Alien: Covenant – What’s It All About?

As the Prometheus sequel gets another title, we try to answer the questions it raises. So Alien: Covenant - what’s that all about?

When the final credits rolled on Ridley Scott’s Prometheus in 2012, the cloying sensation was not of wondrous, terrifying stories still to be told, but of writers having just painted themselves into a corner.

We watched as Noomi Rapace’s wide-eyed space archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw blasted off in a commandeered alien ship, her stated aim being to find the home planet of the Engineers. Her only companion on the journey was a severed head belonging to David (Michael Fassbender), a character she enjoyed a fractious relationship with, to say the least.

The galactic adventures of an archaeologist and her pet severed head doesn’t, at least to our ears, sound like the most exciting premise for a sequel. And even Prometheus’ fan-baiting final shot, that of a familiar-looking alien foetus emerging from the broad chest of a dead Engineer, seemed like something of a dead-end. By this point, the gloomy planet LV-223 was now deserted. Until another hapless crew of neurotics arrived, this awkward-looking Starbeast would have nothing to do but sit around and twiddle its greasy thumbs.

Nevertheless, Scott’s pursuing a sequel to Prometheus with renewed enthusiasm, no doubt buoyed by the critical and financial success of The Martian. During the press tour for that film, Scott revealed what at the time appeared to be the sequel’s official (and presumably final) title – Alien: Paradise Lost.

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In the months since, however, word broke that John Logan, best known recently for his screenwriting on Skyfall and Spectre, was to rework the original script by Jack Paglen and Michael Green. The process of that rewrite appears to have also resulted in a change to the title; on the 16th November, Fox announced that Scott’s Prometheus sequel will now be called Alien: Covenant.

To go with the announcement, Fox also put out an official synopsis. If you haven’t read it already, here it is:

Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created in ALIEN with ALIEN: COVENANT, the second chapter in a prequel trilogy that began with PROMETHEUS – and connects directly to Scott’s 1979 seminal work of science fiction. Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world — whose sole inhabitant is the “synthetic” David (Michael Fassbender), survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.

Naturally, all of this raises lots of questions. Why the name change? What is the significance of the word Covenant in the title? Why is David mentioned by name in the synopsis but not Shaw? For that matter, who put David back together?

Based on the information we’ve gleaned from interviews with Scott, plus a bit of our own theorising, here are our attempts to answer some of these questions.

Where’s Elizabeth Shaw?

As soon as Prometheus ended, it seemed inevitable that another crew full of explorers would turn up eventually. After all, the Weyland Yutani Corporation did lose its ageing CEO – not to mention an expensive ship and its crew – in that ill-fated expedition. In an interview with Awards Campaign, Scott recently revealed that a second crew would indeed be coming along in the Prometheus sequel; he described “a new group of travelers in the beginning of the second act.”

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As for Shaw, she seems to still be in the story as far as Scott’s concerned. In that same October interview, he reaffirmed that Shaw and David have headed off to “the planet of the Engineers,” and that the second crew will come along later.

Who puts David back together?

According to Scott, it’s Shaw who puts David back together – perhaps as something to do on their potentially long journey to the planet of the Engineers:

“…it continues after the last one, where Elizabeth Shaw says, ‘I wanna go where they came from,’” Scott told Yahoo. “And you’ve got Michael Fassbender in two parts, so she’ll slowly put him back together. They will go to the world of the Engineer.”

Given that the synopsis describes David as the “sole inhabitant” of the mysterious planet, it could be that either Shaw and David are separated once the latter’s repaired. Or that Shaw meets a grim fate on the Engineer’s home planet. Or, equally likely, David reverts to type and does something nasty to Shaw…

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Which planet will Alien: Covenant be set on?

Putting all the bits of information together, we’d guess that the crew of the colony ship Covenant visit LV-223 first, perhaps at the behest of Weyland Yutani. Perhaps picking among the remains of the Prometheus, they somehow pick up the trail left by Shaw and David. The synopsis makes it clear that the crew of the Covenant wind up on the same planet as David – most likely, the Engineer homeworld Shaw was hoping to find.

That the end of Prometheus was at pains to show us a new, early ancestor to the Alien suggests that it’ll return in the sequel; does this mean that the crew of the Covenant stop off at LV-223 just long enough to accidentally let the Deacon (as the creature’s dubbed) clamber aboard? It certainly seems likely.

Which leads us to…

What creatures will we see in the sequel?

According to Scified’s sources, there will be two kinds of alien in Alien: Covenant. One is said to be an existing design – which seems to indicate that the pointy-headed Deacon will indeed return, while the other is an entirely new monster we’ve never seen before. This creature, the website’s contact continues, will be based on an abandoned “Ultramorph” concept planned in an early draft of Prometheus (Alien: Engineers) but later dropped.

In a version of the script written by Jon Spaihts, the Ultramorph was an alien born from an Engineer, and because of its origin, grew to a huge size – around 16 feet tall. That script also took place in a very different location – one immediately recognisable to Alien fans: LV-426, the location made face in the original 1979 film. Could this be the “dark, dangerous world” indicated in the Alien: Covenant synopsis? It doesn’t seem likely, given the planet’s barren nature, but it seems all but certain that one of the sequels will take us back there eventually.

