Alien:Covenant is Ridley Scott’s homage to the late H.R. Giger
Watch Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World (2015) before you watch Alien: Covenant. Or, if you’ve already seen Covenant, watch Dark Star before you see Covenant again. Many have written that Covenant doesn’t make sense to them, but I interpret Covenant to be director Ridley Scott’s homage to Giger. The film makes perfect, beautiful sense when seen through this lens [SPOILERS FOR ALIEN: COVENANT FOLLOW]:
-I was worried, going into Covenant, that it would be the first Alien film after Giger’s death. I thought, “Oh no, will we see less of Giger’s work now that he has passed? Will we only have Giger’s designs of the Aliens themselves, and no more of his brilliant and terrifying art?” Fortunately, my concerns were completely unfounded. Covenant is chock bursting full of Giger’s work.
-When the crew of the Covenant meets David, he leads them into a large structure presumably built by the Engineers. The structure itself evokes Giger in every surface and curve, every hard edge and sinister swirl (credit to art director Damien Drew). If it is a temple, it is Scott’s temple to Giger. Far from emptying out the world of Alien of the artist’s guiding vision, Scott sets Alien:Covenant in Giger’s world.
-What we learn about the ten years between Prometheus and Covenant is that David has spent that decade experimenting with the design of the xenomorphs, making many, many drawings and sculptures, as well as actual Aliens of varying forms. In other words, David has become an artist, he has spent his time making art, and attempting to translate his artworks into reality, trying to give his designs life. In other words, David has become Giger: Giger who filled his home with his work, and who was asked by Scott to turn his sculptures into three-dimensional reality for the 1979 Alien film. If you watch the Dark Star documentary, you will see that Giger willingly, willfully, lived in a “dire necropolis” of his own making (this is what David calls the temple of the Engineers in which he has been dwelling and working: a “dire necropolis” – and keep in mind that the title of Giger’s work that Scott knew, on sight (perhaps shown to him by Dan O’Bannon?), would be the inspiration for the Alien, was Necronom IV, the title reminiscent of the word “necropolis.”)
-When we see David as a Giger-like figure, we can understand Covenant as a meditation on Giger’s creative power and artistic obsessions: What would drive someone to bring into being a world as dark and threatening, and a creature as terrifying, as Alien and the Alien? It is a question that Scott asks not only of David/Giger, but of himself, for Giger and Scott (of course with the input and collaboration and labor of many others) manifested this gorgeous nightmare in our reality together.
-When we see David as an avatar for Giger, we can also understand David’s fixation on, and murder of, Shaw through a detail of Giger’s life. One of Giger’s lovers and muses was Li Tobler, who lived with Giger and committed suicide at the age of 27. When you see Dark Star, you can see that Giger still loved her at the end of his life, loved her very deeply, though she died decades earlier. Some say that Tobler’s depression was exacerbated by living among Giger’s works. From this perspective, we can grasp that Shaw is a Tobler-figure to David. She is the beloved, lost muse whom the artist killed. She inspired the very art that ended her. (I do not mean to be facile about Tobler’s depression and suicide; I do not mean to suggest that Giger’s art definitively contributed to Tobler’s illness. I am only putting forward a poetic reading of the events of Tobler and Giger’s life together and of the narrative of Shaw and David.)
-I read Alien:Covenant as Scott’s museum and mausoleum for Giger’s great creative power and output, which has profoundly inspired Scott’s own creativity and bolstered and supported it to fantastic effect. Covenant is all about Giger, it is an homage and memorial to him. Scott’s love letter to his collaborator.
Damn, I really feel like I’ve been posting a lot of obituaries on this blog lately.
H.R. Giger didn’t have anything to do with the world of animation; but my love of it developed as a student of film and illustration first – both to which he’s very inspirational.
Through out his life Giger suffered from night terrors, and as a way of art therapy, he often kept a sketchbook next to his bed to document his tormentors. Much of the creature designs used in the Alien film series first came to be in these sketchbooks. It was his painting Necronom IV (second image pictured above), which was heavily influenced by his own nightmares, that initially inspired the look and feel of Ridley Scott’s Alien. As part of the design team on Alien, Giger won the 1980 Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects.
As an Illustrator, Giger’s work was heavily inspired by artists Salvador Dali, Ernst Fuchs, and quite possibly H.P Lovecraft. Giger described his work as being “Biomechanical.” His work was often filled with fetishistic sexual imagery, it was cold and dark, and explored the interconnected relationship between man and machine.
I can remember the first time seeing Giger’s work. It terrified me. It was complex, it was dark, it felt demonic… and it possessed me. I couldn’t get enough of it. I run an animation blog because I love the world and history of animation; but first and foremost I’m an Illustrator – and Giger’s work always has and will continue to influence me as an artist.