Ridley Scott’s ‘ALIEN: COVENANT’ analyzes the beauty and horror in creation

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

In the first scene of ALIEN: COVENANT, director Ridley Scott addresses a curious question about meeting one’s maker — a concept that also appeared in Scott’s previous installment in the ALIEN franchise, 2012’s PROMETHEUS. The prologue shows the return and creation of Michael Fassbender’s android character David. We see the newborn David engage in a conversation with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the architect who funds these deep space missions. It’s a simple but profound sequence that gets one to think about one of life’s biggest questions: How did we get here?

Some have found answers through faith, while others have turned to scientific theory. No matter what side of the spectrum you find yourself on, you have to admit it’s fun to speculate.

Scott has always been an ambitious filmmaker. Whether we highlight his biblical epics or metaphysical dramas, it’s apparent he’s fascinated by combining thought-provoking themes with blockbuster entertainment. COVENANT is no different. If nothing else, it’s his most ambitious ALIEN title yet.

“I think [COVENANT] is a cut above what’s happened before, and, therefore, will leave all kinds of things open for future installments,” Scott said when we spoke in March at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin. “It’s smart and violent — everything you want from an ALIEN movie. I enjoy making them so much that I would like it to go on forever.”

Scott joked by saying that’s why he features artificial intelligence in so many of his films. “I’m trying to figure out what they do,” he said, “so that one day they may be able to put a chip in me so I can continue what I started.”

Sir Ridley Scott, Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride debuted sneak footage of ‘ALIEN: COVENANT’ at South by Southwest in Austin, TX. Photo by Chance Maggard.

COVENANT’s opening carries real weight and reveals a truth about Scott’s franchise: It’s the AI that serves as the connective tissue in the ALIEN films. For the prequels, we can most certainly look at David, who opens a Pandora’s box of intrigue when he becomes fixed on the notion of creation. Weyland created him and gave him the unique opportunity to meet his maker.

The same cannot be said for Weyland and the rest of humanity, which is why these prequel chapters are so heavily focused on finding the engineers who created us. However, as you may have detected in PROMETHEUS and will notice in COVENANT, the truth can hurt.

“The irrelevance of humans, aliens killing us and AI taking over is a big subject in this. The film begins with something very interesting, which sets up a platform for acknowledging this discussion,” Scott said. “It’s quite clever, actually, and surprising.”

What once was a series about a mere battle to the death between an extraterrestrial species and humans has evolved into a stimulating sci-fi thriller. As frustrating as a progression this may be for those who prefer a more simplistic approach to their ALIEN movies, the questions Scott explores in COVENANT make the terror of its creature action all the more horrifying.

“We’ve been challenged by so much violence today, like SAW 13,” Scott quipped. “We get so numb to blood, brutality and inhuman behavior. Way back when I was going to do [1979’s] ALIEN, there were only a few movies that scared the hell out of me. The first EXORCIST film is fantastic because it feels possible and logical. So when you dig into these big questions and take an approach that seems both possible and logical, it’s always scarier.”

ALIEN: COVENANT is now playing in theaters nationwide.

Featured Photo: Director Ridley Scott, right, works with Michael Fassbender and others on the set of ‘ALIEN: COVENANT.’ Courtesy of Mark Rogers/Twentieth Century Fox.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.