The latest trailer for Alien: Covenant has been released and seems to epitomise the ‘soft reboot’. A soft reboot is technically a sequel to an existing franchise, usually a successful one, that functions as a reboot without departing completely from the original timeline. It re-introduces a franchise to a new younger audience and establishes new main characters and story. At the same time it re-treads iconic moments for older fans. A soft reboot is the cinematic equivalent of having your cake and eating it by drawing from the original as much or as little as it likes. The most successful soft reboots have perhaps been Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World.
Prometheus (2012) is a prequel to Alien (1979) and a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to explore the ideas and the science behind the titular alien. In its defence, it does at least set out to do something new and expand on the franchise’s core elements. It asks questions: where did the aliens come from, where did we come from, why are we here? It also fleshes out the universe somewhat, telling us more about the Weyland-Yutani company. Whether this is necessary or not isn’t the point. I would argue that the more we know about the alien, the less intimidating it is. The point is that it is ambitious and its creative worth is apparent. Alien: Covenant on the other hand is seemingly bringing nothing new to the table.
The Alien: Covenant trailer asks no new questions and the others it asks, we know the answers to. We know what these people are doing and we know what is going to happen to them and we know what is going to do it to them. They’re colonising space for Weyland-Yutani, they’re going to be picked off one by one by the various forms of the alien and the short haired woman in the vest that totally isn’t Ripley is going to kick its arse. Covenant’s mirroring of the original Alien seems to be Scott’s direct response to fans disappointment regarding Prometheus’ difference to it. Of Prometheus and the alien, Scott told Yahoo Movies “After four [Alien films], I think it wears out a little bit. There’s only so much snarling you can do. I think you’ve got to come back with something more interesting. And I think we’ve found the next step. I thought the Engineers were quite a good start.” That didn’t go down well. So, in response: a new Ripley, a new crew sitting round a Nostromo style table, eggs, Face-huggers and Xenomorphs; admittedly, this time the Chest-bursters are Back-bursters but that kind of trivial difference only gets a specific kind of fan excited.
Alien, like Jaws, is scary because you hardly see the monster. If you did, you’d see a big silly rubber suit and it wouldn’t be scary. I feel that still applies to big silly monsters even when they’re CGI. Less is more. So, in the Covenant trailer when a giant alien, in daytime, clings to the ship, head butting it, it is more funny than scary. Maybe, had it not been in the trailer, it might work as a climactic reveal, earned via carefully ramping up to it. We’ve seen it now, though. They’ve shot their proverbial load.
Prometheus is far from perfect. It’s barely good. Although, at least it tries.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope that the new Ripley is a bait and switch and she gets killed off first, leaving Danny McBride as the main character. I hope that Alien: Covenant does have something new to offer. Something other than a new way of showing us the thing we’ve seen over and over again. Something creative.