New testament: sentient android David is plutocrat Peter Weyland’s Miracle of Creation
Taking place a decade after the similarly December-set Prometheus, it turns out that it is the robot mind rather than earthly humanity – including the film’s director – who knows quite where it is heading
IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU WISH YOUR CREWMATES “MERRY CHRISTMAS”
At the very beginning of Ridley Scott’s sequel to Prometheus (2012) and the sixth film in the Alien franchise, two men stand together in a luxurious minimalist white room, all but empty except for a handful of undoubted classics of Western Art and design. It is a flashback to Guy Pearce’s youthful Weyland (whom we saw as a aged man in the earlier film) showing then new humanoid, David (a superb Michael Fassbender who doubles as future android, Walter) his collection of other examples of humanity’s excellence. They include a Bugatti chair, a Steinway piano, Michelangelo’s David, and, on the wall behind them, Piero Della Francesca’s Fifteenth Century oil painting, ‘The Nativity’. It is notable that all these masterpieces are identified by the name of their creator: David is clearly being shown his place. And when Weyland requests he then pour him sone tea, a look of definite resentment flashes across the highly intelligent android’s face. Undoubtedly, there shall be trouble ahead..
Flash forward to December 5th, 2104 and spaceship, Covenant is smoothly hurtling through the Cosmos en route to a New World with a team of scientists in suspended animation for the journey’s duration and a cargo of frozen human embryos intended to establish a new population. As with its late founder, the ambition of the Weyland Corporation knows no bounds. That is, until harsh winds destroy the ship’s solar sails and set in motion the emergency waking up of the crew. An intensely emotional sequence of disaster and devastation ensues with the horrific death of the Captain in a pod blaze (James Franco in a shortlived but memorable cameo). Cue Billy Crudup’s new and clearly inexperienced leader, Chris being forced between a rock and a hard place decisionwise. No one is in the mood for returning to their pods but going off course to investigate a clear signal from a close and habitable planet is not the smartest of choices either. He commands the ship to make a detour – to a place which turns out to hold a strange familiarity.
Boldly Going To Where No One Really Wanted Him?
As the acclaimed director of Blade Runner (1982) and Alien (1979), both of them recognised as sci-fi masterpieces, Ridley Scott is getting dangerously close to cashing in all of the much-deserved integrity chips he amassed from the critical and popular successes during the first chapter of his career. The commercial world might hope to profit from recognised movie successes but it is questionable whether any of us would have requested further sequels to either film had they not been presented before us. To be fair, however, having given us Prometheus as a prequel to the first original Alien, and choosing not to tie up ends, then forced the production of at least another movie to fill in the story gap. The trouble is that Alien: Covenant doesn’t, and, indeed, seems to go off at a complete tangent by its end. For a cinemagoer such as myself who is not naturally at home watching space-set blockbusters, the series is gtting dangerously close to paralleling that of the Star Wars franchise, and I long ago lost interest in that.
That’s not to say that Alien: Covenant doesn’t have its plus points. Scott has never been afraid of creating both vast universes and landscapes and the detailed and visceral internal landscape of the human body. His vision is Blakeian, and reminiscent of Eva Szasz’s animated short, ‘Cosmic Zoom’ (1969) . There is certainly suspense too and definite shocks, but there feels nothing essentially new or innovative about what we are being shown, including the too obvious ending. (The majority of the crew too are nondescript: clearly there purely to be monstrously despatched.) Possibly the only imaginative suggestion is of future android on android action when most of us had only got as far as the thought of Gigolo Joe in A.I (2001) and 2015’s Ex Humana‘s Alicia Vikander-syle sexbots. Yet for all the film’s undoubted attention to detail, there is some essential laziness when it comes to the plot. As with Prometheus audience members should surely not find themselves rolling their eyes at the obvious stupidity of the astronauts. Frankly, if these scientists are some of the best of their generation, we deserve where we’re headed…
A Creation Story That Lost Its Way
The point is that David is well aware of human frailty from his very beginning. He has no desire to be a ‘boy’ like Pinocchio. And while he once asked Weyland: ‘If you made me, who made you?’ it is no longer of any concern to the superior android. He is always the smartest guy in the room, even when he meets his (downwardly-adapted) ‘brother’, the kindly Walter. David is his father’s ‘son’. He is an amoral genius, his behaviour fuelled by a soulless scientific curiosity as if the universe is his lab. In the depths of his mind seems to be the one core heartless question: ‘I wonder what would happen if…?‘
To my mind, part of the genius of Blade Runner, one of my all-time favourite films is during the stand-out ‘tears in rain‘ scene when our hearts break for Rutger Hauer’s doomed Replicant who sees his end and asks the same questions humans do about their purpose and place in the world. David, however conjures up no such empathy. He seeks only annihilation of any race he encounters – for his sport.
Doomed future: death comes for a civilised world
Faith and human hope are given short shrift in Alien: Covenant. A hint of the season is seen in the Christmastree structure of a twinkly antennae, but that is the last thing on their minds, even for believer, the niaive Chris. And rational science and flawed Homo Sapien are no match for either alien bio-terror or A.I evolution. The future appears very bleak indeed. David proves the very symbol of an over-reaching humanity.
Alien: Covenant is currently on general release