Alien: Covenant hits theaters on May 19, almost five years after the release of Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s previous foray into the Alien Universe. So, why is he now releasing a movie with “Alien” in the title, when, by all accounts, it should be more in line with a Prometheus sequel?
Even Ridley Scott has gone on record this week, stating that he misjudged fan reaction. “What changed was the reaction to Prometheus, which was a pretty good ground zero reaction,” he said. “It went straight up there, and we discovered from it that they were really frustrated. They wanted to see more of the original […].”
His reaction has been met with confusion. Because even in 2012, the negative reaction to Prometheus had little do to with how far it distanced itself from the previous films.
Looking back to the original critical reception, the biggest single issue with Prometheus was the characters. Not the performances, mind you, just the characters. Prometheus became a textbook example of plot-induced stupidity. Every character in the film is supposed to be an expert in their respective fields, yet almost every one of them makes mind-boggling stupid decisions.
The geologist mapmaker gets lost in the cave system he has just mapped. The biologist decides to pet a snake-like alien creature — very possibly the first alien life that any human has ever encountered. He wants to poke it. The commander, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) dies because she can’t be bothered to turn left when running. She also sleeps with the ship’s pilot, because he dared her to (granted the ship’s pilot happens to look like Idris Elba). But this decision also leads the pilot to be incommunicado, when the crew needs his help.
Despite being filled with characters that are inconsistent at best and monumentally stupid at worst, Ridley Scott still managed to create a film that can entertain on a purely visceral level. Because while these are glaring issues, Prometheus is still hands down one of the most beautiful sci-fi films ever made. With this film, Scott manages one of the most seamless large-scale mixtures of computer and practical effects in years. Set design is magnificent, with deep, dark oppressive corridors alongside breathless open-air landscapes.
In addition to these aesthetics in Prometheus, there are a few standout performances. One performance in particular: Michael Fassbender as David. David is the ship’s android, the series’ precursor to Ash and Bishop. Fassbender plays the emotionless David nigh perfectly, giving a robotic performance on par with Brent Spiner’s Data.
So, what is more important here? The plot holes and character motivations, or the surface-level details and action? If this were a standard blockbuster, I think people would have been more forgiving of the former, and more accepting of the latter. But Prometheus wasn’t supposed to be a standard blockbuster. Ridley Scott made two of the smartest, most entertaining sci-fi films of all time with Blade Runner and Alien. Prometheus was supposed to be a glorious return to form, but was instead shiny fluff. The farther removed we become from Prometheus, the less enthralled I find myself with the spectacle and more irritated with the story.
Let’s hope that Alien: Covenant rectifies some of these issues and gives us a smart thriller that matches the production design and amount of skill behind the camera.