"I remember one time I asked for his help on a problem I was having with Ripley. And he thought about it for a long time and then he came over to me and said, ‘What if you are the lens on… (and he named a sophisticated camera)… and you’re opening and shutting…’ And there was a long pause. Finally I said, ‘Ridley, I’ll have to think about it,’ And he looked crestfallen because he hadn’t helped me and he added, ‘Well, let me think too.’ He really wanted to be part of the process. But having me be the iris of a lens? I said, ‘That’s okay, Ridley. I’ll figure it out myself.’ And I did. But I loved him."
Alien: Covenant is the digital counterpart to the analogue original, remixing not only Alien and Prometheus but Blade Runner as well. It's the encapsulation of so many of the ideas and themes that Ridley Scott has fixated on throughout his career. It's clear that in this film Scott, who once compared Ripley to a lens, identifies most with his RED camera, sharing David's (Michael Fassbender) cold view of humanity.
Early on in the film, the ostensible heroine, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), wakes from a dream of building a log cabin in a new colony. It's a ridiculous, impractical, almost pitiable fantasy from the beginning. A disorientating cut to a serene forest view resolves in a pan, revealing that this image is nothing but an image on a screen. It's a simulacrum of nature in a stark, industrial cabin surrounded by the vacuum of space.
It's not that Scott (or David) is entirely dispassionate; both actually revel in visiting cruelty on the human characters, fascinated by their capacity for pain and their weak fleshy bodies. One set-piece (the best in the film) escalates through deliciously sadistic slapstick, clumsy and scared humans no match for the sleek, scuttling Neomorph. (Ash's "perfect organism" line from the original is echoed here.)
David / Scott play God, recreating and perfecting nature in their own (digital) image; in turn this image turns on its parent and devours it. For example, several sequences, such as the Neomorphs running through long grass, picked out by the green laser sights on the crew's rifles, have a distinct video game feel to them. (Aliens' influence is everywhere in modern games.)
At the same time, one byproduct of Scott's digital cinema is an almost complete lack of awe. Take your pick from references to Milton, Wagner and Shelly, not to mention H. R. Giger's Freudian, bio-mechanical designs (his artwork, or at least imitations, is directly featured). These images come with the illusion of infinite, lossless digital replication; they become common and no longer impress us, Scott, or David in the same way the Space Jockey did in Alien.
This is the part of the frustration David feels, what drives him to create, and maybe why, around his 80th birthday and shortly after extremely late reshoots to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World, Scott wants to step up to shooting three films a year. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
It's the end of cinema and the end of humanity as we know them; terrifying, but for David/Scott, fraught with possibilities.