Lemme just get this out of the way so you can decide it invalidates my opinion entirely.
I liked Prometheus. I thought it was an enjoyable, pretty alright film.
It was a lot better when there were more overt references to the Alien franchise, such as Shitty Scientist A turning into a pseudo-Xenomorph and jumping all Alien-style around the walls. Why did that get cut!? It was awesome! And the shitty space zombie we were given looked like a goober. A big freaking goober. You can quote me on that. The monster was a goober and I laughed at him when he was revealed.
That opinion was, in fact, the vital context for why I was so excited for Alien: Covenant when it was announced. All the aesthetics and atmosphere of Prometheus without all the pussy-footing around what put booties in the seats to start with: space rape demons tearing apart helpless astronauts.
Go ahead and take a guess on how I felt when I finally got to see it.
There’s nothing in this review that no one else has said, I’m sure. And it’s less a review, more a vent of my overwhelming hatred for the one thing that ruined this movie for me: bad science.
Or maybe it’s actually broader than that. Maybe it’s the complete ignoring of well-established procedure, intelligent decision making, and anything resembling a brain in service of a plot that’s been done before, better, by other people and most importantly the creators of this franchise.
Yeah, it’s probably that.
This sense of plot at the expense of literally everything else pervades the entire movie. It pervades the very design of the universe and sets, reducing everything to a chess piece that moves as Scott dictates it should move, with no regard for logic or character or the rules of chess. Of course, some moments were so striking in this that I couldn’t help but remember them more than the rest of the movie. Instances where Alien: Covenant was so bad it not only destroyed my suspension of belief, it put my suspension of disbelief up against a wall, told me it would let it go if I only promised that I loved the franchise, then shot it anyway.
Needless to say, SPOILERS ABOUND. If you haven’t seen the movie,
don’t it would be wise to proceed with caution.
#1 The Wheat
“What’s an Earth plant doing all the way out here?” the generic man exclaims.
“Who planted it?” Danny asks suspiciously, and we all gasp because she cut to the real heart of the issue.
Except that’s stupid. They’re both stupid. They’re making a lot of assumptions about this plant that they’ve only visually studied, and not particularly closely. Yes, it looks superficially similar to wheat, but you have no idea, genetically, what that thing is. A tall stalk with seed pods is a common anatomical plan in plants because they eat the sun. They need to reach for it.
Large reproductive structures are also an evolutionary advantage if the plant propagates through the digestive systems of other animals. You know this because you eat fruit. The plant didn’t do that because it enjoys having parts of its body yanked off and masticated; it doesn’t have a nervous system with which to feel that joy. It did it so you would drop its seed somewhere else, and, if the seeds are small enough to eat, so you would later defecate them out in another location.
This could have been a case of convergent evolution. Instead, they immediately assume that since the plant looks like wheat and has pods full of seeds like wheat, it must be identical to Earth wheat.
What the fuck kind of yaloo goes to a completely alien planet, with absolutely no knowledge that the Engineers seeded our planet with DNA, and assumes that the plant they see is genetically identical to Earth wheat, developed under the exact same circumstances and couldn’t possibly have originated in the wild? That’s a shitton of assumptions to make with just one cursory investigation!
“Ah-hah!” you say. “Dee, you fool, they believe that there are no animals by which the plant could spread! It only makes sense that they didn’t regard that as an option.” And you would be right… if anyone in the movie bothered to connect these two points.
Instead, they are treated as two separate issues. The Earth plants are meant as a reminder that the Engineers seeded life on Earth; the animals evidence of the massive ecological disaster caused by David. Any interconnectedness the two issues had (and they could have connected them easily and had it make sense that Danny was incredulous, if they shifted scene order a little bit or if they added a bit of dialogue) is completely ignored.
This is because they’re here to do the one job Scott needs then be discarded. The world isn’t a world, it’s just a collection of props that collapse the second the plot train has run past them.
Ahem. I appear to have gone off on a bit of a tangent there.
