In ‘Alien: Covenant,’ the March of Progress Ends in Death

Ridley Scott's sci-fi franchise is as gruesome as ever—but this time, the horror feels disturbingly human.
In ‘Alien: Covenant,’ the March of Progress Ends in Death
Image: Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Note: This review contains major plot spoilers.

As a family doctor, I love practicing obstetrics. There is a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment in seeing a child take his or her first breath, especially in cases where medical complications require judicious use of my medical knowledge or surgical skill. Sadly, practicing obstetrics also entails dealing with cases where things go wrong, and there is a different sensation when one extracts a dead child from his or her mother. There is a visceral sorrow and disappointment at life that could have been—or, in the cases of severely malformed children, a life that was genetically incapable of life in the world.

Alien: Covenant is about what happens when we choose to reverse those situations and seek fulfillment by trying to perfect human bodies.

In the nearly four decades since the Alien franchise’s inception, each of its entries has taken a different tack. The original Alien was a slow burn horror masterpiece, while the first sequel, Aliens, was a sci-fi action film with compelling characters. Alien 3 was a confused mess, and Alien: Resurrection was a heavy-handed, gore-laden warning against the military-industrial complex. The series’ most recent entry, Prometheus, tried to inject more explicit philosophical reflection but never quite got anywhere with it.

Alien: Covenant, which is set after Prometheus but before the original Alien, is in many ways is a pastiche of all these previous films, succeeding where some of the others failed and failing where previous entries succeeded. The plot is a mixture drawn from its forerunners: A spaceship full of colonists in “hypersleep” and frozen embryos is headed to a distant planet in order to start a human ...

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