When Alien first burst on the scene in 1979, it was a shock to the horror-sci-fi world. The film eschewed the fantastical adventure narrative of Star Wars and the clinical, precision futurism of 2001: A Space Odyssey in favor of a gritty, blue collar stellar experience that spat acid in the face of its audience and genre conventions. After a number of sequels, which followed the visceral classic, to varying degrees of success, series originator Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with Prometheus – a colossally-scaled loose prequel to Alien, which brought with it almost as many questions as it did answers.
A thought-provoking if somewhat grandiloquent entry, Prometheus hinted at sweeping connections to the overall saga and also reignited interest in Scott's science fiction work, as well as his return to the franchise, leading him to draft plans for additional prequel-sequels. The first of these, Alien: Covenant, has already revisited some familiar paths along the winding road back to Alien. So how exactly will Covenant link up to what’s come before it, and all that follows?
Spanning every sequel, novelization, crossover and comic book, these gnarly acid-blooded critters are the true face of Alien franchise. From the shucking-your-head facehuggers to the body-horror of the chestbursters, each step in the titular creature’s gestation reads as a nightmare.
Prometheus, however, stepped back a little ways on the xenomorph evolutionary ladder, or perhaps sideways. The Engineers’ biological tampering clearly was not limited to humans, as the disturbing black ooze seemed to trigger a number of biological imperatives, including the affectionately titled Deacon, which was inspired by the traditional alien design. It’s unclear whether the proto-facehugger (or trilobite) Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) gave birth to, or its rapidly gestating offspring, are related to or a direct descendant of the H.R. Giger-designed creature.
In Alien: Covenant, Scott will be to be treating fans to a brand new creature - a cousin or sibling to the classic xenomorph or a quick rung on the space-beastie evolutionary ladder. Called neomorphs, these nasty ETs are a subtle variation on the traditional look. Evolved from the aforementioned black ooze (possibly a bio-weapon) infiltrating an ecosystem, they look similar to their traditional creatures, if slightly paler. They also reportedly have a different means of germination and gestation, as the first trailer revealed. Apparently tiny pods hatch from the trees, and spider-like spores drift through the air, attaching to unsuspecting bystanders – as witnessed during the trailer, when a spore flew into landing party’s ear (definitely shudder-worthy). In addition, rather than popping out through the chest, these alien spores explode through the spine, the aftereffects of which were on display in a recent gory still.
Aliens aren’t the only problem the colonists of the Covenant need to watch out for, though.
If there’s one glue which holds the Alien franchise together, even tying it into Prometheus, it’s those milky-blooded, oft-treacherous androids. Michael Fassbender’s duplicitous droid David effectively kicked things off by experimenting on Dr. Charles Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who impregnated Dr. Shaw, creating the gnarly-looking trilobite as a result. Weyland (and later Weyland-Yutani) manufacture synthetics that almost seem to take a certain glee in experimenting on their creators. Starting with the very first problem ‘bot (film-wise rather than chronologically), Alien introduced mechanoid Ash (Ian Holm) to give Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) a hard time – as if she wasn’t already having a fantastic go of things escaping an acid-dripping critter.
Since then, synth life has tried to redeem itself. Lance Henricksen’s Bishop from Aliens was positively heroic (and quick with a knife), while Alien: Resurrection gave Winona Rider’s offbeat android a chance to be one of the good guys again. The latest film, Covenant, which creeps ever closer to its sci-fi forebearer, will feature Fassbender in a manifold role, reprising his re-capitated David and also portraying the android Walter, rumored to be the pilot of the eponymous ship. Of course, one of the most intriguing curiosities, though, is the evolving relationship between androids, and their human makers, and our progenitors.
How much of the Engineers fans can expect in Alien: Covenant (or in the franchise entirely) is still somewhat unclear. First discovered during the Nostromo’s fateful mission to LV-426, the “Space Jockey” didn’t feature in any other film in the series, aside from the questionably-canon Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem. However, Prometheus brought the giant race back in a big way, as fans finally get to meet the Engineers.
As an offshoot species that created both our species and the xenomorphs, they don’t appear too pleased with either creation. In fact during Prometheus, they were hell-bent on taking out their pink, fleshy offspring with their liquid biological weapon. The sole survivor (sort of) of the Prometheus’ expedition, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), sought the Engineers’ home planet to understand more about our seeders and their motives. It definitely looks like the mysterious race of titans will play a further role in the Prometheus trilogy to come, according to Ridley Scott, who told Deadline:
"You've got to go back and find those Engineers and see what they are thinking. If Engineers are the forerunners of us, and therefore were creators of life forms in places that were possible for biology to function, who created that? Where's the big boy? You think this was all an accident? I don't know. Even Stephen Hawking now says he's not sure. He no longer believes in the big bang."
If the architect of the Alien franchise is to be believed, fans will get another taste of the massive proto-humans. It seems that Dr. Shaw does discover the Engineers’ home world, meaning she'll return in Covenant, at least for a moment, and hopefully answer at least a few of the lingering questions from Prometheus. However, the film will likely focus on the actions of the eponymous colony ship and, to a lesser degree, the mega-corporation who funded it.
Beginning life as two separate, multinational corporate competitors, the Weyland and Yutani Corporations both developed similar paths along the commercial spacing, weapons, tech, and bio-synthetic lines. Fans met an early variation of W-Y in Prometheus, where the aging corporate head Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and his daughter Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) seek the secrets held by the mysterious Engineers on LV-223 in order to prolong the dying corporate head’s life. Not long after the fateful mission, the massive corporation staged a hostile takeover of competitor Yutani, laying the foundations for the massive conglomerate and its major role in the franchise.
