May 30, 2017

City of dead gods

Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017). “Mother.” I had thought of comparing and contrasting Alien: Covenant with Morten Tyldum’s Passengers, as both confront anxieties about hibernation and space travel as though they are inevitabilities we must adjust to, but Ridley Scott’s second Alien prequel made me think instead of Terrence Malick and The Voyage of Time. In Alien: Covenant, “mother” is the computer system that runs everything and maintains a commentary, like Hal in 2001, rather than Malick’s feminine deity, but this is still concerned with a lot of the same stuff. It’s about creation, the source of it, the scale of it and our place in it, but the view of Scott (and writers John Logan and Dante Harper) is much darker, closer to an epic pessimism or the Greek myths that the Prometheus title evoked rather than Malick’s Christian and Buddhist-leaning notions of a benign creation. Too much knowledge, it says, is a dangerous thing – embodied in a nuanced double performance by Michael Fassbender, playing two variations on being post-human. This is a grim and violent vision that reaches its peak in astonishing scenes set in the city of the dead gods. Prometheus was gesturing at some of this, but its screenplay was a problem – this is tighter, more focused and that much more profound. It’s also one of the most beautiful films you will see this year.