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Alien: Covenant - Necropolis Edition fan-edit (2018)

It's no small secret that I enjoy the Alien franchise. I love the classics, but also enjoy the recent iterations by Scott, of which I've written several pieces, recorded many videos on, and even done a fan-edit of. Yesterday I learned of a black-and-white fan-edit of Alien: Covenant (2017), titled Alien: Covenant - Necropolis Edition (2018). I wish to review it, here.


Disclaimer: Before reading this review, I strongly recommend watching the fan-edit, first.

Before I start, a word on Covenant. I remember the negative criticism it received. Critics declared, "It was too quick, too abbreviated, too stupid!" I don't want to pretend Covenant was perfect—it wasn't—but I found many of the complaints to be short-sighted. Alien is a classic, but also the movie from which Covenant stems. Both are Gothic horror. They share similar ideas and follow the same, basic script. Alien, however, lacked a mad scientist. It had the setting without the host.

Prometheus (2012) swapped space truckers for Promethean scientists; Covenant turned David, the servant from Prometheus, into a bombastic villain. On par with Victor Frankenstein, David is a Byronic hero—self-centered, loquacious, with plenty of theatrical dialogue. Frankenstein (1818) had a framed narrative loaded with academic musings on the nature of science, of good and evil, and manifestations of either as ambiguous. I sensed Scott was trying to recapture some of that complexity and drama within his own franchise. Covenant antecedes Alien. It cites Byron and Shelley. Many of its ideas are of their time, their works. Alien can be enjoyed independently from its forebears. Covenant cannot. It expects one to be familiar with Byron; the Shelleys, Mary Wollstonecraft and Percy Bysshe; Michelangelo or Richard Wagner. Much of its symbolism is tied up in canon centuries old. It extols art, an exhibit for whose aims reach beyond the franchise housing it. Its strongest critics attacked it for being a retread, but desired one themselves, albeit unmoored from overt literary allusions.


Covenant's biggest problems are simple. It shines a bright light on the Gothic, looking to emulate its ideas and characters. The scenery is there; it's simply not dark enough. Does it need to be? Can a story be a dark fantasy and keep its characters well-lit? The problem is, the theatrical cut featured imperfect visual effects, largely impaired by mismatching colors. Necropolis Edition corrects this by making the movie black-and-white. The problem is further obscured, hidden behind boosted contrast and film grain. Whether the editor sought to rectify a problem or simply chose to emulate an older medium, I cannot say.

What I can say is that Necropolis Edition is simple but effective. It makes minor changes that avoid compromising the contents, within. The giant, digital trees blend into the forest; the baby neomorph looks much better, covered in gore (note: blood always looks quite striking in black-and-white). Some information is lost in the transfer, though. Scott likes to color-code: Anchor and Tennessee's gilded suits sport Christmas-colored indicator lights; the thrust from the landing pad is violet; the lights in David's lair are gold. The viewing experience is much different, now. Whereas before my eye was drawn to color, now it is drawn to light or lack thereof. For this to work, the lighting would need to be solid to begin with. Things hold up surprisingly well. I especially loved the scene where David sings "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo." The camera waltzes through curtains and darkness. It's great.

Alien's different versions were nearly the same length. Necropolis Edition and the theatrical version are, as well. It's the use of time that's altered. The first addition occurs when David plays "Entry of the Gods into Valhalla," wherein he explains to Weyland the story behind the music. We're supplied with an idea of what to expect, a thematic blueprint for the story yet to occur. It also allows the music to be played for more than ten seconds, better illustrating David's ability to play and wax trivia ambidextrously. As Weyland grows impatient with his "son," his own displeasure is gradual versus abrupt.

The next change involves Captain Branson. In the theatrical cut, he is killed, then remembered, then eclipsed by a cabin on the lake, making it all feel wasted. Here, the scene with Daniels in her room is gone. When Branson dies, he stays dead. We don't need to know anything about him to gather how important he must have been. His immolation makes Daniels cry out. She quietly reappears at the end of Oram's speech. There's tension in the room, allowing us to imagine her torment. It works better, given the characters weren't with her, in her room. This time, neither were we. Like them, we must await her response. She doesn't react, not until she's alone with Walter. As a result, she only cries over Branson's death once, not twice. The show must go on, and go on it does.


The theatrical version also had a tendency to jump back and forth between a larger cast spread across two (or more) locations; there are few if any instances of a transition involving the same character moving from one scene to the next. Here, this is not the case. After Oram inspects the dead captain, the movie cuts to Oram, out of the hazard suit and walking into the mess hall. It allows for a sense of continuity missing in the theatrical cut.

The music is affected, too. There's music when Oram is suited up. When the scene "ends," it stops in the middle of a piece of music that's clearly meant to continue. It doesn't because the accompanying scene has been redacted. As a result, the musical halt feels very abrupt. The scene ends with Oram standing still. Next, he's in motion. The music has stopped, replaced with footsteps and engine noise. I liked this; it felt very much in the same spirit as Terry Rawlings, who edited Alien. One cut in Alien stopped the music early as well: when the alien examines Jones. In theaters, we never see him smack the case. The scene stops before the music can end.

