May 22, 2017

My Issue with "Alien: Covenant" is Not Actually in the Movie (Spoilers)

Scene from Alien: Covenant "The Last Supper" Prologue
*NOTE: Spoilers for Alien: Covenant

It's quite possible that you saw director Ridley Scott's latest journey into space this past weekend. Alien: Covenant has already grossed $117 million internationally and is the top movie in the United States. It was a fun if lacking thrill ride in this return to a beloved franchise. However, there was one thing that seemed off about this entry. There wasn't much focus on empathetic characters. While it could be a nihilistic decision by Scott, it helps to make Covenant feel like it's lacking something greater. It was in research that I understood what exactly could've been put in the movie, but seemed to end up on the viral cutting room floor. As part of the marketing, 20th Century Fox released two prologues called "The Crossing" and "The Last Supper." While only roughly eight minutes combined, they feature elements that would've made the film better and enhance an appreciation for the characters. So, the question is now why weren't they in the movie? The film was barely over two hours to begin with. My issue here isn't with anything specifically in the film. It's what's not.
Over the course of his career, Scott has embodied a director who was always pushing boundaries. It's easier to point out his technical prowess in films like Alien and Blade Runner. However, he's also made a reputation of releasing extended cuts of his movies, commonly referred to as "Director's Cut." It's usually longer and gives audiences his unaltered vision. It makes sense then why he would want to make the world of Alien as diverse as possible. It's likely that Alien: Covenant will be getting a dozen or so minutes in a home video release in a few months. But the issue is that maybe, just maybe, he is getting too ambitious with the marketing of his movies and showing scenes that would make the Director's Cut but not the theatrical release which came out prior to the film's release. 
Releasing move scenes, or clips, beforehand is nothing new. Marketing encourages studios to release footage to entice audiences. The idea of a prologue isn't terrible. However, it does feel like there was some mistake. For starters, more people will have seen Alien: Covenant in theaters than be able to recall "The Crossing" in detail (or that Elizabeth Shaw actually does have a cameo in this entry). It isn't because these prologues are unavailable, but that they're essentially secondary to the film itself. Nobody will be revisiting "The Last Supper" scene on YouTube in a few years, largely because it isn't conveniently placed within the film's narrative. Sure, maybe the Director's Cut will make this issue obsolescent, but for now it points out a bigger issue: taking out scenes that would've improved the overall movie.
To an extent, "The Crossing" is a more forgivable excision than "The Last Supper." The former dealt strictly with Shaw and synthetic David travelling through space. There's hints of David's genocidal nature while quoting Byron's "Ozymandias" as he lands on Earth. While it perfectly bridges the gaps between Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, later moments within the film clarify David's demonic ways that lead him to kill Shaw. It's almost a tease to have Shaw in the movie, even if it doesn't ruin the twist. It also would seem like an awkward transition from the film's actual prologue, which focuses on David's relationship to his creator, and the philosophical discussion of creating life superior to your own. On its own, "The Crossing" is a decent scene, but adds little to the overall story.
"The Last Supper" is more of a curious case. In some respects, it wouldn't fit within the Alien canon. Almost every movie in the franchise begins with everyone waking up from cryogenic sleep. To focus on their last celebration before going on the adventure would seem a bit egregious in theory. Yet this clip does plenty that the film doesn't do. It creates an empathetic sense of the characters. It explains the general conceit of the movie (couples travelling to colonize another planet) in between one last moment of happiness. It is true that we do see some good times in Covenant, but this is overshadowed by computer malfunctions that kill several passengers and send them almost immediately into a melancholy state. The film begins almost exclusively on a sad note, not leaving any chance to understand the characters as anything more than a grieving mass.
Why should this scene have been left in? I do believe that it would've added levity to the overall story. My big issue with the film is that there weren't any interesting characters. A lot of that has to do with initial interactions. To meet the characters in a state of panic means that they're not showing their authentic selves. "The Last Supper" scene is hinted at throughout the movie, and is even used prominently in the trailers. While it's a brief scene lasting under five minutes, it packs plenty of personality into the film and makes us root for them. Even the brief presence of Franco's almost immediately murdered character shows how everyone else perceived his existence instead of just as another charred corpse that everyone misses.
It's an issue made more confusing when you consider that the film isn't exactly that long to begin with. It's barely over two hours, and thus is strangely on the shorter side of modern summer blockbusters. That in theory is a good thing. However, most of the film focuses on synthetics David and Walter coming to terms with humanity as a force of evil. To some extent, "The Last Supper" would also seem out of place given Scott's desire to tell a story more centered on creation destroying mankind. There is no human main character despite the previous entries. It's all synthetics and the origin of the Xenomorphs. It's post-human, and feels more mean spirited as a result. 
I don't think that Alien: Covenant is a terrible movie, but I do feel like its issues in part can be found in not managing to edit in the prologues in some fashion. They add character depth and show a more cyclical nature to the franchise. Instead, they are currently obscure relics in the marketing where only tech savvy people even think to watch it. Without context, it's even harder to suggest that there's much to remember from them. Unless they end up in the Director's Cut, there's no way that these prologues will be remembered. They'll become obscure and have been pointless marketing. It's a shame, largely because I feel that these two alone deepen my appreciation for the film and makes me wish that there was more emphasis on characters, at least early on. Instead, it's a violent movie full of great thrills that don't mean a lot, largely because nobody is memorable. 

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