This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
Big spoilers ahead for Alien: Covenant.
Alien: Covenant is a film that had to balance many expectations. It had to act as a sequel to Prometheus and follow up from plotlines developed by that film, while slightly distancing itself to please fans who didn’t warm to that particular entry. Covenant was thus pitched as more of a straight ahead Alien movie, featuring the big-screen return of the titular beast and the familiar tropes he brings with him.
Despite this attempt at course correction Covenant has received a mixed reception; the box office has been disappointing, the reviews are split down the middle and Ridley Scott’s planned follow-up might be in doubt. Just like Prometheus, the film left viewers with a lot to unpack and speculate on, and like that film it’s an ambiguous blockbuster with moments of greatness, but is let down by baffling character decisions and a rushed final act.
For long-time fans, the announcement that author Alan Dean Foster was returning to pen the Covenant novelization was news worth celebrating, with his adaptations of the first three movies becoming cult items of their own. Foster is a veteran writer with a long history of original sci-fi and fantasy books, in addition to novelizations like The Thing and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His take on Alien: Covenant is ultimately quite close to the movie, but given that it was written before the final edit it contains numerous deleted and extended scenes, alongside a few original touches the author brings to the story.
The first major addition is a moment near the beginning where Daniels dreams of her husband while in cryosleep, which is a sequence director Ridley Scott has mentioned in previous interviews. They are in a futuristic apartment overlooking a snowy city, while her husband Branson shows her a 3D map of the log cabin he plans to build on Origae-6. While it’s a short scene it helps show the bond between husband and wife, helping give some context to Daniels’ grief and her obsession with the cabin. The book also contains hints Earth itself is in bad shape, which has hastened the decision to colonize other planets.
The early chapters onboard The Covenant help flesh out the supporting characters too, many of whom are ill-defined in the movie and sort of merge together. Walter’s relationship with Daniels is one of the most intriguing elements, with heavy suggestions the synthetic is developing emotions for her, even if he doesn’t understand them. There’s a short moment midway through the story where he brushes some hair off her face while she sleeps, just because it makes him feel good. This suggests David may have been on to something about Walter’s feelings for his crewmate.
The book makes a noble attempt to plaster over a few logical issues with the script. Foster must have predicted the audience complaints about the crew walking around the planet without helmets, with the book having Walter go outside first and breathe in the air for analysis. Not only does he find it breathable, but it’s completely free of toxins and chemicals. The much-lamented scene where Private Rosenthal wanders off alone for a wash – leading to her gory demise – is explained a little better. Instead of heading off alone she becomes fascinated by a series of hash marks David has made on a wall, marking his time on the planet. She follows them out of the room and down a hall, stopping when she hears a waterfall. That’s when she decides to wash up, leading to the Neomorph attack.
The scene where David leads Oram to his doom is expanded upon, with David giving the captain an extended tour of his lab, including the reveal of a fossilised Alien egg left by the Engineers. Covenant received a little blowback for suggesting David created the Xenomorph himself, but this scene suggests he based his version off of a previous design. David also plays mind games with Oram throughout, playfully tossing him an inactive phial of the Black Goo, showing him the dead facehugger inside the egg and giving him a strange substance to rub under his nose, blocking the overpowering stench from the egg chamber. When it finally comes time for Oram to inspect the living egg he believes he can somewhat trust David’s word, leading to his downfall.
The Neomorphs proved to be a fun addition to the franchise, although the movie shoves them out of the way in the final act so the classic Giger Alien can arrive. Some viewers were confused about the fate of the second Neomorph in the movie, believing it either ran off during the Wheatfield attack or was killed by stray gunfire. The book confirms the creature survived, and there’s an extended chase where the creature stalks the crew all the way to the Engineer city. They take potshots to scare it off, but Daniels believes it’s testing their reflexes. It finally charges at them when they’re heading into the Engineer building, but they manage to close the door in time.
It reappears again during the escape from the city, where Daniels and Lope find themselves sandwiched in the courtyard between the Neomorph and Xenomorph. They open fire on the respective beasts, but they both run out of ammunition before scoring a kill. They needn’t have worried, since the two beasts fight each other, buying the survivors time to run for the rescue craft. The Xenomorph makes short work of his rival, disembowelling the creature before making another run at Daniels. Walter (aka David in disguise) arrives in the nick of time to save her, opening fire on the beast and managing to slow it down. The scene then plays out like it does in the movie, with the addition of the crew agreeing they need to kill the creature rather than risk taking it back to the ship with them.
David has become the surprise star of this new series of movies, due to Fassbender’s performance and the character’s fascinating – and twisted – psychology. Sadly the book doesn’t delve into the time he spent between Prometheus and Covenant with Shaw, or exactly what he did to her during his experiments. The book makes it clear the crew don’t trust him though, with Walter coming back from their sexy flute lesson expressing concern about David’s mental state, since he hasn’t had maintenance in over a decade.
Also, if you wondered how the flute scene reads in novel form, here are two brief excerpts:
“Their identical eyes were alive across the flute, glistening with mutual excitement. Applying ever more complex fingering, David challenged his double to keep up. Walter not only did so, he began to improvise his own, varying his breathing to force David to adjust his fingering accordingly.”
“Positioning his fingers gently over Walter’s, he gave a nod. Walter resumed blowing, but this time whenever David exerted slight force with a finger, Walter lifted the corresponding finger beneath it.”
The book explains why he never attempted to take another Engineer vessel off the planet; the ships automatically shut down in the event of the Black Goo breaking out. The bleak ending of the film – where Daniels realises David has taken Walter’s place – is missing. The book offers no hint about the switcheroo, with ‘Walter’ being on his best behaviour until everyone is asleep. He then reveals his identity to MOTHER, and the book ends with him requesting the computer send a message to Weyland-Yutani on his behalf. Apparently, this alternate ending was shot and while it’s intriguing, the gut-punch twist it now ends on feels like a stronger denouement.
There are also little additions that help the flow of the story. The movie tends to brush past the characters mourning for their respective spouses, but the book takes a little time to show them grieving in their own ways, making the violence bite harder. The book also includes a conversation between Daniels and ‘Walter’ before the Xeno attack on the Covenant, where they speculate about the existence of other intelligent alien species besides the Engineers, with Daniels hoping they’re a little friendlier to humanity.
While the book isn’t vastly different from the movie – and is unlikely to convert those who didn’t enjoy it – Alien: Covenant is a solid sci-fi adventure novel. Foster keeps the book moving at a fair clip and the extra character beats help smooth out some of the narrative issues. If you’re a fan of Foster’s previous Alien novels – or his work in general – it’s definitely worth a read.