Podcast Episode 2: The Alien Christmas Spectacular
We're back! In the new episode, we explore how the holidays are celebrated among the stars, where no one can hear you sing Christmas carols.
Listen above, or on Soundcloud, Stitcher, iTunes, or almost any podcast app.
- Prometheus (2012)
- Alien: Covenant (2017)
- The Golden Bough
- "Dialogue: Sir Ridley Scott Explains 'Prometheus,' Explores Our Past, and Teases Future 'Alien' Stories"
Lindsay: In the eight years we’ve been Mainlining Christmas, Erin and I have seen hundreds of movies. As you’d expect, many of them blend together.
Erin: The vast majority fall into a handful of buckets: comedies where someone rekindles their love of the holidays through family, self-aware noir action flicks juxtaposing the trappings of the season with violent shoot-outs, zany fantasies involving Santa, angels, or callbacks to classics… you get the idea.
Lindsay: But once in a while, we come across something unique, something that stands out. Today, we’re going to delve into one such movie: a film that’s easily one of the strangest outliers we’ve encountered.
Erin: When we say “strange,” we’re not really referring to content - we mean existentially strange. As in, after numerous viewings and countless hours spent reflecting on it, I still can’t wrap my head around the simple fact that this exists as a Christmas movie.
Lindsay: Not just any Christmas movie, mind you - one of the most expensive ever produced, in a genre that rarely includes any holiday entries, let alone serious ones. This science-fiction horror blend is polarizing in its own right, dividing fans of the franchise it burst out of.
Erin: You most likely know it as “Prometheus,” but around here, we’ve christened it with another name. Welcome to our discussion of… The Alien… Christmas… Spectacular.
Erin: First, a warning. This episode includes spoilers about Prometheus and other films in the Alien franchise. If that’s a problem for you, you’ll want to head to the nearest airlock and jettison yourself into the vacuum of space.
Lindsay: If you've seen this movie, it’s probably been a few years. With that in mind, we're going to take a moment and review the plot.
Twas a prequel to Alien, and up in the sky,
A grey oblong spacecraft seems to be stopping by,
A primordial world (might be Earth or not),
Where an albino giant drinks some black snot.
He’s alone in this place without complex life,
A sacrifice to change a world without strife.
CG genetics come apart in midair,
I guess DNA’s what they came here to share.
Through the vastness of time, let’s now spring ahead,
To ancient cave paintings now being read,
By the lead, Shaw, and her beau, Holloway.
There’s pictures of giants pointing the way.
We cut next to deep space and the titular ship,
And an android named David who’s out on a trip,
He wakes the crew up from their long cryo-snore,
Most throw up first thing; we’ve all seen this before
Meet Vickers and Janek; they’ll screw at some point,
Meet Millburn and Fifield, who will smoke a joint,
Then there’s Ravel and Chance, who barely appear,
And a tape of Weyland, who’s dead, so we hear.
Away to a planet, they fly really fast
We know in an instant, this crew will not last.
On LV-two-two-three, they’ll be in a fix,
Don’t confuse this place with LV-four-two-six.
The ship comes to rest on some old barren ground,
The crew sets out to explore what they've found:
A buried craft in the shape of a crescent,
Hey! It’s now Christmas - let’s open this present!
As dry sand is tossed by winds most severe,
Ridley Scott’s at his best shooting atmosphere.
The inside is pretty, and it’s all very tense,
Not much occurs - mostly building suspense.
And then in a twinkle, they start up a show,
Holographic exposition from long ago,
Of Engineers running from some unviewed dread,
The last falls behind; a door lops off his head.
Shaw takes the head and flees a storm that’s contrived,
Back to Prometheus to learn we’re derived
From this alien race playing god with goop,
David swipes a vial of some oily soup.
Holloway wants to prove there’s no god,
So they poke at the giant’s head with a rod
It looks good at first, but things turn dark real soon,
When the head inflates, bursting like a balloon.
They should be ecstatic at all they have learned,
Instead one by one to depression they’ve turned.
David gets orders from a mystery man,
To drug Holloway - a nefarious plan.
