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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Entry of the Xenomorphs into Valhalla

Wagner and Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant
by Paul J. Pelkonen
"One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony."--Walter, Alien: Covenant

Piano android: Michael Fässbender in Alien: Covenant.
Photo © 2017 20th Century Fox.
The search for the meaning of mankind's existence may have inspired the creation of that greatest of operatic works, Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. It also is a central thread of Alien: Covenant, the new film in the Alien franchise that serves as a sequel to the 2012 Prometheus and as a lead-in to the original 1979 horror classic Alien. Unexpectedly, it starts with...Wagner.

The opening sequence film reintroduces characters from Prometheus: the android David (Michael Fassbender) built by the wealthy Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) as a personal servant, brilliant scientist and renaissance man whose body happens to be silicone, not flesh and blood. David is first shown in a large, sterile white room. His creator bids him to sit at the piano and play..."Wagner."

"What piece should I play?" David asks.

"Dealer's choice" is the response. David chooses a transcription of the "Entry of the Gods into Valhalla" from Das Rheingold. He plays a bit and then stops. Weyland comments: "It loses something without the orchestra," or words to that effect.

Alien: Covenant is a white-knuckle ride, the story of a group of interplanetary settlers looking to start a new life on an alien world. Their ship, the Covenant is damaged by a freak interstellar occurence and they intercept a signal. Investigating, they discover a fertile planet with one odd feature: abundant plants but a total absence of animal life. They find a crashed ship, and soon the crew of fifteen are running for their lives.

They also find David, the android from the opening. Having survived the horrific injuries he suffered in Prometheus, he has gained knowledge of even more horrific alien secrets of molecular biology. In this film (spoilers ahead) David is now a kind of intergalactic Dr. Moreau (or Mengele) building horrors with the help of the "black goo" biological weapon that featured heavily in Prometheus. His ultimate achievement: the creature that Alien fans have come to know as the "xenomorph", the biomechanical horror whose life cycle comes at the cost of a human host used for gestation.

Without getting too deeply into the plot (and the spoilers), the last scene of the film features a return of Wagner's music, a Naxos recording of the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla. It is most fitting, not only for a movie about a would-be creator bringing horrors into this world, but about a character, David, who is as flawed and full of hubris as Wotan himself. One can only speculate if he will meet some sort of apotheosis in the next film, which may appear by the end of this decade. 

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats