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What’s Your Favorite Alien Movie?

'Alien: Covenant' just came out, and boy, do we need to talk about it.
All Alien images courtesy 20th Century Fox

There are some very mild spoilers for Alien: Covenant in here, though I've made them pretty vague.

I saw Alien: Covenant on Saturday night, and you know what? I liked it. But it's a complicated kind of like, sort of similar to the way I feel about Prometheus—though with a very different tone, and for very different reasons.

I should tell you now that I think Alien—the original, 1979, gory, grimy, greebled Alien—is, in my opinion, the very closest we'll ever get to cinematic perfection.

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A huge part of it is in the production design and cinematography, the pacing, the naturalistic acting and dialogue, and the whole, heavy, sweaty feeling of the movie. But part of it also feels almost accidental. It doesn't, in any way, read like a big budget studio production. The people look and sound and act too much like real humans, instead of pretty, spray-tan archetypes. The machinery looks too real and dirty. The corporate malfeasance, the banality of human evil is just too much a part of the fabric of every scene.

Every piece of it, no matter how fantastical, seems too plausible to be a creation from the moneyed gods of Hollywood.

Matthew Weise wrote a fantastic essay last week on the sexual, political and cosmic horror that the film absolutely nails and I can't agree more. You should read it!

The best other movies in the Alien franchise have never even tried to recapture that, and that's for the best, probably. But I have liked at least something about every movie in the franchise, even Resurrection—which I think is a hilarious pile of fun garbage, enjoyable as a weirdo Whedon-verse take on Alien. I think Prometheus is fully one-half great (and also kind of a mess), and I could watch that movie twenty times in a row and still enjoy it.

Is it incomprehensible at points, with ostensibly intelligent people making bone-headed moves? Yes. But it is also so 60s sci-fi, asking questions about life and creation and the nature of our place in the universe. It's also—and this is really important here—extremely weird.

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To paraphrase a tweet from this week, "they found god's head and put it in a MICROWAVE."

Covenant has a lot going for it, but it goes way too hard in one direction (without spoiling anything, a sort of Hammer monster vibe) that makes zero sense, even though it does inspire some fantastic visuals. Some parts of the movie evoke classical horror style: shadows, monsters, and the whole "mad scientist" thing take precedence over the psycho-sexual, industrial Alien imagery, at least for the middle third.

This is interesting, and worth examination, I think! Even when it comes from a misguided place (the motivation for the whole Frankenstein vibe is monumentally stupid.) This is Alien in a series of ruined caves. Alien with a literal bestiary. Alien with an unhinged, mad scientist running amok, instead of just the *usual* corporate malfeasance.

The movie also works beautifully as pure action. I was tense throughout, screamed a few times, held my breath and screamed "oh shit!" more than once. That's why I go to a theater for this kind of movie, after all.

But it is very much trying to have it's cake, eat it, and also eat an entirely different cake. I agree with both reviewers in this Esquire piece, which wrestles with Covenant's fundamental nature as a tense horror film that both wants to have a very serious conversation about creation and also play around with camp a little bit. It is both amazing and awful, and has plenty of shades in between.

In the end, Covenant doesn't hold a candle to Alien. But of course it doesn't, and that's honestly ok. I was happy to be able to enjoy it for what it is, brazenly stupid "twist" (and character motivation) and all. Because, at the very least, it's a series that is allowed to be at least a little weird, even with an inflated budget. It does, for all its faults, do different things in each installment, and god, I would rather a movie be a little bone-headed but willing to go out on that limb than stay in a safer space.

So there. Have you seen Covenant? What did you think? And sure, why not: let's talk about our favorite Alien movies in the forums. Prometheus hate-boners are discouraged, please.