Fiefield and Millburn are still stuck in the craft,
For scientists, both seem surprisingly daft.
They poke a worm monster, not thinking it through,
They die screaming - what’d they expect it to do?
Holloway’s next - Vickers stops his infection,
Torching him like she’s burning a confection,
Shaw learns from David she’s expecting a kid,
But the ultrasound shows an alien squid.
A claw-machine’s handy to pull the squid out,
While a potato-faced man rages about,
More people die, but Peter Weyland appears,
It’s Guy Pearce with make-up aged one hundred years.
Weyland’s old and infirm, but not ready to die,
So he’s hoping the giants are willing to try,
Extending his life with an alien splice,
But Shaw’s worried about that doomsday device.
They drive over and wake the alien beast,
Everyone wants answers of some sort, at least,
David pleads Weyland’s final, desperate case,
Shaw demands meaning from her creator’s face.
He speaks not a word but goes straight to his work,
Tearing David’s head off with one mighty jerk,
And smashing in Weyland’s frail skull just for fun,
Shaw’s got business elsewhere - she chooses to run.
She radios Janek - the craft can't get through,
It'll kill all the Earth with its payload of goo.
He rams the ship with an explosive loud sound,
And the alien vessel rolls on the ground.
It conveniently chases Vickers and Shaw,
Completely abandoning physics’ last law.
Elizabeth survives, thanks mostly to luck,
While Vickers gets squished in this scene (that does suck).
There’s a habitat left with food and fresh air,
Shaw’s got no plans, so she heads over there.
She doesn’t have time to quite catch her breath,
Before getting a warning of oncoming death.
I’m not certain how David managed this call,
His body is gone - he’s a head now; that’s all!
But forget the logic and get to the chase,
The movie is shifting into a fast pace.
The Engineer’s hunting down Shaw cause he’s mad,
He follows her into the swank space-age pad.
They fight for a minute; Shaw opens a door,
So her weird squid baby can even the score.
She goes back to the wreck to pick up David’s head,
The only other character who isn’t yet dead,
When it comes to feelings, they’ll argue a lot-
Cause she’s human while he’s an effin’ robot.
They find a new ship in this alien place,
And set a course for the homeworld of this race.
Shaw’s still got questions, and she wants answers soon,
So they take off, heading for some distant moon.
To start the engines, they blow on a whistle,
With a hold full of goop, they’re kind of a missile,
Before credits can roll, we do hear Shaw say,
There’s still more to learn, and it’s now New Year’s Day!
Lindsay: I suspect a lot of you are still confused. You’re questioning whether this really qualifies as a Christmas movie. Some of you probably forgot it was set during the holidays.
Erin: But it is. The movie’s crystal clear about this. The first shot of the ship includes text dating their arrival at the alien world on December 21st. The crew has a Christmas tree, they crack jokes about the holiday, and even sing a little. The voiceover that closes the movie lets you know that it’s now New Years.
Lindsay: Is that really enough to designate something as a ‘Christmas movie?’ Well, yes, actually it is, but we’ll take this a step further. Not only is this set at Christmas, the reason is deeply tied to the movie’s theme.
Erin: Sure, on the surface it’s an SF-horror flick, but if we cut deeper, we find it’s got pressurized eggnog for blood.
Lindsay: Hang on. Before we go further into the movie’s festive side, we should probably pause to consider the movie itself.
Erin: As a film in the alien franchise, as a story, as a work of science-fiction driven by philosophical questions, and just as a piece of cinema…
Lindsay:...Prometheus is an abject and total failure.
Erin: Maybe that’s a touch harsh. The film isn’t entirely without merit; Fassbender salvages every second he’s on screen.
Lindsay: I agree that Charlize Theron and Idris Elba are always at least somewhat enjoyable, and Ridley Scott’s ability to film real pretty fog - while getting a little old hat - ensures the sets look nice.
