It’s a really ugly thing to hate a work of fiction. It’s an unpleasant and tedious endeavor that stirs negative emotions, causes much undue stress, and overall just plain sucks. But sometimes there’s a work out there that really gets under your skin. No matter how hard you try to move past it, it’s sometimes hard to let go. I never considered myself a person who dwelled on such things, but the last few months have proven me wrong.
I hate the Alien prequels. I mean really, REALLY hate the Alien prequels.
It took me a while to find out precisely why these ones were so special. I’ve been exposed to bad movies before, including many bad Alien films, but something about the release of Alien: Covenant stirred a reaction on me that’s best described as rabid. My anger is completely overblown, absolutely uncalled for, but all around inalienable. With the news that a third film is in the works, that anger seems to have resurfaced. I suppose I’m writing this hoping it will be therapeutic.
Alien was more than a movie to me. It was a life changing experience. I first saw the film at 12 years old when my mother caved and let me watch my first stack of hard R VHS tapes back in 1999. It was a revelation. I’d never known how far a movie could go, but that movie gave the twelve year old me a pretty good idea. But more than that, Alien was the first movie with a monster I fell in love with. Time and again I found myself looking forward to the arrival of the beast. Like a femme fatale from one of those old pulp detective magazines, there was something about it both alluring and dangerous.
For the next 17 years the series became a major driving force in my life. I not only saw all the other films, but delved into the expanded universe with various comics, novels and video games. It was a place I’d never want to live, but definitely one I loved visiting. Learning about the Alien itself, its culture, and seeing that it was not a wild animal but a capable and sentient thing, made me love it even more, even identify with it in a strange way.
So you can imagine how elated I was when Ridley Scott announced his return to the series. The man who directed the original classic was coming back? It seemed the series couldn’t have been in better hands. Then Prometheus started.
Prometheus attempted to give a backstory to the mysterious Space Jockey from the original movie, and featured a new cast of characters. Most prominent among them was Michael Fassbender’s David, an android and predecessor to all the other AI characters in the series. I wanted to love the movie, but something about it left me feeling strangely empty. The characters didn’t capture me, the atmosphere wasn’t frightening or provocative, and worst of all it attempted to explain some of the mysteries I found so appealing about the original movie.
I’ve compared Prometheus to the Halloween sequels. The original Halloween is a minimalist classic that explains nothing about its antagonist. When the sequels tried to explain the killer and his motivations, things quickly descended into mediocrity. Sometimes less is more, and mystery often holds an allure that answers can never provide. I didn’t like the movie too much in case you couldn’t tell.
Still, I figured it was a fluke. There was going to be another movie soon and perhaps it would be better. Whatever the case, there was no way it could be worse. Then along came Covenant. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t expect a masterpiece. I expected it to be okay at best but I was gung ho for it. You can do a lot worse than okay. All that changed one day when I read a single plot detail. The android David, played by Michael Fassbender, was revealed to be the creator of the Alien creature.
Everybody remember when Phantom Menace came out? This was my midichlorians moment. Something about that revelation hit me where I lived. I was genuinely furious, furious to the point I knew it was an overreaction, but I couldn’t pull it back. It’s just a movie, and the Alien series has undoubtedly produced far worse. What made this one special?
One of the things I enjoyed about the creature was that it was a pioneer. The original film and some of the expanded universe didn’t provide much backstory, but the brief glimpses you got were intriguing. The creature was taken from its home to be exploited by a technologically superior Space Jockeys, but somehow they conquered their encroachers to the point of eradication. Now humanity was trying to exploit them in that same way, our hubris threatening us with the same fate as the Jockeys. History repeats itself unless you learn to respect this thing and leave it alone, the lesson the Ripley character consistently tries to the other characters.
Covenant disregarded that. The creature was no longer ancient, but a product of an android’s experiments that only dated back a few years. Worse yet, this untamable thing had now been subjugated, born subservient to the character of David when previously it had no master. Even in Alien vs. Predator and Alien Resurrection, those ideas were left untouched. It would be like if someone did a Jaws sequel where you found out the shark was under the control of Amity’s corrupt mayor the entire time.
But it goes deeper than that. Scott said that he felt there was nothing left to do with the creature before doing Prometheus, which is why he wanted to move in a new direction. And honestly, I was fine with that as long as the foundations remained undisturbed, because those foundations were central to me as a fan. Scott and the studio believed the mixed reception to Prometheus was due to the creature’s absence (which it wasn’t) so they put it in the last film. But the movie wasn’t about the Alien. Scott merely used it to package a passion project with little regard to the original source material. At best the famous director seemed indifferent towards it, and at worse he seemed to outright hate it.
I think that’s what hurt most about Covenant. Alien vs. Predator wasn’t a good movie, but there was still affection for its source material. Covenant almost seemed ashamed of its roots, and in that respect, seemed ashamed of its own target audience. Maybe that’s why I took it so personally, because no Alien movie, no matter how bad, ever gave me the impression that the director didn’t want me there.
To call these feelings an overreaction would be the understatement of the century. Be that as it may, that feeling is here, and it’s a hard one to shake. Will I move on in time? Yes. Are there worse things in the world than a disappointing sequel? Of course. Is a mediocre movie really worth my time? Hell no. Still, sometimes a piece of media really does get to you, in particular when one is passionate about the medium. When it involves something that meant a lot to you and helped you discover who you are, its kind of inevitable that you take it personally. I’ll move on in time to the world’s more pressing matters, but there’s still a lot of negativity to flush from my system. Hopefully I can find a creative outlet for it.