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Of course, the use of the Ultramorph will have to be a rumor for now, but what we do know is that Scott’s still resisting the temptation to reintroduce Giger’s original Alien design in the Prometheus sequel. While talking enigmatically about “getting away from gods and dragons and shit,” Scott had this to say to The Australian:

“The alien’s real which is why it’s probably one of the scariest monsters in film history. So with Prometheus 2 what I’m trying to do is reintroduce a fresher form of alien in the third act.”

Why was it called Alien: Paradise Lost in the first place?

From the very beginning of the Prometheus project, Scott seemed fascinated with the idea of exploring mythological and religious themes. His proposed Alien prequel went through all kinds of name changes in its production, including Alien: Engineers and Paradise. That Scott was widely using the title Alien: Paradise Lost suggests that he’s still drawing on John Milton’s epic poem for his next film.

So what is Scott taking from Paradise Lost? Well, in our interview with him in September – and in interviews with other outlets, to be fair – Scott spoke cryptically of the poem’s depiction of Satan as a charismatic and generally mad, bad and dangerous to know character:

The handsome guy gets all the fun and all the girls, doesn’t he? And he’s the evil son of a bitch! He’s the good-looking one who gets all the girls and goes to all the nightclubs. The good one is kind of dull and depressing! [Laughs] So in a funny sort of way, it touches on that. It’s too simplistic to call the bad element in [Alien: Paradise Lost] evil, but it’s closer to answering the question, who and why would any being create such a monster, and for what reason? There was a reason for that, right?

Milton’s Paradise Lost describes, in part, the heavenly battle between God and Satan and their respective followers. In the battle, Satan’s defeated and cast into Hell (or Tartarus), and there, vows to corrupt God’s newly-created Earth.

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Applying this template to the freaky theory of the universe set out in Prometheus could provide the key to what Scott’s up to, both in the prequel and the other two films he has planned. Scott actually made the connection clear between the Engineers we see in Prometheus and the “dark angels” of Milton’s Paradise Lost way back in 2012.

“In a funny kind of way, if you look at the Engineers, they’re tall and elegant … they are dark angels,” Scott told Indiewire. “If you look at [John Milton’s] Paradise Lost, the guys who have the best time in the story are the dark angels, not God.”

So if the Engineers in Prometheus are dark angels, does this mean that Shaw and her crew unwittingly stumbled on the aftermath of a war between one faction of these porcelain-white aliens and another? You may recall that Janek (Idris Elba) described LV-223 as a kind of military outpost. We could suppose that the Engineers here are a warrior class, with their ships and containers of deadly space goo, and that the planet Shaw’s travelling to is the planet where the superior, godlike class of Engineers came from. Remember the Engineers with the Jedi-like hoods at the start of Prometheus? Maybe those are the godlike Engineers from the “Paradise” planet.

We could further imagine that, as in Paradise Lost, some kind of civil war broke out between these two classes of Engineers; defeated, the warrior class were cast down to the gloom of LV-223, and there, hatched a plot to destroy Earth in retaliation. Could it be that the deadly Xenomorph was created as a weapon in that war?

All conjecture, of course, but it at least explains the links between the religious themes of Prometheus and the grim goings-on in its plot: the othewise intelligent beings holed up on a desolate planet, the huge silos of deadly goo, and so on.

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Why the name change, and just what is the Covenant?

Someone at Fox, it seems, really doesn’t want the word Paradise in the title of an Alien prequel. Whatever the reasons may be, the new title still hints at similar mythological and religious themes to the old title, Alien: Paradise Lost.

In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Adam – you know, the first man according to The Bible – sees a vision of the Great Flood. In the early draft of Prometheus written by Jon Spaihts, David recites a line from the flood story in the book of Genesis:

“I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth… for it repenteth me that I have made them.”

Alien: Covenants name could, therefore, tie into the same myth. As we saw in Prometheus, the titular ship’s name carried echoes of the stories themes about creation and punishment (Prometheus being the Titan who stole fire from the Gods). The crew of the Covenant are almost certainly flying around in a ship with a similarly appropriate name.

In the flood story, God makes a covenant with Noah, vowing never to use a deluge against humans again (“…neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth”). God then placed a rainbow in the sky as a symbol of that covenant.

It seems strange that Scott and his team would choose a potentially hopeful word as the subtitle for a sci-fi horror prequel, but it’s possible that the “Covenant” has sinister undertones that will become clear in the film itself. Could it be that the capricious Engineers change their minds about destroying humanity, but too late – the Xenomorphs are out of the box, and can’t be put back again?

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What we do know is that the events of the Prometheus sequels will tie back to Alien, with future films even making some connection to one Ellen Ripley – so whatever happens next, the acid-spitting xenomorphs will still be out there somewhere in the universe, waiting to pounce…

Alien: Covenant is due for release on the 6th October 2017.