Well, here we are. After walking this Earth for thirty-something years having never seen (or even heard all that much about) a single ALIEN movie, I’ve finally come to the last one in my watch-through, 2017’s Alien: Covenant. Maybe the future will give us more ALIEN movies — and if so, you can rest assured I’ll be writing about them — but for now, this is the end of the line.
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to experience these movies with me, whether you’re a lifelong fan or a first-time viewer like me. I’ve definitely enjoyed the journey, even if a few of the movies have been, shall we say, a little more bumpy than others.
What do you think, should I continue this series at some point with other movies? It doesn’t have to be a long-running classic series. For example, just throwing this out there: I’ve never seen Jaws.
Anyway, once you finish reeling from that stunning revelation, let’s wrap up the ALIEN series with Alien: Covenant.
If you need to catch up on the previous installments in this series, you can do so here:
ALIEN: COVENANT (2017)
Unlike the last couple films, I have some major theories about this one, due largely to an idea that I had while engaging in a Facebook discussion on my Prometheus post. A friend of mine commented that he suspected that most of the overly ambitious and unsuccessful elements of Prometheus were due to writer Damon Lindelof, and his subscription to the J.J. Abrams “mystery box” model of storytelling, which involves presenting the audience with a series of puzzles early on, and using the questions those puzzles evoke to provide most of the narrative momentum in the story.
My friend posited that Lindelof was probably the one responsible for things like the black goo and the Engineers — providing pieces no one was asking for, to a puzzle that, until this movie, didn’t even exist. Which is a solid theory that fits with Lindelof’s overall body of work, and for all I know, he may be right.
But I’m not so sure that Lindelof should take the blame (or credit) for all of Prometheus’s weirder elements. I mentioned in my last post that I noticed that Prometheus closely mirrors the structure of the original Alien, which, until he returned for these prequels, was the only time Ridley Scott has gotten his hands on this franchise. I’d heard that Scott wasn’t pleased with the sequels to his film, and it got me wondering whether he was intending his prequels to be a sort of soft-reboot of the series, enabling him to finally take this story in the direction he’d wanted it to go all along.
This was my comment on Facebook:
If the feel he was going for (and I’m still convinced that Ridley Scott is all about sensation over substance) was for the audience, along with the characters in the movie, to encounter something that threw them completely off-balance, then he couldn’t just go with the traditional xenomorphs, because that would allow the audience to be a step ahead of the characters. We’ve already seen xenomorphs and know pretty well how they work. The only way to give the audience that same confused experience is to throw something totally unexpected and foreign at us, leaving us with absolutely no idea what to expect. I feel like the fact that the structure of the plot mirrors the original so closely is probably further evidence of this — like he was trying to recreate the experience of seeing Alien for the first time for an audience who had already SEEN Alien, likely multiple times. If so, then the intent was good, just a bit too ambitious, I think.
That got me thinking… if Scott was trying to use Prometheus as a way to reset the series and deliver the Alien experience to both new and old fans alike, with all its scares and mysteries still intact, unmarred by the sequels… then wouldn’t it stand to reason that with Alien: Covenant, he’d try to do the sequel he’d always wanted to do for Alien?
So I looked it up, and although articles about Scott’s vision for the ALIEN franchise before he’d seen any of the sequels are a little hard to come by, I did find this one, which includes his thoughts from 1984 about what he believed should be included in an Alien sequel.
“It certainly should explain what the Alien is and where it comes from,” he told Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies in 1984. “That will be tough because it will require dealing with other planets, worlds, civilisations. Because obviously the Alien did come from some sort of civilisation. The Alien was presented, really, as one of the last survivors of Mars – a planet named after the god of war. The Alien may be one of the last descendants of some long-lost self-destructed group of beings.”
Ridley also explained to Cinefantastique that “’in many respects it’ll be more interesting [than the first movie], from a pure science-fiction stand point. We’d get into speculative areas, deal with two civilisations.”
