This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
NB: This article contains copious Prometheus and Alien: Covenant spoilers.
If you’ve seen Alien: Covenant, then you’ll know by now that it’s a very different beast from its predecessor, Prometheus. Where the last Alien prequel was as stately as an ocean-going liner, Covenant moves about like an out-of-control racing car. Once all the atmosphere-building’s out of the way and the latest ship full of explorers lands on the ironically-named planet, Paradise, things go wrong with breathtaking speed.
In essence, it’s the story of humans – led by the resourceful Daniels (Katherine Waterstone) – versus the crazed synthetic scientist David (Michael Fassbender, with his accents) and an army of ghoulish monsters. There’s copious blood, teeth and ooze, and more than a few lingering questions to address.
Wait, so the xenomorph came about because of an android with daddy issues?
It’s certainly looking that way, yes. Alien: Covenant‘s opening scene is essentially a posh version of those “Previously on Murder She Wrote” intros we sometimes get on television. We go right back to the moment David (a returning Michael Fassbender) first wakes up in the minimalist offices of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, without the heaps of makeup this time).
Weyland initially pays lip-service to a paternal relationship with David (“I am your father…”) before revealing himself to be a distinctly cold and distant parent. As David begins asking questions about the nature of human mortality, Weyland sharply puts the synthetic in his place: “Pour me a cup of tea” he says, dismissively.
It’s at this moment that David realizes his own superiority as a creation – unlike Weyland, David can potentially live forever – and his status as slave. The scene does much to explain why David ultimately turns against his maker and the human race in general; he doesn’t want to serve an inferior species, so he’s using the Engineers’ black goo to perfect a race of beings after his own image.
After that, we’re off into deep space to meet the crew of the colonial ship, Covenant.
James Franco didn’t last long, did he?
No, he didn’t. We weren’t expecting Franco to appear in the film for more than a few minutes – otherwise, why wasn’t he in the trailers? What we weren’t expecting was that he’d be burned to death before he could even get out of his cryopod.
It’s not even what you’d call a “Janet Leigh in Psycho” moment – we were still trying to figure out who it was in the pod when the fire broke out. It was only later, when we saw her bereaved other half Daniels (Katherine Waterston) weeping over her Quicktime videos that we realised it was Franco.
Franco and Danny McBride have made a few movies together, so our best guess is that Franco just showed up on set for a couple of days as a favour. Or maybe he had a few early scenes that were later edited out. Whatever happened, it’s certainly one of the weirder cameos we’ve seen in a recent film.
Elizabeth Shaw was into John Denver?
So it seems. And by extension, we owe the deaths of about a dozen Covenant crewmembers – and, potentially, thousands of colonists in cryosleep – to the siren call of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) singing Take Me Home, Country Roads.
The movie gives Shaw short shrift, doesn’t it?
It really does. Having provided so much of the focus for the story in Prometheus, she’s unceremoniously offed before Alien: Covenant even begins. Aside from a brief appearance in a prologue video for the sequel, Noomi Rapace barely figures at all. All we see of her in the film itself is in a single, blood-curdling shot: her eviscerated body lying on a table, reduced to just another specimen in David’s chamber of horrors.
It’s karma, we suppose, for being foolish enough to stitch David’s head back on again; or maybe her murder was David’s revenge for singing John Denver songs all the time…
Why did David kill the Engineers on Paradise?
At present, we can only fill in the blanks. In the prologue mentions above, David says he spent months prowling around the stolen Juggernaut – one of the ships belonging to the Engineers – and gradually learned more of the aliens’ history.
Maybe he learned something disturbing about them in the process, and decided they deserved to die. Or, more likely, he’d become bent on creating his own species at this point, and knew that releasing the pathogen would provide the means of subjugating their planet and clearing the way for his experiments. David does say something to the effect that to create, one must first destroy.
At what point did the black goo become airborne?
We’re guessing the canisters stored in the Juggernauts are a weaponised version of the black goo, which floats about in the air rather than oozes out as a liquid. It’s this substance that David experiments with on Paradise, which leads to those puffball-type lifeforms which infect humans and cause them to give birth to those pale, skinny Neomorphs.
These space explorers sure are clumsy, aren’t they?
Very. Which is lucky for David. If the human characters in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant wore space helmets and stopped poking the local flora, they’d all live a heck of a lot longer.
What’s with all the allusions to old poems?
Just as Alien contained allusions to Joseph Conrad, Ridley Scott’s prequel films tap into the literature and art of the Gothic and Romantic movement. Prometheus makes several references to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (its subtitle is The Modern Prometheus, and David is very much a Frankenstein’s monster-type creation).
In Alien: Covenant, David quotes the poem Ozymandias, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley – Mary’s husband. You’ll also find references to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Richard Wager’s operas, plus a scene modelled closely on a famous painting by artist Arnold Bocklin. Like Alien designer HR Giger, Bocklin was a Swiss painter, and Giger even painted his own version of Bocklin’s best-known piece, The Isle Of The Dead.
Through all these references, Scott and his team of writers appear to be creating their own grand mythology, akin to the heavenly wars in Paradise Lost or the wars between mortals and gods in Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Prometheus and Alien: Covenant deal with the origins of life, death, humans and aliens – all mixed up with a lot of blood, teeth, tentacles and flutes.