Erin: Plus, yeah, that scene in the med pod, while admittedly relying heavily on digital effects, manages to be tense and horrifying. But that scene also illustrates why the movie as a whole crashes and rolls like a spaceship shaped like a donut that someone took a bite out of. Every ounce of tension is lost as soon as - only moments after yanking a squirming alien squid from her abdomen with a space-age first aid kit - Elizabeth Shaw runs down a hallway, finds Guy Pearce in hilarious makeup, and accepts an invitation to scurry back to the death-ship to meet one of the ancient aliens who made mankind. Whether this makes sense for her character or not--
Lindsay: --It doesn’t--
Erin: --Let’s just pretend for a moment. Even if did make sense, the end result would still be absurd. The movie’s tone turns on a dime. One moment, we’re cringing at body horror; the next, we’re asked to ponder the nature of creation and the meaning of life. The action and horror sequences are left seeming superfluous, as though the director is reluctantly sticking them in to appease the audience so he can get to the existential themes he cares about.
Lindsay: The fact that she is somehow able to just walk off major abdominal surgery and bodily trauma pissed me off so much that I lost the few shreds of interest I had in her character.
Erin: The character work is just as shoddy on everyone else. Shaw’s partner, Holloway, is motivated primarily by a desire to find the alien race who created mankind, bring a living specimen back to Earth, then prove once and for all that there is no God. His motivation ties in thematically with some of the “big ideas” Prometheus wants to explore, but he's initially disappointed that they only find proof the theory is accurate, and the last of our species’ alien creators are gone. This isn’t just absurd - it’s hilarious.
Lindsay: As far as he knows, he’s about to be the most famous archaeologist in history. I mean, he and Shaw are poised to rewrite the book on the history of EVERYTHING. They just proved a theory so momentous, it makes Einstein’s relativity look like a fourth-grade math problem.
Erin: But they only have dead aliens to take back, so he’s emotionally devastated. He recovers a bit when Shaw pulls up their DNA, but why isn’t he already ecstatic at the discovery of a fallen alien civilization? Actual people don’t think like that. Archeologists certainly don’t. Even if we believed his motivation was possible--
Lindsay: --We don’t.
Erin: But pretend we do.
Erin: The point is, even if we accepted him as believable, we wouldn’t sympathize or find him compelling. He’s just… absurd. A cardboard cutout stuck in the movie to point us towards the deep and meaningful themes they want us to explore.
Lindsay: There are deep and meaningful themes in Prometheus?
Erin: Kind of. Well, no. Not really. But the writers and director seem to think there are.
Lindsay: So they sacrificed everything to make a big-budget exploration of ideas that aren’t even all that compelling? That’s hilarious.
Erin: That. Is the Alien Christmas Spectacular.
Lindsay: But why Christmas? Was it a throw-away reference? A random choice? Honestly, I assumed it was for ironic contrast with the violence.
Erin: Nope. The main reason Prometheus is set during the holidays is… The Golden Bough. Well, more accurately because of subsequent theories built off of The Golden Bough, but we’ll try and keep things simple for the time being. The Golden Bough is an extremely influential work of myth theory written a century ago by James Frazer. It posits a sort of underlying narrative permeating human myth in which a king - usually a symbolic king - is sacrificed at the end of an ordained period in order to renew life.
Lindsay: Huh. So that scene where Charlize Theron delivers a random stirring monologue about how kings are supposed to reign for a time and then die… that's what they're getting at?
Erin: Yup. I'm not reading too much into this: Ridley Scott brings up the sacrificial king elements directly in a 2012 interview with Movies.com. He talks about how the Mayans and Incas would have a ruler lead for a year, then they’d sacrifice him at the end of that time.
Lindsay: But that's not true, right?
Erin: I can’t figure out what specifically he’s referring to. I suspect he’s pulling - directly or otherwise - from Frazer, but I wouldn’t swear to that.
Lindsay: And as I recall, Frazer was likely twisting a bunch of myths and rituals to fit his theory anyway.
Erin: Yeah, my impression is that Golden Bough was more impressive than it was right, but I’m certainly no expert. That’s kind of irrelevant, though, because right or wrong, Frazer’s ideas have endured. You can find echoes of a sacrificial king throughout western literature and scholarship for the last hundred years or so. And, of course, in Prometheus. The movie leans heavily on images of aging kings and sacrifices.
