Spoilers: This post explicitly discusses the plot details of Alien: Covenant, Prometheus, and even the original Alien. If you don’t want these three movies to be spoiled for you, then look away now. You have been warned.
The script to the original Alien movie is one of the finest screenplays ever written. But away from the likeable characters talking to each other with thoroughly believable dialogue, I’ve always thought its crowning achievement as being how it develops each character just enough that you’re willing to believe that they might end up being the star of the movie and, hence, survive.
This is more difficult now that Sigourney Weaver is now one of the most recognisable actresses on the planet, but you’d be forgiven for not even noticing her over the first half an hour of the film.
Instead we get to know the whole crew of the Nostromo. We grow to like the grizzled Captain Dallas, the suave Officer Kane, and even the snarky engineers Parker and Brett.
Meanwhile Ripley is in the background for most of the movie’s early dialogue, and doesn’t even leave the ship when it touches down on LV-426.
Then we are forced to watch in horror as, one by one, they’re picked off by the titular Alien - but not before each of them has been given just enough screen time that we’re able to convince ourselves that they might be the ones to survive.
Captain Dallas, who’s sure-footed leadership and charisma initially leads us to believe that he’s the film’s protagonist, is even given the indignity of dying off-screen.
Look back at the original poster for Alien and you’ll notice that none of the actors are featured. There’s no Ripley staring down an Alien menace, and in fact one of the main reasons her character was made to be female in the first place was to further mislead the audience. When she emerges as the protagonist over the course of the first movie it’s a surprise, rather than a given.
Fast forward to Alien: Covenant and you’d have to miss literally every trailer, interview and poster to not realise that Katherine Waterston’s Daniels is the hero of this story. She, along with Michael Fassbender’s Walter, has been heavily featured in the movie’s promotion, setting her up as the film’s protagonist, and consequently (because hey, this is an Alien movie after all) is among the film’s small handful of survivors.
Consequently the rest of the film’s cast are turned into redshirts, who, like the scarlet-clad crew members of Star Trek, exist purely to be killed throughout the course of the movie. We’re essentially told not to care about them. They’re given little screen time, and their deaths are mostly devoid of tension as a result.
But it’s not just the existence of a well known protagonist that spoils certain plot developments in the movie. Its various trailers also include scenes that spoil one of the film’s most interesting plot twists at the end of the movie.
Keen eyed viewers will inevitably notice that by the time the crew are in the process of escaping the planet we’re still yet to see the shower scene from the trailer. A scene that involves the Xenomorph pouncing upon an unsuspecting pair of crew members in the shower (below at 1:44).
From this point it’s clear to everyone that the crew hasn’t left the alien behind at all, and so when it eventually rears its ugly head, the surprise of the moment is gone completely.
What’s most frustrating is that Ridley Scott has faced these criticisms before . The various trailers released in anticipation of Prometheus managed to neatly summarise the first two thirds of the movie.
Sure there was a lot that didn’t make it into the film’s trailers, but there was enough there that most people going into the cinema had a pretty good idea of which direction the film was going to take.
An Unnecessary Distraction
Now, to be clear, Alien: Covenant’s problems are not entirely due to its promotional campaign. In most cases the film’s script simply fails to flesh out most of the crew members into fully developed characters, instead leaving them to be picked off one by one without too much investment from the audience.
But anyone who’s managed to avoid the film’s trailers will, without a doubt, get more out of Alien: Covenant. Go in with a fresh set of eyes and you won’t find yourself waiting for each of the trailer’s moments to inevitably be reached, and you’ll have a small amount of hope that crew members other than Daniels will survive.
Somewhere along the line, the film trailer’s editing team forgot that their work was supposed to tease rather than deliver, and in the process they’ve inadvertently spoiled what would have otherwise been a much more interesting script.