The trailer for the latest entry into the saga of the xenomorph, Alien: Covenant, dropped this morning;
I have a strange personal history with the Alien franchise. I can remember being ten years old in the year of our lord 1996 and hearing the first rumblings of a fourth Alien film; this coming after the previews alone for Alien 3 kept me far and away from viewing any installment of the franchise thus far. I can vaguely recall a desire to prove my worth to my friends, all of whom had that prepubescent sense of superiority that came from watching the bloodiest, goriest, scariest films they could get their hands on. Strangely enough I decided to begin my journey with part two, James Cameron’s Aliens. As a glance at TV guide one afternoon yielded information that the local Fox affiliate would be airing a special presentation of the special edition version of the film that evening. My parents, lenient as they were with my viewing habits, would likely be perturbed by a request to rent any of the films from the local blockbuster so instead I stayed up just long enough to pop in a blank VHS tape and record the showing while I journeyed off to slumber, secure in my knowledge that the next day I would be able to sit down and watch through the whole thing, fast forwarding through any meddlesome commercial breaks.
I sat down to watch the film the next day and the sensation of anxiety in doing so was palpable. More than anything that was happening on screen, my nerves were gripped by the mystique that had been built up surrounding the mythos of the series by friends and movie magazines. (Yes, even at age ten I was a devout follower of certain periodicals that gave me all the latest movie news before the explosion of the online film community) I sat enraptured, awaiting the first appearance of the legendary creature. I knew enough about the movies from secondhand discussion or lengthy articles detailing the production of the films that the slow build of tension was practically torture.
Keep in mind, I was ten.
After the end credits rolled I had been hooked in. I needed to see the rest of the series. It was imperative. Luckily, I had a friend named Brett who lived a few blocks over whose parents were far more relaxed regarding their son’s consumption of violent media. His parents had an entire boxed set of the trilogy and that weekend I asked him if we could marathon watch them all. He seemed amicable to the idea and I wound up watching all three films over the course of a day with Brett and one other friend whose name I could not remember if you placed a loaded plasma rifle to my temple.
Even so young, I found myself intrigued by the differences between all three films. Where Aliens was dripping with a defiant, last-stand-at-the-Alamo sense of action, Ridley Scott’s original film was a quiet, creeping slow burn that honestly left me feeling underwhelmed at first. In the years since I have grown to love Alien as a true classic of dramatic and horrific tension, and I don’t view it as greater or lesser than its sequel; as they are so disparate in tone and composition that comparing the two is pointless. I even found myself enthralled by Alien 3, a position that seemed bold at the time but one that has seemingly been vindicated by the march of time.
The next year I managed to see Alien Resurrection in theaters and I believe that may be the first time I have ever been acutely aware of magic being broken. While there were certainly elements that I enjoyed in the film it felt a little too detached from the mood and tone established by the first three. I tried to convince myself that I actually liked the film, the same way I would with The Phantom Menace in ’99, but I think in my heart of hearts I knew I was lying to myself. In trying to figure out what it was that didn’t resonate with me I came to understand that there was a lack of severity to Resurrection that I did not wish to engage with. I don’t mean to say that the film didn’t have its moments of seriousness, but there was a degree of dismissive levity to the characters, which I now realize was largely the work of Joss Whedon’s writing, that seemed inappropriate for the series it was inhabiting. That same tone, so out of place in Resurrection, would work wonders for Firefly only five years down the line. But in 1997, aboard a ship crawling with one of the most iconic film monsters of all time, it felt inappropriate and jarring.
And so my love affair with the Alien franchise laid dormant. It was a major shift for me. In the time between discovering the first three films and seeing Resurrection in 1997, I tore through any and all available media I could regarding the franchise; novels, comic books, video games, the whole nine. Then it all fell by the wayside. For about seven years. Then in 2004, as a seventeen year old kid freshly graduated from high school, I found myself ready to be sucked back in by the release of Alien vs. Predator.
The Predator series never grabbed me the way that Alien did. Mostly because up until this point, there had only been two films and of those two I only held one in high regard. I can appreciate Predator 2 for what it is now, but when I was younger I found it to be lacking in most areas. My interest in AvP stemmed from the time I spent consuming all of that tertiary media in the buildup for Resurrection. The comics and novels built on the mythos of those series better than either of the films and I was hoping some of that would carry over into the film version.
I think most people know how that turned out.
For the second time, my hopes had been dashed upon the rocks and my desire to see a film that captured that same sense of excitement I’d had when I was ten and being brought into the warm embrace of the series for the first time was but a fleeting memory. I begrudgingly saw the follow-up film Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem in 2007 but went in with lowered expectations from the outset. I figured my relationship with the series was all but dead.
Then in 2012 Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with Prometheus, and for the first time since watching the first three on a grainy VHS tape I felt a spark in the series. I will be the first to admit that there were some parts of the film that didn’t work for me; Guy Pearce’s terrible old-man makeup, the perceived need to tip-toe around the ties to the original Alien, a general under-utilization of Idris Elba. Those minor gripes aside I found it to be a visually stunning film and one that did one thing right if it failed in any other category; it felt congruous with the universe that had been previously developed and it offered avenues for interesting storytelling opportunities.
It would appear that those avenues are being traveled with Alien: Covenant. I like the continuation of the established themes of crew as family, creeping dread, and claustrophobic terror. I appreciate that with the return to utilizing the franchise namesake in the title their fear in putting the monster on display seems to be gone.
Marketing can oftentimes be misleading, but from what is on display here, it would appear I have cause to be optimistic about the franchise again. Maybe I should pull some of those old novels out and give them a read through again. Just for old times’ sake.