Lindsay: Oh, like how the movie opens with a sort of alien priest-king sacrificing himself.
Erin: Yup. One of the engineers tosses back a shot of goo and dies to transform a young world.
Lindsay: And later Holloway is sort of sacrificed by David. Leading into the weird sex scene where Shaw gets impregnated with the alien squid monster.
Erin: I actually like to think of it as a living Christmas star. But you could actually tie the lovemaking back to Frazer, too. The symbolic king is supposed to serve as a concubine to a goddess.
Lindsay: So… Elizabeth Shaw is a goddess?
Erin: Kind of? Maybe? She’s sort of the mother of the first alien. So, symbolically, that might actually have been what they were going for.
Lindsay: Or maybe that scene is just how the director thinks humans act.
Erin: Oh, that’s nothing. There’s a deleted version that’s even weirder. They still sleep together, but it kind of implies they do it out of mutual rage and resentment.
Lindsay: I've seen that. It doesn’t make any sense for the characters, unless the moral is that both of them hate each other, their jobs, and life.
Erin: Yeah, if you listen through the audio commentary, you get the impression the real twist is that Ridley Scott is a replicant.
Lindsay: We’re getting off-topic. I thought we were talking about sacrificial kings.
Erin: And the renewal of life from death. Which is, somewhat perversely, the central symbol of the alien franchise. A xenomorph is born by killing its host. So the engineer at the end is as much a sacrifice as the one at the beginning - he just wasn’t as willing a participant.
Lindsay: I guess the same goes for everyone destined to be killed by xenomorphs in the future. Or at least those serving as incubators for cute baby aliens.
Erin: And potentially humanity as a whole. The idea that our species is symbolically a king whose reign has ended is hinted at throughout the movie. That our planet is Peter Weyland, clinging to life past its expiration date. At least that seems to be the way David sees us.
Lindsay: But enough about Frazer for now. While we're talking about sacrifice, we need to talk about Jesus.
Erin: If that last bit sounded like a joke to you, there’s a good chance you weren’t reading a lot of commentary about Prometheus back when it came out. Because, while it’s not explicitly stated in the movie, a fictionalized extraterrestrial Jesus plays a central role in the backstory.
Lindsay: No. Really.
Erin: After the movie came out, theories started circulating online centered on what seemed to be a throw-away plot point.
Lindsay: In short, the characters in Prometheus learn that the engineers, the creators of humanity, came to hate us and they were planning to exterminate us about two thousand years earlier, though we never learn why. After Holloway dies, Shaw tries to get an answer to that very question, but instead of explaining, the Engineer beats Weyland to death with David’s head.
Erin: From those clues, some fans concluded that Jesus was an engineer sent to help humanity regain its way, only to be brutally killed by us instead. Then the other engineers decided our species needed to be wiped from the cosmos.
Lindsay: It's the sort of outlandish theory nerds like us come up with all the time: plausible within the movie’s framework, but requiring major assumptions outside the scope of the film.
Erin: Only this time, the nerds were right. Remember that Movies.com interview I mentioned earlier? In it, Scott’s asked about the Christ theories, and he basically confirms them. He even goes so far as to say they were considering being more explicit in the script.
Lindsay: Score one for internet nerds.
Erin: It’s yet another reason the movie is set at Christmas, albeit a forced one. Really, if you wanted to tie this to Christ with themes of death and resurrection, Easter would have made more sense. But that wouldn’t have worked as neatly with the cyclical nature of the year - remember how this thing ends on New Years Day?
Lindsay: I guess a jumbled theme is still a theme.
Erin: It’s obvious they put some thought into this. A lot of thought, in fact. I assume Scott and the writers obsessed over these images and ideas.
Lindsay: Which makes it almost sad the movie they ended up with is so stupid.
Erin: Sad? Funny? Pick your poison.
Lindsay: They sacrificed everything for theme, for big ideas about the origins of mankind and existential questions without answers. But none of that actually works with the franchise.
