|The Alien, or xenomorph. Credit: TM & © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
Topics: Commentary, Science Fiction, Space Exploration
I was sixteen when my best friend and I saw the first "Alien" movie in Winston-Salem, NC. We jumped, guffawed and were amazed at the special effects and the "Amityville Horror in space" motif. And just like any Earthbound horror flick, we both asked the same question each scene: "what the HELL are you still doing there?" I'm not sure we knew the alien as a xenomorph, just something big, menacing, acid-breathing and ugly.
From the review, they do make a nod to neutrinos and solar sails. Everything is apparently at relativistic speeds that are one day attainable. Prevalent in the movies was the mechanized nature of the spacecraft and the reference to corporations that in a Star Trek universe, gave way to warp drive, world brotherhood, Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle-defying replicators, money becoming obsolete; peace, love and phasers.
I was equally surprised to find a review on Physics Today. The quintessential question science fiction repeatedly asks "what does it mean to be human" has in this review the spotlight has been turned in reverse:
"Should we improve on our design?"
"What if our improvement no longer needs us?"
In 1979 Ridley Scott shocked and delighted filmgoers with Alien, a tense tale of the crew of the spacecraft Nostromo. Despite the movie’s science-fiction theme, the subtext was pretty basic: “It was seven people locked in the old, dark house,” Scott says. “Who’s going to die first, and who’s going to survive?” Buried within the tale were questions about the role of humanity, the human condition, and the hubris of greedy corporations. Those themes were explored more thoroughly by other directors in the action-packed sequels Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien: Resurrection.
When Scott returned to the Alien universe by directing the 2012 prequel, Prometheus, what had been side notes to the horror and action became significant plot points. Prometheus looked more closely at the relationship between humans and our progeny, whether carbon or silicon based, and at how we influence and adapt to our environment. The film pondered the nature of the legacy that humans—or, for the purposes of the movie, a superintelligent alien species—hope to leave when they pass on.
The movie is beautifully filmed by Scott. It is nice to see old-school techniques such as building giant sets instead of using green screens to create a new world. The Covenant’s bridge has 1500 working lights and displays, and the astronaut suits were inspired by modern deep-sea diving suits. The acting, as you would expect from a Scott movie, is top notch; Fassbender (the androids David and Walter) stands out because he has the best lines.
Physics Today: Review: Alien: Covenant is more than an origin story
Paul K. Guinnessy