Weyland-Yutani, of course, first appeared during the eponymous franchise-starter. The solar system-spanning company pulled the strings to bring the crew of the salvage vessel Nostromo out of cryogenic slumber and investigate the wayward moon LV-426, leading to the death of their entire crew and the destruction of the ship. They were also responsible for seeding a terraformed colony known as “Hadley’s Hope” on the same barren rock some decades later, prompting Ellen Ripley’s return along with the Colonial Marines.
Early images from Covenant have disclosed that not only is W-Y now merged, but that they’re definitely in the colonizing business. It also seems like they’re also still employing easily-controlled synthetic crew members, and could undoubtedly be on the lookout for further “xenomorphic” activity.
Colony Ships and Space Marines
As the modern branch of the franchise winds towards its progenitor, motifs appear scattered throughout that further establish the series’ connective tissues. Not merely in the mythological sense, either, as the mechanical elements of Alien has evolved much like the human and alien elements. For instance, the Engineer escape pods in Prometheus are nearly identical to those in Alien, by design. In addition, the landing craft from Alien: Covenant bears a more-than passing resemblance to its somewhat more militarized cousin used to land the Colonial Marines in Aliens.
Speaking of which, the first trailer for Scott’s latest sci-fi outing showcases a group of space cowgirls and boys who resemble the rough-and-tumble cadre of xenomorph fighters from James Cameron’s followup flick. Although difficult to tell from initial images, the Covenant’s heavily-armed teams could be members of the interstellar butt-kickers from Aliens – as their mannerisms and weaponry definitely wink at. If not officially part of the Colonial Marines, the silhouetted group certainly suggests a lineage to the space corps.
Poor Colonization Choices
Admittedly, the planet which the colony ship Covenant lands on looks positively Eden-like compared to the hellish nightmare of LV-426 (aka Acheron) from Alien and its sequel. It’s also less eerily blue-tinted than LV-223 from Prometheus. The crew reportedly discovers the synthetic, David, during the course of Alien: Covenant, meaning the Earthly paradise is probably the home world of the Engineers. Of course, they could also retrace the steps of the earlier mission and rediscover the silicon storm-riddled world has been transformed. At this point, no ship's manifest from the latest outing exists, so the colonists could be hitting up any number of planets or planetoids.
However, Ridley Scott teased fans that both LV moons are effectively neighbors. Even if they don’t orbit the same planet, they may spin around the same solar system. His hint could mean the Engineers' home world is in close proximity to both tourist traps. Presuming the Covenant returns to LV-223, or they land on the Space Jockey's home – and that Ellen Ripley later drops in on LV-426 (not once but twice) – it would seem peculiar if Scott didn’t provide a deeper connection to the archetypal Alien-fighter.
Disclaimer: due to the unconfirmed nature of this last connection, it's being included on a tenuous (if feasible) basis.
After her character and role in the Alien: Covenant were revealed, a good deal of speculation centered on Katherine Waterston and the distinct possibility she’s playing Ellen Ripley’s mother. Although it might nothing more than a good theory, there are reasons to believe it could hold water. For instance, Alien: Covenant purportedly occurs ten years after Prometheus, meaning events within it happen about 20 years before Alien. The Alien Anthology DVD set Easter egg has a crew manifesto listing Ellen’s birthdate as January 7, 2092 – a year before the Prometheus landed on LV-223. This would make Ripley would be roughly 10 or 11 when Covenant takes place, assuming the information is correct. It would also make her age appropriate for her first role (noting that she also spent some time in suspended animation).
Some fans have also speculated that moviegoers would even run across a young Ellen aboard the Covenant. Of course, Waterston’s character is called Daniels, but studios have been known to alter character names which contained spoiler-y elements (see also: Star Trek Into Darkness). In that regard, it wouldn’t be surprising if Waterston was cast as Ripley’s mother. She even bears some resemblance to the character herself – and not just the shorter haircut.
Without any confirmation, however, fans will have to wait to find out whether there’s any truth to the hype. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if something, even just an Easter egg, connects Alien: Covenant to a Ellen Ripley.
Roughly six months out from the release of Alien: Covenant, a number of links between Prometheus and the latter features have already been established, with likely more on the way. The franchise’s shared universe is already a touch on the complicated side, due to the myriad sequels and spinoffs (of which some, like Alien Vs. Predator, aren’t necessarily canon). Still, one of the most exciting aspects of Ridley Scott’s reclaiming of the Alien franchise torch is finding out how everything from the curious if somewhat disappointing Prometheus aligns with the sci-fi touchstone. Following the director’s breadcrumbs into Alien and beyond should prove thrilling and illuminating, as Scott’s latest saga looks like a bloody good time (literally).
Alien: Covenant also makes a curious oath of its own: to merge the navel gazing curiosities of its at-times exciting predecessor into the twists and turns of its horror-sci-fi legend progenitor. No easy task, since Covenant, more than even Prometheus before it, will test Scott’s devotion to his own mythos and be judged according to both the Engineers adventure and the colonists’ terrifying encounters (and body count). Not only will he be tasked with bridging gaps in own his vision, but creating a meaningful and coherent connection to his own expanding universe. Here’s hoping Scott’s Covenant with fans and audiences delivers in droves.
- Alien: Covenant (2017) release date: May 19, 2017
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