Erin: It doesn’t work with the movie, either. Prometheus fails on more than one level.
Lindsay: I guess we’re going to go through the list, aren’t we?
Erin: Yes. Yes, we are. Starting with character. We already touched on this a little, how the movie designs its characters like perfect cut-outs shaped to unlock the themes.
Lindsay: It’s not necessarily bad to build characters around theme, but you either need to be subtle about it, or you need to deliver something so monumentally fascinating that your audience will forgive you.
Erin: Prometheus does neither. I think Holloway is the best example, but almost everyone has issues with motivation.
Lindsay: Prometheus also fails on story. The plot of this is just… it’s a mess. It's structured as a mystery, but it never provides any satisfying explanation.
Erin: I don’t even think it provides a satisfying mystery. I mean, take a look at the whole thing around the Jesus backstory. Obviously, the movie doesn’t answer this, at least not clearly. There were enough hints fans were able to piece it together, and Scott did confirm it eventually, but it’s not actually explained coherently in the film itself. The question is: why did these Engineers make us, then decide to kill us with goo?
Lindsay: Plus, none of this has anything to do with the Alien movies, which many people reasonably thought they had bought a ticket to a prequel for.
Erin: It’s a mystery distracting us from the mystery we’re there to see. Is this an origin movie for the xenomorphs or for us?
Lindsay: Obviously, the twist is supposed to be “both.” And on paper, it must have seemed like a good idea.
Erin: But in reality, the mysteries kind of nullify each other. “Why did the space gods stop liking us?” is so disconnected from “How did those eggs get to LV-426?” we’re left not caring about either. By the time the credits roll without answering (or even clearly asking) either question, it’s mostly just a relief the movie’s over.
Lindsay: It's almost impressive that the movie couldn't manage any of this. These are the central questions at the core of science fiction.
Erin: Exactly. Who are we? Why are we here? What’s our destiny?
Lindsay: I meant the alien stuff. No one cares about that other stuff.
Erin: Astonishingly, by the end of Prometheus, I don’t even care about any of it. Not even the aliens. The mysteries at the center of the movie’s convoluted story aren’t compelling in context.
Lindsay: So, a failure in storytelling.
Erin: And a failure in franchise-building. The xenomorphs were scary because they were ‘alien’, not because they’re reflections of us. This is supposed to be Lovecraftian horror, which is driven by things we can’t understand. Turning them into space-demons born of our sin robs them of what made them intriguing. The aliens are supposed to be alien. Clearly, this was too difficult a concept.
Lindsay: It fails in terms of originality, too. At the end of the day, the premise of this movie has been done before - by this very franchise.
Erin: Prometheus is really lucky Alien Vs. Predator is as forgettable as it is, or more people might have noticed that Prometheus is basically a remake. No, really. AvP tells the story of an expedition funded by the dying founder of Weyland Industries to newly discovered ruins left by an ancient, space-faring species which helped shape humanity’s development. An extraterrestrial species, I should add, that our ancestors worshipped as gods. It even ends with a new kind of xenomorph being born from the corpse of one of these visitors. The main difference between the two is that Prometheus is set in space instead of Antarctica, and it doesn’t have any Predators. Or any aliens.
Lindsay: Switching gears, Prometheus also fails as a genre flick. The horror elements are underserved by poor pacing. The med-pod sequence we mentioned earlier is the best example, but there are plenty of others. The extended, multi-part introduction doesn’t do this any favors as a horror movie. And if that’s all there to make it play better as science-fiction, we need to talk about the laughably idiotic B-horror tropes.
Erin: Let’s split up! And remove our helmets on an alien world! And pet space worms!
Lindsay: It’s like it has two tones at once. Is it complex realistic science-fiction, or is it schlocky B-horror? The movie doesn’t know. The action, meanwhile, is undermined by contrivances and inconsistent physics.
Erin: Oh god, you’re going to make me talk about the rolling ship, aren’t you?
Lindsay: It’s so stupid.
Erin: It is, but everyone complains about it, and everyone complains about it wrong.
Lindsay: There’s no wrong way to complain about that scene.
Erin: Okay, but here’s the thing, everyone says that Vickers and Shaw should have just run to the side. Only they have no reason to think the ship isn’t about to fall over on them. Hell, after it squishes Vickers--
Lindsay: I really wanted her to kill everyone else and win, too. She was the only character I liked.
Erin: Fine, but, after she’s squished for running straight forward, Shaw darts to the side, and the ship DOES fall on her. She lives, because there’s a pocket of space in the spot that lands over her.
Lindsay: So she’s lucky.
Erin: "Lucky" might be generous. It’s contrived. Everything from the ship falling directly at them when they’re finally close enough to both be in danger, to it hitting at just the right angle to roll instead of sliding… it’s CHASING them. Because it’s not a ship: it’s a plot point. An idiotic, obvious, unambiguous plot point.
Lindsay: You’re saying it’s the movie equivalent to a Dungeon Master killing a character by dropping rocks on them.
Erin: All the non-nerds listening to this just got really confused.
Lindsay: That’s so their problem.
Erin: But, yes, that’s a good analogy. Or, to put it another way, it’s not the characters being stupid in that scene - it’s the writers. The movie is blatantly chasing down and killing one character while scaring the other then letting her live. Neither character’s ability or intellect has any bearing on their fate. And, more importantly, the movie fails to convince us otherwise.
Lindsay: Even the editing is pretty bad. Not the individual cuts, but the scenes they use. Some of the movie’s best moments are deleted scenes. Remember the sequence where a guy who looks like Mr. Potato-Head kills a bunch of people? There’s a version where he’d mutated into some sort of fishman, like something out of a Lovecraft story. It’s way better. There’s also a version of the final showdown with the last engineer that’s longer, more intense, and far more suspenseful. But they went with the throwaway version you saw in the theater.
Erin: The movie’s tone is a failure! The genre elements are a failure! The Christmas elements are… huh. Actually, the Christmas stuff is kind of rad.
Lindsay: I guess that’s why we’re doing an episode on this thing.
Erin:. I’m not saying that the themes work as intended. And I’m not saying it was necessarily a good idea to do this movie at all, let alone as a Christmas story. But because they did, they wound up creating something kind of unique.
Lindsay: It's true that no one makes Christmas movies like this. Seriously: no one.
Erin: There are a ton of Christmas horror movies, but the vast majority are comedies and adventures. There are a small handful of slashers going for a dark tone - Black Christmas of course being the most iconic - but these are low-budget flicks mainly using the setting for contrast.
Lindsay: Christmas science fiction is even rarer. And again, most of what’s out there is comedy. Prometheus is something of an anomaly. It’s a Christmas science-fiction horror film that uses the holiday elements thematically. There is some comedy in Prometheus, but it’s around the characters, not the season.
Erin: Prometheus is using Christmas as part of an exploration of ritual and religion in a science-fiction context. The holidays are well-suited to this kind of thing, but they’re almost never used that way on film.
Lindsay: It’s actually rare for anyone to take Christmas seriously as a concept, especially in these genres. In the rare case the holidays serve as a backdrop, it’s almost always as a joke, like in Brazil or Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
Erin: There are a couple counterexamples, but they get weird. Children of Men is kind of a modern retelling of the Nativity, but I’m honestly not sure whether it’s supposed to be set at Christmas. Then there’s Christmas on Mars. Do you want to talk about Christmas on Mars?
Lindsay: Not really.
Erin: Me either. Let’s just chock that one up to drug use and get back to Prometheus.
Lindsay: What sets Prometheus apart is that it’s actually interested in telling a dark science fiction story that uses Christmas elements intellectually. I think we’ve been incredibly clear that we don’t think those elements were handled effectively, but… ‘A’ for effort?
Erin: It feels wrong to give a movie a pass just for trying something, but the fact is, this is really unusual in this genre. And while Prometheus doesn’t come together as a story or a prequel, it does offer a fantastic proof of concept for how weird science-fiction stories can incorporate Christmas elements to tell stories about cultural heritage and time.
Lindsay: I think the most interesting Christmas stories should be those told beyond Earth. What does the passage of time even mean when we’re light years away? How would we hold onto our past? I’d rather watch a movie about space colonists confronting those questions than sit through yet another comedy about a dysfunctional family burning the turkey.
Erin: And while Prometheus doesn’t fully explore the holidays, it does open some interesting doors. Hopefully other directors will notice. I’d rather they started with a better premise, of course, but it’s still the sort of thing I’d like to see more of at the holidays.
Lindsay: Because in space, no one can hear you scream, “Merry Christmas.”
Lindsay: Well. That was interesting.
Erin: Yup. But I guess it’s coming to an end. I mean… it’s not like there’s a sequel also set at Christmas, right?
Lindsay: Go on. Tell them.
Erin: They made a sequel.
Lindsay: Everyone knows they made a sequel. It’s called Alien: Covenant, and it came out in 2017. Tell them the other part.
Erin: Alien: Covenant is a Christmas movie.
Lindsay: There’s no Christmas tree this time. No decorations, singing, or parties. The word “Christmas” is never spoken in the movie.
Erin: Not once. But that’s what makes this so fascinating. As rare and bizarre as Prometheus is, Covenant might be more so. Because it’s not just a science-fiction/horror/Christmas movie. It’s a SECRET science-fiction/horror/Christmas movie.
Lindsay: Those of you who want to follow along might want to grab a calendar.
Erin: At the beginning of Alien: Covenant, after a short prologue about David and a slightly-less made-up Guy Pearce, we see the Covenant, the spaceship which, like Prometheus, shares its movie’s name. At this point, we get the only date the movie ever provides - December 5, 2104.
Lindsay: Almost immediately, the ship is damaged, and we learn it will take the crew 48 hours to fix it. That presumably brings us to December 7th.
Erin: At which point they intercept a radio transmission of David singing a John Denver song. Then they decide to change course and head to that planet instead of their original destination. We never get a precise ETA, but we are told the journey will take, and I quote, “A few weeks.” If we assume that translates into fourteen days…
Lindsay: They’d arrive on December 21st, eleven years to the day after the Prometheus reached LV-223.
Erin: Even if you allow a few days either way, the movie is essentially putting the characters down at or around Christmas. But I don’t think it’s meant to be a few days off - I think Scott wanted the Covenant getting there on exactly the twenty-first.
Lindsay: The winter solstice.
Erin: I don’t think it was a coincidence in Prometheus, and I really can’t believe Scott would have randomly set the dates up to coincide a second time like that. I think it’s supposed to line up exactly, but he wanted it hidden, because he worried people would think it was silly.
Lindsay: I mean, it is kind of silly, at least from a realistic point of view. But, silly or not, it does mean we’re dealing with a Christmas movie. Or a solstice movie. Or a New Years movie… do we even care which?
Erin: It’s all Saturnalia to me.
Lindsay: Well, since we’ve established it is, in fact, a HOLIDAY movie, I guess we should dig into the themes.
Erin: There’s not really as much ‘meat’ here as there was in Prometheus, and most of the relevant themes are extensions of what we’ve already discussed.
Lindsay: It’s a really bizarre movie. It’s sort of a better film than its predecessor, but not as interesting.
Erin: Yeah, there’s less wrong with it, but Prometheus’s flaws were also kind of its charm. I’d far rather re-watch Prometheus than Covenant, despite the fact the sequel is better paced and has more believable characters.
Lindsay: Slightly more believable characters. It was so annoying - the captain follows the evil android into an obvious trap without radioing the rest of the crew. They had these open com lines that they only remembered when it wouldn't prevent some character's gruesome death.
Erin: Yeah, everything's relative. Plus, Covenant is a Frankenstein’s monster of subgenres sewn together. Which I guess is appropriate, given David’s backstory and development. He essentially starts out as a version of Frankenstein’s monster, then evolves into the doctor, himself. Maybe having the movie mirror that arc was intentional.
Lindsay: That… seems… generous.