During the landing sequence, Lope's "yoga" line is gone. Another substantial cut removes the dialogue between Tennessee and the other pilots, after Lope's husband is killed. This cut is beneficial for largely the same reasons mentioned above: scenes transition within a single space; there's no jumping to the Covenant ship, no change in music. Attempts to raise them result in pure static. The survivors are cut off and must wait to hear from their relief. So are we. Because we must wait, we're stuck in a situation the movie foreshadowed. The characters repeatedly discuss the radio signal as weakened by the oncoming storm. Once the ship and its radio are destroyed, the fact that Daniels' headset shorts out makes perfect sense. We're stuck.

At the necropolis, new footage grants the dialogue a sense of preparation, of response. Walter tells Daniels he'll speak to David; after he does, he reports back. These moments replace the scene where Oram apologizes to Daniels (which frankly did nothing but stop the movie in its tracks). As a result, the length of their stay at the castle is unaffected; the time is used to make the discussions between the characters feel more connected. The survivors are given time to respond to David, ask questions about him. This is important, because he's deceiving them. That matters more than what Oram feels about his dead wife; like Branson, she's dead. There's a killer to contend with. Cry later.

The bomber flashback does not play during David's visit to Shaw's grave; it's saved for later, when Walter confronts David, in his lab. Until then, Walter has time to interrogate his alter ego; we're allowed more time to observe. The moment of the reveal is better timed, doesn't interrupt the emotional build-up at the grave site. I found it easier to focus on what was happening in the scene. When David partially quotes "Ozymandias," Walter finishes the poem, and the two androids look out over the wasteland. The parallels are deliberate. These include David as the severe, Byronic hero Mary Shelley parodied so openly in Frankenstein. He's meant to disturb us, but also the characters. The new footage allows them to remark on it, a chorus for the unfolding drama. He and his wild emotions contrast sharply against the sensible, duty-bound Walter. As an audience we're meant to observe both and relish the oscillation, wavering between our support for one versus the other.


Because it is supplied later, the flashback does not conflict with the story David tells to Walter and the others, that the payload "accidentally" deployed, mid-landing. Is David telling the truth, and how did Shaw die? We're given more time to wonder. There's a sense of progression, which unfolds. At first, we don't know if she's alive. Then, we don't know how she died. We learn she was murdered; then, we see her corpse. At the very end of the movie, we see it dissected. It's a gradual, sickening progression—the kind the theatrical cut ruins by having the flashback occur too soon, as well as omitting "Walter's" message to Earth, at the end of the movie.

About that. The original had quite a few loose ends. Here, the editor ties them up using promotional material. The nature of the creature is explained. So is how the Company learned of it, to begin with. Detractors of the film can gripe about it all they want. I didn't hear them complaining when Cameron turned O'Bannon's version of a shoggoth into little more than a space bug. A monster is a monster.

There's a couple other changes. Before Rosenthal is killed, she's given time to pray and wash herself. We see the monster walking through the tunnel, watching her from a distance (oddly enough without the "monster vision" effect Scott gave to the xenomorph, later in the movie). The kill is forgone. However, a greater window lies between the victim's entrance and her death. Anticipation is prolonged. It's not much, admittedly. Still, it allows the tension to build just a little bit more before the neomorph strikes.

The conversation between Tennessee and Daniels is gone. Instead, when the landing pad reaches the Covenant, we see Lope being patched up by the ship's medic, Upworth. She and Tennessee talk back and forth. Cut to Daniels, watching them. The last thing we see before the sounding of the seven bells, and then the alarm bell (an eighth bell for what, in Alien, would've been the eighth passenger), is Daniels talking with "Walter." At this point, the android looks and sounds the part, but something is off. This, and not a conversation over whiskey and eggs, will be on our minds when the alien is wreaking havoc on board. The focus remains on what will lead up to the conclusion, when David catches Daniels off guard. There's less going on, overall, with fewer distractions; the two remaining conflicts—the monster, and "Walter's" true identity—may conclude unabated.

There are several flaws with this fan-edit, albeit minor ones. For example, the straight scratches the editor applies also affect the border around the letterbox footage. This looks off, but luckily only happens once or twice.


I confess, the inclusion of the prologue scene, "The Crossing," interrupts my favorite transition in the movie. It also presents Covenant as a direct sequel, not a standalone adventure. At the end of the prologue, David "awaits [their] arrival." Then, the movie cuts to space, revealing a human craft with different pilots. I liked that. I also liked seeing David on a spaceship, followed by Walter on his; it allows for a more immediate parallel between the two androids. When introduced, Shaw is still alive; it makes the ghost and craft seem less mysterious, in terms of what they actually are. When the search party find the vessel, we're in the loop. They're not. For us, the question is not, "what's that?" (to be fair, it was fairly obvious in Alien that the Derelict was a ghost ship). It's "what happened after they arrived?" Covenant uses the imagery made famous in Alien to tell a different story, but one that is still Gothic. Ruins remain. A murderous double lurks within. It's all part of a larger story intimated by David, in the opening scene.

Would I recommend this fan-edit? Absolutely. While several shots cannot be salvaged, the black-and-white, contrast, and film grain all work incredibly well. Likewise, the editing makes for a tighter, less repetitive story with fewer distractions. It's well worth a watch.

***

For other posts of mine, see: "Alien: Ore" Q & A ProjectThe Autopsy of Jane Doe (review), Dragon Ball Super: Broly (essay), Mandy (review). Is Garfield Gothic? (essay).

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