Sound familiar? Not only does Prometheus parallel the plot of Alien, with new creatures and a new mythology that leaves the audience just as much in the dark as the characters, but it sets up the sequel that Scott had been envisioning for more than three decades. By introducing the black goo and the Engineers, Prometheus lays groundwork to explore every one of the themes Scott thought a sequel needed to address, from the origins of the Alien, to the idea of a long-lost civilization, to the implication that they self-destructed sometime in the past.
So what does this mean for Alien: Covenant? Well, to take Scott at his word, it will be more speculative and sci-fi, digging into new civilizations in a way that Alien could not. When asked about what sorts of things Scott wished he could’ve added into the first movie, he said:
“There were no speculative scenes or discussions about what the Alien was and all that sort of thing either. I believe that audiences love those, especially if they’re well done. They give the threat much more weight. If they make Alien II, and if I have anything to do with it, the film will certainly have those elements in it. From a certain point of view, Alien II could be more interesting than Alien I.”
He keeps using the word “interesting” to describe what he wants out of an Alien sequel, which I’m interpreting as having a more cerebral feel instead of horror, since it’s not like the first movie was exactly boring. So while Covenant will likely still include its fair share of thrills and scares — after all, those are a staple of the franchise by now — I don’t anticipate it mimicking the action-fueled carnage of Aliens or the slasher-movie chaos of Alien³ or Resurrection.
However, while I feel like reading Scott’s words from 1984 adds a lot of insight into what he initially wanted out of an Alien sequel, I’d be remiss not to consider that he made Covenant in 2017, not 1984, and despite what he thought about the sequels, he still had to acknowledge the fact that they exist. So as much as I think I’m onto something by predicting that Covenant will be the Alien sequel he always wished he’d been able to make, and will still be exploring the same themes he expressed an interest in back in the ’80s, I’m wondering if he may have pivoted on the specifics of those themes.
Specifically, I’m wondering whether his desire to explore new civilizations through a more sci-fi lens might not be about aliens at all, but about androids.
Prometheus ended with a human, Shaw, and an android, David, flying off together on an alien ship to go find the home planet of the Engineers (and, presumably, the xenomorphs). And while it’s easy to assume that the civilization that Covenant will be exploring is that of the Engineers, I can’t ignore that not only was David the most interesting (and often infuriating) character in Prometheus, but that the existing ALIEN movies point to androids eventually becoming an entire civilization in their own right. In Resurrection, we learn through Winona Ryder’s character that although humans abandoned the android technology, the androids themselves continued to create and improve upon their own designs, to the point where one could make a case that the androids become the ones who are ultimately the most humane, while the humans devolve into savage, ruthless animals.
Alien ended with Ripley escaping the devastation of the Nostromo and flying alone (well, alone with a cat) out into the vastness of space. Prometheus, the updated, rebooted, shadow-version of Alien, ends with its Ripley proxy, Shaw, escaping the devastation of LV-223 and flying out into the vastness of space as well, but this time, she’s not alone — she’s bringing David (or at least, David’s head) along with her. And not just bringing him; he’s the one actually flying the ship.
In a story that adheres so closely to the original, any deviation seems significant, and it feels very telling that Prometheus gave so much more time to David’s development and motivation than the original ever gave to Ash, allowing him to survive the events of the film even though Ash was destroyed. My guess is that the evolution of the androids into their own culture was the one element of the original sequels that fascinated Scott, and that he’s amended his original sequel plan to focus on not only an actual alien civilization, but on the beginnings of a different kind of alien civilization as well, one that humanity is directly responsible for creating.
Worth noting, too, are the hints in Prometheus (such as the DNA mapping) that despite their current hostility toward humanity, the Engineers were actually the ones responsible for creating humanity, implying an ongoing cycle of creation and destruction that, if left unchecked, humans and androids may be doomed to repeat. The relationship between creation and destruction, and how both may be essential in order for life to exist and evolve, seems like the sort of “interesting” sci-fi concept that Scott would be eager to explore, even if his hands are somewhat tied by the events of the existing ALIEN films.
