My interest in Alien:Covenant was not so much about how it looked, or how well it was acted and directed. Having followed the Alien saga through the first four films, and then the first prequel, Prometheus, my concern going into Alien:Covenant was all about the story. Could director Ridley Scott please make sense of Prometheus for me? And the answer is, he did to some extent, but there are still questions left frustratingly unanswered. We are told there will be yet another prequel, even perhaps two, to take us up to events in the original 1979 Alien film. There is still work to do.
Not too much need be said about Alien: Covenant, partly because too much discussion will spoil the movie for you. It’s a more compact and coherent film than Prometheus, the actors again are good, with Michael Fassbender as the resident synthetic particularly enthralling to watch. The template is familiar, with its set pieces – clearly deliberately – reliving past horrors. This time around Katherine Waterston ably fills in the Ripley role. If you’ve followed the story so far, you’ll need to see this film, just to keep up.
But what this review is really all about is Prometheus, the 2012 film from Ridley Scott which first attempted to explain the Alien backstory. I found it confusing on first viewing, and having seen it since on DVD, I still do. So here’s a plea for help. I’ve written out what Prometheus tells us is going on. I’m not covering the entire plot, rather the elements pertaining to who the Engineers and Aliens are and where they came from. If you can make sense of it, please get in touch and explain. Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll be more than happy to acknowledge your contribution on our next podcast!
Right, take a deep breath, this is a big read. Here we go:
- Prometheus opens with an Engineer sacrificing himself by consuming black goo which makes his body disintegrate, and his DNA merge with the natural environment around him. The planet could be Earth.
- Then we see scientists on Earth discover that several civilisations have drawn pictures of large human looking creatures (presumably the same Engineers) pointing up to the skies and a pattern of stars. So, people from those civilisations saw the Engineers, and perhaps interacted with them. The scientists, Dr Elizabeth Shaw and Dr Charlie Holloway, believe the picture of the stars is an invitation to find those stars.
- We join the spaceship Prometheus on its way to that star system. Shaw and Holloway tell the crew they believe the Engineers engineered us. (We assume they have engineered life on many planets)
- They reach the planet and find several large dome like structures. A team is sent to investigate and find they are hollow, with a breathable atmosphere. It looks like the Engineers are terra-forming.
- They see Engineer language on the walls, and synthetic crew member David finds a drop of sticky glue, similar to the substance exuded by the Alien creatures in all the previous films.
- David inadvertently trips a switch which reveals a holographic film of several Engineers fleeing in terror down a corridor. They disappear into a cavern but the last Engineer stumbles and falls, and is decapitated by the closing door. We don’t see what they are fleeing from.
- The crew carbon date the Engineer body. It’s around 2,000 years old.
- David opens the door. Inside is the decapitated Engineer head. And a shrine of sorts, with a large statue of an Engineer head, with the ground beneath it covered in metallic looking pods.
- As they walk across the ground they disturb worms, which slink up to the surface.
- At the back of the chamber David finds a carved feature on the wall. It looks like the Alien queen of previous films.
- David stops in front of one pod. The top is moving, in a black goo. The goo drips down the side of the pod.
- There’s a mural on the walls. Its shapes start moving and Shaw believes their presence has affected the temperature in the chamber and they should leave.
- They are then told a dangerous storm is quickly heading their way and they need to get back to their ship immediately. Shaw secures the Engineer head to take back to ship for examination.
- David secretly takes a pod with him. As they leave the chamber we see the dripping goo on the ground, and the worms swimming in it.
- They just get back to their ship, but two crew members, Fifield and Milburn, are inadvertently left behind in the dome. They’re to be rescued the next day.
- Back on Prometheus, they find the head is a helmet. They open it, revealing a human-like Engineer face. There appears to be new cell growth on its skin. They stimulate its nerves. It reacts in horror, and explodes.
- They take a sample. It’s a 100 per cent match with human DNA.
- David examines the pod he’s taken from the dome. Inside is a cluster of what looks like glass bottles, each with a black liquid inside. He takes a drop on his finger and says “Big things have small beginnings.”
- David contaminates a drink with the black substance and gives it to Dr Holloway, thus infecting him.
- Inside the dome, Fifield and Milburn come across the remains of a group of Engineers in another area. They have holes in them as if something exploded from the inside.
- Then they’re told a probe elsewhere in the dome is reading something alive nearby. It’s not clear what it is. Then the signal disappears.
- Shaw and Holloway have sex. So the black goo DNA is transferred to Shaw.
- Fifield and Milburn end up back in the chamber where the decapitated head was discovered.
- A snake/worm slithers out of the black goo. Presumably it’s evolved from the worms.
- It attacks the pair. They cut it, but its blood burns like acid, and it re-forms to get inside their suits and disappear into their bodies.
- Holloway notices something wrong with his eyes. A very small black worm appears in his eye.
- The Prometheus crew go to look for Fifield and Milburn. The captain tells David of the probe that apparently found a life form, which appears only briefly every hour. The captain thinks it’s a glitch in the probe, and David goes to find it and fix it.
- David locates the probe at the end of a corridor. He opens a door there and enters another chamber. It is filled with many thousands of the pods.
- David then finds another chamber, containing a large round platform, with four Engineer life-pods on it.
- Meanwhile the team searching for Fifield and Milburn find the chamber where they found the decapitated head was found. Now all the pods are oozing black goo. Shaw confirms that was not how they looked at their last visit.
- They find Milburn’s body and the snake/worm escapes from his throat. Meanwhile Holloway is looking increasingly sick, and Shaw calls for an immediate return to Prometheus.
- David inspects the chamber he has found. Then holographic images of Engineers appear. One sits in the chair, and plays a flute, which activates other lights. It appears he’s sitting on a flight deck, operating controls.
- Another hologram appears on the platform. It’s of the universe. We see the earth.
- The hologram disappears but David then sees one of the Engineer life pods is emitting light. David can hear the Engineer’s heart beating.
- Meanwhile Holloway is increasingly sick. His features are deformed. Vickers, the mission leader, refuses to let him onboard for fear of contamination. She burns him alive with a flame thrower.
- Shaw discovers she is pregnant, apparently three months advanced, even though it’s only ten hours since she had sex with Holloway. She wants it aborted, but David recommends her putting her into cryo-sleep and examining her when they return to earth.
- Shaw performs an abortion on herself using an automated med lab. The foetus looks like a white octopus-type creature. Shaw contains it in the med lab.
- Fifield returns to the Prometheus. But he’s been transformed into a monster with superhuman strength. He’s killed by a flamethrower.
- Shaw discovers that Weyland, the funder of the mission, is on board and that David will take him to see the remaining Engineer alive in the Dome, so Weyland can meet his “maker”, and prolong his life.
- The Prometheus captain, Janek, confronts Shaw. He tells her he believes the planet is not the Engineers’ home but rather a military installation, where they are building weapons of mass destruction. He believes the pods with black goo are those weapons, but they got out of the pods and destroyed their makers.
- Weyland, Shaw, David and others go to the chamber with the living Engineer. David describes the outer chamber with the stacks of thousands of pods as a “cargo hold”.
- Captain Janek realises the dome contains an Engineers ship.
- David activates the control chamber, explaining the Engineers were about to leave “when things went to pot”. They were heading for earth. Shaw asks why, and David responds “sometimes to create, one must first destroy”.
- David releases the Engineer from hyper-sleep. Shaw asks the Engineer why he was heading for earth and what is in the cargo hold. What did we do wrong, she asks.
- David speaks to the Engineer in his own language, but the Engineer attacks him, ripping off his head. The others are attacked and killed, but Shaw escapes.
- The Engineer starts up his ship. A huge pilot’s seat emerges, like the one we saw the “space cowboy” sitting in, in the 1979 Alien movie.
- Captain Janek flies Prometheus into the Engineers’ ship to prevent it heading to earth on its mission to destroy. The disabled Engineers’ ship crashes back to the surface.
- Shaw is the last human survivor, and makes it to the Prometheus escape pod.
- She realises the alien foetus she aborted has grown. It’s huge. Then the Engineer from the crashed ship reaches the escape pod. But he is caught in a fight with the alien creature. The creature shoots a tentacle into the Engineer’s mouth, and it collapses on top of the Engineer, presumably impregnating it with a foetus of its own.
- David is still working, or at least his head is. He contacts Shaw to say there are many ships on the planet and he could operate one to get them out of there. Shaw says she doesn’t want to go back to Earth, but to the planet where the Engineers came from. David says he could pilot them there.
- Shaw tells David the Engineers created humans, but then changed their minds and decided to destroy them. She wants to know why. We see David and Shaw leave on an Engineer’s ship.
- Finally we see a new creature emerge from the chest of the Engineer. It resembles a young Alien, with the same pointy head. The last image is of its mouth open, and an inner jaw emerging, as in the later movies.
So, if you’ve got this far, thanks for bearing with me. Yes, the captain’s summary near the end of the film seems to sum up some of the story. The pods are weapons made by the Engineers. Two thousand years ago those weapons somehow attacked the Engineers. How the black goo works is unclear. Why did the Engineers need such weapons, and why did they want to return to Earth?
So do get in touch with us at Crave with your explanations! Thanks and we’ll be back with you on our podcast soon.