The point is, there was literally no reason for Danny to immediately decide that wheat-like plants could only arise if domesticated and planted like Earth-wheat. There was literally no reason to assume those things weren’t razor sharp and poisonous to the touch, either. Even on Earth we have plants/plant-like fungal structures that are highly dangerous to handle without protection, and this is an alien planet. As far as these bozos know, it has zero genetic connection to Earth, and so no reason to assume this plant is as harmless as its Earth lookalike.
Man, if the biologist had said something, or even just shot Danny a disbelieving look, I would have forgiven it all…
#2 Fungal Bukkake
Why did he do this? Why the Hell did he do this? At least “I gotta take a leak” man didn’t realize spores were attacking him. This man saw the spores. And he still breathed them in! And all this after poking an unknown structure until it ejaculated all up in his face.
Fungal spores can be extremely toxic. Severely toxic. Pants-shittingly toxic. Okay, so ergot probably shouldn’t count (it has to be ingested rather than inhaled). But the little Neomorph spasmodically flailing at people seemed like a hallucination in the midst of a fever, and them running through the fields of wheat-like plants, like demons tormenting the beleaguered Puritans of Salem, was one of the few images that were genuinely terrifying, so the ergot reference gets to stay.
Again, this is on Earth. There was no reason for him to assume that the spores weren’t, for instance, razor sharp but on a microscopic level, like fiberglass dust, or irritating like the hairs of a tarantula?
Why do none of these people act like they’re in a potentially (spoiler alert: extremely) hostile alien environment? Do people just not feel fear in the future?
#3 Protection? Nah.
There’s nothing I can say on the topic of the Covenant’s dismal safety standards that hasn’t been said already. Still: why aren’t they wearing respirators? So what, the atmosphere seems breathable? We already covered that inhaling spores is a bad idea. You wanna know what else is a bad idea?
Inhaling acid gases. Hydrogen sulfide is associated with natural gas and arises from the breakdown of organic matter. It gathers in low-lying areas, so an atmospheric probe wouldn’t detect it, and no imaging technique would register it since it’s a colorless gas. It stinks, yeah, but so does rotting vegetation and stagnant water, much like the stagnant water the biologist was taking samples from.
Again, there’s no evidence that this element was present, and certainly, the scientist didn’t keel over, but they had no idea it wasn’t. They were really playing with fire here! In most operations where exposure to strange gases is a risk, the area is carefully tested before going inside, and sensors are kept running at all times.
This is adventuring 101, my dudes, the rule is to prepare for the worst. At least in Prometheus, they were wearing helmets when they landed. Yes, they took them off, but at least they thought to wear them at all.
The Covenant chucklefucks just traipsed into this potentially hostile hellscape with no protection except for guns. The problem with that is that the most dangerous things are things that can’t be shot with guns.
Like Neomorphs, apparently.
#4 The Piss Man
Firstly, he never relieved himself. Even a shot of him adjusting his pants would have indicated he peed, but there was nothing. He just went out to smoke. Either one of these actions would be a problem, though:
Good job infecting your pristine alien environment and throwing any data you collect in that area into question! His urine in the water/on the leaves/soaking into the ground changes the data, infecting it with everything from the toxins flushed out by his kidneys to the salts in his urine. THESE THINGS MATTER, especially when studying a brand-new environment for survivability.
The smoke, as well, has a bad effect, but what’s worse–what’s even worse!–is that this asshole just flicks his cigarette butt into the underbrush. First: nice fire hazard.
Second: who knows what effect that’s gonna have on local flora? Cigarettes are full of poisonous substances, and that’s not counting the active carcinogens. Who knows what that shit is gonna do to the plants? To the microscopic bacteria you have no idea were wiped out by David? You could have just introduced the carcinogenic version of a prion; a toxin that spreads rapidly by changing every structure it touches into one that propagates the disease.
You could have just given this planet alien Mad Cow disease, and all because you’re a litterbug. Shameful.
#5 The Design of the Covenant Itself
At the root of all this–the reason they were awake in the first place to make the decision to head for Paradise and the stupid-ass decision to actually land there without a thorough investigation–lies in the absolute shit-tier design of the Covenant ship.
What, y’all ain’t got surge protectors in the future?