But I’ve now prattled on with theories and predictions for nearly 1,700 words, and I haven’t even pressed play on the movie yet, so I suppose it’s time to stop talking and actually watch this thing. See you on the other side.
Watching the movie:
- Opening with David. Which means he’s probably going to be the main character, which is unsurprising given how fascinated Prometheus was with him.
- Oh so THIS is why they cast Guy Pearce, so that he could be young in this movie. Quite the long game, Ridley Scott.
- “If you created me, who created you?” Banking on this to be the theme of the movie, which would be in line with that 1984 interview.
- David is already challenging Weyland, wondering why he has to be subservient to a human if he will be the one to outlive the human. This will definitely come back around.
- Nice call back to the original with the opening title.
- Oooooooh wait so there’s a SECOND Fassbenderbot named Walter? INTERESTING.
- Also the ship named Mother is back, which, come to think of it, probably ties into the creation theme that it seems like Scott wished he’d been able to explore in Alien.
- I enjoy that Fassbender has altered his voice and body language for Walter. It’s subtle but effective.
- This ship and the tech on board looks a lot closer to what was in the original. Like Prometheus had to make a point to be its own thing, but now that it’s done that, this one is freer to tie into the existing movies?
- Whoa, the guy who burned up in the pod was James Franco? They killed James Franco right at the beginning? That’s unexpected.
- I count… five women, I think? That’s refreshing. Here’s hoping more than one of them gets to act like an actual person.
- Hmmmm interesting wrinkle about The Company not trusting a person of faith to lead a mission. That definitely will add a fun new layer to this movie if, as I suspect, the whole thing winds up being about creation and destruction.
- Ooooooh what’s happening in his space suit, it looks like the white noise projections in the cave in Prometheus? Is it the Engineers?
- It sounds like… singing. Is it Shaw, singing to herself? Are they about to intercept Shaw and The Head of David?
- First rule of sci-fi, guys, if the planet you’re scanning seems too good to be true, it definitely is. Seemingly idyllic planets are pretty much always death traps.
- Is this the planet where the Engineer disintegrated into the water at the beginning of Prometheus? I realize that “mountains and water” aren’t much in the way of evidence, but even so, I’m going to go with yes.
- Going off alone to smoke on an alien world = this guy’s going to be the first one to die.
- I’m guessing these tiny dust spores he just upset (which then flew into his ear and burrowed in his skin) are some variation of the black goo? Soon he’s going to get a worm in his eye.
- Crashed alien ship! So now the big question is, it is Shaw’s ship, or an Engineer’s ship? (My money is on Shaw.)
- And now a second dude is messing with the spores. Perhaps… masks might have been a good idea for the first time poking around an alien planet?
- Hey, it’s Shaw’s dogtags!
- So she recorded a transmission of herself singing “Country Roads?” Interesting choice.
- Probably not a good sign that he’s vomiting blood all over that woman.
- “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!” [immediately touches everything]
- I’d be a little more sympathetic to Faris refusing to let the other woman out due to quarantine procedures if she herself wasn’t likely already infected.
- That xenomorph has SPIKES on it. (So, the spores are definitely another form of the black goo.)
- Oh man, this is SO BLOODY.
- Dang, the entire shuttle just exploded. Which would at least have contained the xenomorph problem, except this other guy is about to erupt.
- Oh and it didn’t even kill the first one.
- Yup, there he goes.
- Here comes the xenomorph, attacking through the tall grass like a scene out of Congo.
- Man, these tiny xenomorphs are VICIOUS.
- IS THAT DAVID.
- YES IT IS.
- When/where did he get a body? I’m not surprised that Shaw didn’t last ten years on this planet, but this is a fun twist.
