A 19 Miles Apart Conversation: Alien: Covenant
The distance between Beacon, New York, and Highland, New York is 19 miles. Well, it’s technically 18.8 miles apart, but 19 keeps it nice and round. Beacon is where Kyle Bahl lives, and Highland is where I, Ryan Fasciano live. It’s a pretty simple premise: we watch a newly released film, then sit down at our fancy computers and type back and forth to each other about the film until we believe the conversation ends, while we are, you guessed it, 19 miles apart. For our first ever conversation we are going with Alien Covenant, which came out last Friday, May 19. Spoilers beware.
Kyle Bahl: Alright we just got out of Alien: Covenant. My first question: Who makes the most selfish decision; the woman who locks the other woman* in the medical bay for no apparent reason, OR the new Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) who takes the crew to some unknown planet just because he’s afraid they won’t like him if he makes them go back to cryo-sleep?
*If it seems offensive that I can’t remember these characters names, it’s because the film sets up about 15 characters and only really ever know three of them: Oram, Daniels (Katherine Waterston) and Tennessee (Danny McBride). Everyone else is essentially a “red shirt” waiting to be killed.
Ryan Fasciano: Great question to start this party off right. I was a little confused why Tennessee’s wife (forgive me, I don’t know which woman she was in the film either, even after I looked it up on IMDB) locked up Captain Oram’s wife Karine (Carmen Ejogo), especially in the beginning, when the alien wasn’t out of the infected gentlemen yet. I guess Tennessee’s wife didn’t want to get everyone infected by Karine, but guess what?! There was blood already on her face, and she knew that. Made no sense to me, but whose decision was more selfish? Tennessee’s wife; she was thinking about herself mostly. I’m not sure you can consider the captain’s decision to go to the new planet selfish because he did ask everyone if they wanted to go and with little to no hesitation everyone agreed. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) was the only one that thought ill of the plan, but the good old cap noted her rebuttal and moved forward. The film wants you to know that Oram is a man of faith. Which faith? No one knows, but a man of faith none the less. Now, Oram became the captain after the original Captain Branson (James Franco) burned to death. We learn that Oram believes he wasn’t the original captain and the reason that no one respects him is because of his faith. He didn’t want to make any decisions based on his faith, but choosing to go to a planet that popped up out of nowhere, you never mapped out like the one you were planning on going to, isn’t a decision of faith? Of course, it is. Do you agree?
Kyle: Totally. The captain is saying everything has a purpose. You’re saying James Franco’s 30-second cameo before becoming a burnt marshmallow has a purpose and that God had a solar flair happen at just this spot so you could all see this perfectly inhabitable new planet has a purpose. That’s faith and a gut instinct. Although here’s the thing, Oram clearly has terrible instincts. One is not equal to another. It’s like if you were taking a road trip to Las Vegas from New Hampshire and when you passed through Atlantic City you stopped and said, “Oh well this is the same thing!” It’s not. Before you start following gut feelings, I think you need to determine the quality of a person’s gut. Some guts can’t be trusted.
Above all, though Alien: Covenant is a horror movie, so the decision to go to this mysterious planet never really felt like it was in the characters hands. We as an audience have faith that all decisions lead to a Xenomorph eating people alive, which is where the contradiction of the horror-science fiction film that is Covenant arises. In horror, we delight in seeing characters make increasingly bad decisions (this feeling was personified perfectly by LilRel Howery as Rod Williams in Get Out) but in science fiction, gut instincts usually pay off. (I’d bet my house on Amy Adams gut.) As things get worse and worse for the Covenant team, decisions get more foolish. Really, Oram? You are going to look in the pulsating egg thing, even after David shows you his taxidermy collection? Well, all these character decisions are fine if it pays off and leaves us thrilled with each scare. How did Covenant work for you as a horror film?
Ryan: I think you hit the nail on the head. I think the reason I can never really get into horror movies is the fact that I don’t take delight in seeing characters make horrible decisions which lead to their fate, and in this case getting their guts ripped open by a Xenomorph. You can call it my personal problem with the genre, not the Covenant’s problem. The film follows the familiar horror trope that you explained above, and it does so correctly if I might add. Throw out the two decisions we already discussed, and everyone pretty much makes the prototypical horror movie decisions a la searching for someone after they have been gone for way too long. I’m surprised more people didn’t yell “Don’t go in there!” in the theater, but it was also a 3:50 in the afternoon showing. Usually, the audience can make a horror movie more fun, but also maybe this is what’s wrong with Alien: Covenant. There have been so many Alien movies before, how is this one any different? Is this one even remotely special? So, my question to you is how many Alien movies have you seen, and where does this one rank compared to the others you have seen?
Kyle: In college, my roommate had the original 4 Alien DVD set on the TV stand. It was our only DVDs as Netflix had arrived and the majority of our content was digital. One weekend we finally sat down and watched the first three. When I was 10, I saw the fourth at around the time of its release. I’ve also gone on to see the first Alien vs Predator in theater. What I noticed has been said by others countless times, when you watch the original films back to back the genre changes are quite evident. Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, was a claustrophobic horror-thriller with the charm of late 70s film production design of the future. Aliens, directed by James Cameron, was a well-executed action film that eats nothing but Slim Jims wrapped in sci-fi wrappers. Alien 3, directed by David Fincher, was a hot mess from an auteur with no credits trying to work within the studio system for the first time. Alien: Resurrection, directed by pre-Amélie Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was sweaty and confusing. AVP, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, was standard blandness from the guy who directed all 4 of the 6(!) Resident Evil films. Then there’s Prometheus; the will-it-or-won’t-it be a prequel film that brought Scott back to this universe with the added confusion of a Damon Lindelof co-writing credit.
Look when I think about all these films, you know what my test is for ranking? If I one day have a child, and I’m educating them through film, what will I make them watch? What’s mandatory viewing, what’s supplemental, what’s extra credit, what’s unnecessary? Alien is Mandatory. Aliens is Supplemental. Alien3, Prometheus and Covenant is extra credit. The first is the only essential film, but if you want to follow some big name directors and note how they’ve developed over time, movies involving Xenomorphs are a great litmus test.
Speaking of other Alien films…Ryan, you’re a movie fan. I believe we saw Prometheus together. Like many fans, we left with a lot of questions. Did Covenant answer your lingering questions from the previous films? Are you in anyway aware of the Jesus (yes, THE Jesus) was an alien Engineer backstory Scott wanted to include in the original Prometheus trilogy? The backstory is something that internet fans/Prometheus apologists have obsessed over for years but has seemingly been dropped to favor the Frankenstein’s monster/Blade Runner-esque do androids dream of electric sleep? storyline covered in Covenant.
Ryan: First off, you have seen way more films in the Alien franchise than I have. I have only seen the original Alien (which I love), Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant. The latter two I can live without seeing ever again, but Alien is a movie I think about all the time. I mean it was the first time we saw a Xenomorph rip through a person’s stomach. Now this happens all the time, especially in Covenant, the thrill is gone. So, I’m happy that you consider Alien a mandatory watch. Your future kids will thank you.
I don’t have many questions involving the actual history of the Alien franchise because I haven’t seen many of the films. I don’t feel lost though. No matter how much they want to get into faith and religion in these movies, it all comes back to how many different ways can we show Xenomorphs being killed and killing others (mainly humans). I never heard the Jesus as an Engineer theory, but why not? It would make sense in Scott’s world, and it would be something somewhat different. As long as Xenomorphs are around killing people, Scott could probably get away with it. It beats the electric sleep storyline we have seen multiple times before. Is there going to be another film in the trilogy? I looked on IMDB if Scott had it in the works, but no such luck. What am I saying? It’s a franchise, of course, there will be another movie. Do you want to see David’s (Michael Fassbender) continuation of his quest to make sure human beings don’t have a future? You know, the humans that created him.
Kyle: Not too long ago, Scott said he had as many as six more Alien films to make and the next one will either be the link to the original Alien (Covenant takes place 18 years before the original), or even take place in between Prometheus and Covenant.
But to answer, naaa I’m good. There’s too much mythology for one franchise at this point. It’s strange. I feel like the boy who got all the candy he cried for. Prometheus had too many questions. Covenant had too many answers. There’s a lot of interesting themes explored in Covenant, but it’s too much. Scott could have explored all the questions of what it means to be an AI in the sequel he’s producing to his 80s sci-fi masterpiece, Blade Runner. The first 45 minutes of this film is very much the original Alien; the second 45 is Blade Runner 2/the android version of Brokeback Mountain I never knew I wanted (complete with the southern drawl Fassbender is doing) and then we’re back to an Alien movie.
I’m pretty good on this franchise. Scott is and has been master of his craft. He still has a lot to say on familiar themes with no signs of slowing down at age 79. I hope he can be more clear and precise on what each project is meant to say going forward. Either way, I’ll be there.