[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Alien: Covenant]
Alien is widely seen — for good reason — as one of the great science-fiction films of all time, as well as one of the great horror films. Nearly 40 years later, Ridley Scott has directed the latest entry in the franchise, Alien: Covenant. So, with Covenant in theaters, it’s worth discussing one of many reasons why the original Alien succeeds, because it’s a big reason why (for me at least) Covenant doesn’t: it embraces the mystery of the situation instead of explaining everything.
Both the 2012 film Prometheus and Alien: Covenant try to answer the questions that the first Alien and James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens steadfastly avoided. Where did the Xenomorphs come from? What is that mysterious ship that Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo explore? Where did those eggs come from if the planet is deserted? And how is it possible for these bloodthirsty aliens to evolve so fast? By taking place before the events of the 1979 film, Scott’s pair of Alien-adjacent films set out to resolve these burning questions without realizing that they don’t need to be answered.
Alien and Aliens are incredible examples of how science fiction, horror, and action can all blend together in a genuinely thrilling combination. Somehow, they’ve both stood the test of time without telling audiences that the Xenomorphs were created by a self-aware robot who so badly wants to create something that he chooses to create a “perfect” killing machine. These films don’t dispense with the revelation that the mysterious spacecraft from Alien belonged to the Engineers, humanoid aliens who are responsible for both creating humanity and intending to destroy it at a later date. There’s a clear reason why the original films don’t answer these questions: they don’t have to.
Covenant attempts to tie some of these strands together: we find out that once Michael Fassbender’s sociopathic…