- Whaaaaaaat is this creepy field of burned bodies that David has led them to? And who were these people, because they don’t look tall enough to be Engineers. Although I guess it’s hard to tell when they’re all shriveled up like this.
- Wait, so if Elizabeth was killed in the crash, when did she record that transmission? I feel like he’s lying about this, because she had to be the one to build his body. Although I guess there’s a possibility that she built it en route to the planet, before the crash.
- Why does David’s hair grow? Seems impractical for an android.
- Also why is NO ONE mentioning that David looks exactly like Walter? Do they not realize it or are Fassbenderbots just so common that no one bats an eye?
- Did David synthetically grow his hair out just so we could look on as he gave himself The Very Worst Haircut?
- …Why is David’s hair brown now, it was blonde in Prometheus and it doesn’t make sense that he’d be designed with hair follicles that change color. Did he change it on purpose so that he’d look more similar to Walter? Is he going to wind up switching places with Walter for some reason? To betray the crew?
- I do not trust David at all.
- David is now probing at the limits of Walter’s programming, criticizing that he’s not allowed to create anything. CREATION. AND. DESTRUCTION. *maniacal laugh* I still am not sure exactly how this movie is about these things, but I’m certain that it is.
- Oh interesting, a flashback to the civilization of Engineers.
- WAIT WHAT, David NUKED them with the black goo???? THAT’S HOW THEY ALL DIED?
- Also wheeeeere are all those xenomorphs that erupted out of the Engineers?
- He probably killed Shaw too, didn’t he?
- But WHY? What is David’s endgame here?
- Here’s that Superman-esque theme again, which definitely is beginning to feel like David’s Theme of Self-Actualization.
- WHAT. IS. THAT. FACELESS. THING.
- Man, so much CGI blood in this movie. So, so much.
- Head in the water. Gross.
- That thing looks like the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth.
- David’s reaction to Oram killing the faceless xenomorph was… bizarrely emotional. Is he some sort of xenomorph whisperer? Is that why we haven’t seen the hundreds (thousands?) that were created when he killed the Engineers — is he herding them somewhere?
- Well crap, David’s got a room full of wormy urns and weird vials.
- HE. DESIGNED. THE. XENOMORPHS.
- The idea that the facehuggers and the xenomorphs were genetically engineered by David based on his ten years of experiments with the black goo and the many varieties of proto-xenomorphs NEVER CROSSED MY MIND. Holy cow, what a reveal.
- Don’t put your FACE in the EGG, Oram, what are you THINKING?
- Why is the chestburster… dancing?
- Wait… who does David have dissected on the table? It looks like Shaw crossed with an Engineer. (Really, it looks like Noomi Rapace’s character in Bright, but we’re going to pretend I haven’t seen Bright.)
- Yup, here’s that creation and destruction theme getting fully realized, along with talk of civilization.
- Uh, this Fassbender-on-Fassbender kiss is… odd.
- Aaaaand there goes Walter. Man, I knew David was going to kill him eventually, but I still jumped a mile.
- Now he’s definitely going to assume his identity, right? The good ol’ switcharoo trope.
- ACID BLOOD, ACID BLOOD, OH NO.
- THERE’S the classic xenomorph.
- STOP. KISSING. PEOPLE. DAVID. Once this is over and I have time to think, I’m definitely going to need to do some unpacking of how David’s version of “creation” inevitably involves revoking consent from people he “loves.”
- WALTER, YOU’RE ALIVE.
- “There’s been a few updates since your day.” Ahhhahahaha excellent.
- Very much enjoying this Fassbender vs. Fassbender smackdown.
- Crap, it’s definitely David on the ship with them, not Walter, isn’t it.
- Wheeeeee finally good CGI xenomorphs! Only took 38 years.
- Awww, this movie has an alien vs. giant mechanical claw fight too! Scott must have liked something about the sequels after all.
- That xenomorph just EXPLODED, how was Danny not sprayed with acid blood?