Erin: Yeah, maybe. But say what you want to about Ridley Scott: the man definitely overthinks his films.
Lindsay: He overthinks his themes. I’m not convinced he thinks about his characters at all. Except the robots, I guess.
Erin: Ridley Scott is a replicant.
Lindsay: Yeah, I got it.
Erin: There’s even more of the sacrifices-and-kings-at-the-end-of-their-reign stuff that permeated the first movie. It does go in a slightly different direction, with David trying to step into the role of a God overseeing the passing of the old to the new: in this case, the ‘old king’ being both the Engineers and humans, and the new being the xenomorphs.
Lindsay: The connections to Frazer are starting to feel forced.
Erin: Yeah, I’m not entirely convinced Scott was as fixated on that this time. It feels like he might have moved on to a more straightforward nativity metaphor. He’s definitely still playing with the New Year’s motif, as well as the notion of sacrifices allowing life to flourish, but those are almost afterthoughts compared with all the Jesus stuff going on.
Lindsay: And this time you’re not referring to the backstory. They don’t reference any of the Engineer-Jesus stuff in Covenant.
Erin: Not that I noticed. Probably a smart move. Though, personally, if he’s going to make another, I’d really rather it was a prequel about all that. Just set it two thousand years in the past, and tell the story of space-Jesus culminating with the catastrophe on LV-223. I would watch that in a heartbeat.
Lindsay: I have a feeling we’d be the only ones in the theater. But getting back to Covenant, the Christ stuff this time was mainly symbolic.
Erin: BLATANTLY symbolic. The most obvious being the birth of the first true xenomorph. It bursts from the sacrifice’s chest, David raises his hands into the sign of a crucifix, and the baby alien mimics him.
Lindsay: For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, I want to pause here and assure you we’re not making this up. It actually happens. Really.
Erin: And it’s a plot point that the sacrifice was a religious man.
Lindsay: And, with that, subtlety is officially dead.
Erin: And there’s a photograph on the ship that ties into a DVD extra where the characters are basically re-enacting the Last Supper. A short literally called, “Last Supper.” Oh, and at the end of the movie, there’s a shot where the main character is basically cosplaying the Virgin Mary.
Lindsay: I’m sorry. Subtlety isn’t just dead - an alien chest-buster wearing a crucifix just tore its way out of Subtlety’s carcass.
Erin: To be fair, religious symbolism isn’t new to this franchise. Alien 3 was swimming in it, and there were a few “stigmata” sequences in Resurrection. But neither of those were set at Christmas, so...
Lindsay: But it’s one thing to toss around a few symbols and another to build a movie out of them.
Erin: Yeah, Prometheus is the first one where the religious and ritual aspects feel like more than set dressing. That’s absolutely the wrong choice for this franchise, but - like we keep saying - it’s the right choice for Christmas science fiction.
Lindsay: That’s the paradox at the core of these movies. They’re telling the right story in the wrong context. But if you can look past that context, there is something interesting here.
Erin: If you can’t look past that, you should just stick with the original two Alien movies. And maybe the fourth - that was actually a lot more fun than I’d remembered. But if you find yourself looking for a change of pace next Christmas, Prometheus at least offers a unique holiday movie experience. I’m not sure I’d suggest watching it any other time of year, but it really is a fascinating Christmas movie.
Lindsay: The Alien Christmas Spectacular has been the second episode of the Mainlining Christmas podcast, which was written, edited, scored, and recorded by myself, Lindsay Stares…
Erin: And me, Erin Snyder. In addition to exposing myself to dangerous levels of yuletide cheer, I also write fantasy and science fiction novels. You can find out more at ErinLSnyder.com.
Lindsay: For more seasonal sarcasm, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You’ll find links at our main site, MainliningChristmas.com.
Erin: That’s also where you’ll also find a transcript of this episode, as well as a link to the Movies.com interview conducted by Sean O'Connell from June 4, 2012. If you’re interested in learning more about Prometheus, that’s a really good place to start.
Lindsay: We’ll see you next time for more emergency infusions of holiday spirit.