of Genesis, Paradise, Eden, and the Devil. There was even a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil- only this time, the Fruit Not To Be Touched was an egg. In this version of the story, Eden has been successfully sterilised of all human and animal life by the Enemy of the Creator, who even says at one point...' Better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven....'  Yes, we're lifting lines from Paradise Lost.



Ridley Scott is using the film to play with a whole Christian mythology and theology, better than anything he attempted in Exodus: Gods and Kings. Scott obviously knows his Milton and enough of his Bible to draw out the symbolism in fascinating directions- which possibly explains why I was so affected by seeing that Alien suit. Those insect-like parasites, according to Scott's mythology, are the enemy of humanity and Life itself,  a contagion corrupting everything that's good, even parodying love in the way they reproduce. Yep, they're Ridley Scott's Spawn of the Devil.



But I bet we don't see them defeated in the next film, because that would kill off any more sequels. Alien: Revelation, anyone? You heard it here first, and there's even a colon in the title.

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