Power surges like the one caused by the neutrino storm will absolutely ravage your computer and other delicate electronics, which is why people generally attach any sensitive or important equipment to a surge protector. So, when designing the life-support that would carry their essential personnel, two-thousand helpless civilians, and all those embryos through the unfeeling abyss, the people who built the Covenant put their hands up and said “hope they don’t die!”
They have a name for the neutrino storm and knowledge of how to detect them when they’re approaching, if not predict when that approach will be. They know these things are out there and that they can seriously damage the ship. And there’s no backup power for the hypersleep chambers, either, I’m assuming, or the power disruption would have triggered an immediate switch to the secondary power source.
I know Weyland-Yutani is pretty careless with employee safety, but this was the FIRST interstellar colony mission, so there had to be all sorts of eyes on them. Motivation to make this perfect, possibly to pre-emptively cover their asses for all the spooky Xenomorph stuff they’re gonna get up to. You can’t tell me that these guys successfully designed, marketed, and profited on the Walter units but couldn’t think to add a surge protector to their multi-trillion dollar colonial vessel. You can’t have it both ways, Ridley Scott!
I guess this is where I would put the pithy sum-up if this were anything but me vomiting my spleen to the ether. Hmm…
Well, I think this is a good place to talk about the willing suspension of disbelief, and quite possibly the difference between how I like my horror and how my roommate, for instance, likes it.
I thought the sheer stupid bullshit happening before me completely neutered the horror factor. This is related, I suspect, to how I don’t find slasher movies scary. I find them uncomfortable, sure, and disturbing when done right, but not scary. It’s just a chance to watch a bunch of idiots get wasted by a walking nuke. A chance to scream ‘oh you fucker’ and watch as they die because they don’t listen to your advice. There’s something almost cathartic to it.
One could argue that the original Alien was just a slasher in space. It certainly follows many of the genre conventions and shares a concept: unstoppable jerk destroys some goons. They managed to avert ‘true’ (this is the scope of a completely different article that I’ll need help writing, but might be forthcoming!) slasher territory because the victims after the first few acted intelligently and as best as they could, given the situation.
Space truckers did a better job fighting space rape demons with a defense budget of ‘whatever you can scrounge,’ and absolutely no training past what it takes to drive a giant warehouse and sleep in a tube until there’s trouble. Their synthetic opponent was actively trying to murder people, not just standing there trying to get his cooler twin to blow him and relying on the stupidest motherfucker in the galaxy to put his slack-jawed mouth directly over an opening Xenomorph egg.
The Earth’s very first colonial mission, and these bumbling dweebs dropped the ball at every turn, with the best training and tech the world had to offer. Their lander pilot blew herself and the lander up with a shotgun, their scientist got monkey-slapped to death after comedically slipping in blood, and, lest you think I wasn’t incredibly angry about this, their captain put his fucking face above an opening Xenomorph egg after seeing the man who admitted to creating it have a meltdown over him shooting a Xenomorph that had obviously killed his friend. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST.
I didn’t feel sorry for them, and empathy is key to horror. You have to be upset when the monster kills someone to really be scared. You have to watch them do the best they can and then fail. You have to watch people that don’t deserve to die be slaughtered in the most nightmarish ways possible for the fear to take root.
We all think we’re likable people. We all like to think we’re competent, too, and that we would know what to do. When we see people that we like, that we’ve seen be competent, fail and be hurt, it makes us think: if it happened to them, it would happen to me too, wouldn’t it?
I’m a good person, and I’m not stupid, and I would die, too. I’m just as helpless as they are. I’m just as fragile and easily-snuffed as them.
But these guys, with the possible exception of Tenessee (by far the most under-rated performance, I think. Fuck Michael Fassbender innuen-doing himself; Danny McBride playing a serious, heartfelt role and fucking NAILING it was the crown and jewel of this movie)? They deserved it and I was happy when they got owned.
This is not how you want your audience to feel. At least, it’s not how Ridley Scott wanted us to feel. I’d bet money on that.
So what do y’all think? Am I absolutely full of shit? Have I let a scientific background ruin my ability to feel any sort of joy? Should Ridley Scott personally come to my house and demand an apology? Or do you think I had a point? Lemme know in the comments!
Lemme know in the comments!