Yeah, what is it with Ridley Scott and flutes?
If only we knew. You may remember the curious scene in Prometheus where it’s revealed that you need to play a melody on a flute to activate the Engineers’ ships. Well, those flutes are back with a vengeance in Alien: Covenant.
(We should pause here to make an aside. The instruments we see in Alien: Covenant are, strictly speaking, recorders, but they belong to the same family of instruments as the internal duct flute, and back in the 18th century, recorders were still described as flutes.)
Our guess is that, in the universe according to Prometheus, the flute was the Engineers’ gift to humanity when they created us millennia ago. With flutes discovered by real-world archaeologists dating back 43,000 years, it’s thought that the flute is the oldest instrument in our culture.
In the Alien prequel universe, the flute therefore represents humanity’s awakening from savage beast to creative force – because what could be more creative than taking the bone of a dead animal and turning it into a musical instrument? David may be doing some horrifying things in his lab on Paradise, but in his mind, he’s just following the same creative instincts as his human ancestors.
If we can be less pretentious for a minute, putting flutes in Alien: Covenant also gives Michael Fassbender the chance to utter such chortle-inducing lines as, “Here, let me help you with your fingering.”
How did David actually make those eggs?
We’re assuming he used a combination of Elizabeth Shaw’s slumbering body, remains of Engineers and the animals mutated by the black goo (or pathogen) to gradually evolve a creature capable of laying the eggs. With that out of the way, David just had to wait for some passing visitors to drop by in order to see whether they worked or not.
Doesn’t the Alien lifecycle run rather quickly in this film?
It does. When you think back to 1979’s Alien, and how long the Facehugger remained attached to Kane’s face, it’s startling how quickly things gestate in Alien: Covenant. The speed with which the Chestburster mutates from its newborn state to full-grown xenomorph also struck us as a bit disappointing; it’s already a spindy, shiny-toothed homunculus before it’s even leapt from Billy Crudup’s defiled corpse.
To be fair, Ridley Scott’s only following the compressed lifecycle we’ve seen in later Alien sequels, like the abortive Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem, where Chestbursters emerged from their victims in what felt like minutes. All the same, the process of impregnation, gestation and birth felt conspicuously rushed in Covenant. We’ll put it down to Scott wanting to keep the pace of his story motoring.
The xenomorph doesn’t really act like a xenomorph, does it?
The monsters in Alien: Covenant‘s third act certainly look close to the ones in Aliens (certainly more so than the slightly translucent horror in Alien) but their movements feel very different. Less stealthy and intelligent, somehow. It was odd to see the xenomorph simply stride into view on two feet during the final showdown between Daniels and Tennessee. As the xenomorph walked through the mist of an airlock door, it brought to mind a contestant walking out onto the stage in the ITV show, Stars In Their Eyes.
Maybe it’s a sign that David hasn’t quite perfected his predatory lifeform just yet.
Was it David who somehow created the “Neutrino burst” that kicked off Alien: Covenant‘s events?
We were waiting for this twist to arise. Let’s face it, the ship being hit by a damaging blast just at the right point in space where it could receive a signal from Paradise seems mighty convenient. The Engineers also seem like the kind of race that could perfect a device capable of triggering such an event, and we were a little surprised that it was never mentioned later in the film.
We’d assumed that David would explain to Walter how he’d deliberately lured the crew of the Covenant to his planet so he could impregnate them and so forth.
It’s just possible that Scott’s leaving this thread dangling for a future film. If Daniels finds out that her other half (you know, James Franco) was killed by David’s antics, it would certainly give her a reason to hate the renegade synthetic.
The David-is-Walter twist. Why didn’t Daniels and Tennessee figure that out in time?
We certainly figured it out pretty quickly. They were probably so convinced by the missing hand and the iffy American accent that they just accepted David’s disguise at face value. It’s a shame, really, that the movie didn’t do a better job of misdirecting us so we didn’t guess what David was up to. Or was it just us who saw through his ruse?
Hey, we ask the questions here.
We’ll let it slide this one time. So were those deliberate references to Blade Runner?
We’d say they had to be. The nail looked very like the one Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) shoved through his hand at the end of Blade Runner. David’s “That’s the spirit!” line was a direct quote from Batty, too. Both Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner share the common theme of synthetic humans being treated as slaves. It’s another fun link between Alien and Blade Runner to go with others we’ve seen in the past. Who knows whether we’ll see more in the future.
That was some cliffhanger. What’s going to happen next?
Your guess is as good as ours. David could land on Origae-6 with his Alien embryos and frozen humans, and then start his experiments back up again. Then another bunch of clumsy explorers could show up in their ominously-titled ship (The USCSS Titanic, the USCSS Fucked, take your pick), get impregnated, and so on. If he wanted to, Ridley Scott could keep making these films forever.
Alternatively, we’re hoping another event springs Daniels and Tennessee from their sleep before David can fraternise with them, and they can then do battle with the synthetic and his army of abominations while Weyland Yutani and Engineer ships close in, desperate to get their clutches on the precious xenomorph eggs.
That’d be fun. Would you like me to play you some John Denver tunes on this flute I just found?