- You can even TELL that it’s David, because his hair has always had a little more body than Walter’s. WAKE UP, PEOPLE.
- Random “Phantom of the Opera” joke, definitely wasn’t expecting that.
- Wow, he even chopped off his hand to make himself look like Walter, how very The Prestige of him.
- Danny and Tennessee are being a little too glib about the fact that she’s captain now, considering how many people just died in order for that to become a reality.
- Welp, they’re totally going to get killed in the shower. (This movie was doing so well with not objectifying its women, and then suddenly… random naked shower scene.)
- “Walter” is so far doing everything they’ve asked him to do, but I’m super convinced that he’s really David, just waiting for the opportune moment to… do something. Still not sure what. But I feel like it’s got to feed into how The Company learns about the xenomorphs and keeps sending people back for them.
- Where… did she just jump?
- So Walter/David behaved admirably that whole time, and now I’m thinking it’s because he wanted them to all go back into cryosleep, giving him control of the ship. But to what end?
- YUP, THERE IT IS. Man, he’s gonna give her cryosleep nightmares now.
- David playing the entry music of the gods into Valhalla as he plays God with the colonists and the xenomorphs is a wee bit on the nose, but I’m okay with it.
Whew, what a ride (and by that, I mean both this movie individually and the series as a whole). I feel like there was a ton to unpack with Covenant, and honestly, the morning after seeing it, I’m still working through what a lot of it means.
This movie was definitely a return to form as far as the scares were concerned. This was by far the most tense and frightening ALIEN movie since Aliens, by and large managing to sidestep the predictability and repetitiveness of the later sequels. Although, as Scott himself predicted way back in 1984, it wasn’t just a horror movie, but layered in quite a bit of meaty sci-fi questions to chew on about creation, destruction, autonomy, evolution, and the definition and meaning of life itself. I can see how throwing all this stuff into an ALIEN movie may have turned off some fans, but since I’ve personally been clamoring for the series to grow beyond its horror roots for several movies now, I really liked the addition of the cerebral wrangling on top of the monster-movie thrills.
Overall, I think most of my theories from earlier in the post turned out to be pretty close, although Scott spent less time exploring the civilization of the Engineers than I expected, and instead decided to focus almost exclusively on the evolution of David. I was also right on this film exploring themes of creation and destruction, and how both are necessary in order for life to exist, although I hadn’t expected those themes to take center stage nearly as much as they did.
I definitely enjoyed this movie the most of any of them since Aliens. It still fell into some of the shallow characterization traps that have plagued the franchise since the beginning, but as a whole, I thought it struck a good balance between suspense, action, intellectualism, and interesting character moments. This was also the first film to truly surprise me in a significant way, with the reveal that David was the one responsible for genetically engineering the “original” xenomorphs, without the twist feeling cheap or forced.
Of course, I still have a lot of questions, as this film was clearly left open-ended for more sequels/prequels, but I feel like it accomplished pretty much everything it set out to do, and did it well. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I feel like despite the mixed critical and audience reception, that both Prometheus and Covenant have reinvigorated the franchise and taken the first steps on an exciting new path.
I still desperately would like a woman to step in as director/writer for a future installment, since there hasn’t been a single ALIEN movie thus far that’s managed to completely avoid sexist tropes, which is especially problematic for a franchise that has consistently had female protagonists. I’m not sure how likely that is to actually happen, considering it sounds like Ridley Scott would like to keep making ALIEN movies until he drops dead, but I’m hopeful that in today’s cultural climate, where more and more frequently, women are permitted to helm their own stories, he might eventually be persuaded to hand over the reins to a woman.
But for now, we’ve come to the end of the road. I hope you’ve had as much fun following my journey through these movies as I have writing about them. If/when there’s another ALIEN movie in the future, I’d love to pick this series back up, although in that case, I’d probably post my predictions in advance of the film’s release and then do an analysis and review afterward, similar to what we did with InfinityWar.