This article, replete with typos, was written by me and originally published by Slice of Sci-Fi May 26, 2017. I’ve updated it and attempted to clean it up for inclusion on this essay site.
Warning: two-year-old article is two-years-old. Two-year-old spoilers ahead.
Just in case you have been living on the barren wastes of LV-426, Alien: Covenant is the 2017 follow up to Ridley Scott’s 2012 Alien non-prequel, Prometheus. A film described by the filmmaker himself as having the DNA of Alien while being its own animal, Prometheus promised to explore the origins of the beloved Alien he first introduced to moviegoers nearly forty years earlier. Instead, it left confused viewers with more questions than answers. In contrast, Covenant is full of solutions.
Regardless, the film is somewhat puzzling in its own right. In a conscious attempt to rectify Prometheus’ conundrums, Covenant leaves almost no mystery. It is rife with exposition, and while many of the reveals are intriguing, most of them are told rather than shown to us. At the end of the film, we are still left with one question:
In Covenant, David has taken it upon himself to murder his creators, as well as their creators before them. In the process, he has taken to tinkering with the xenovirus and hybridization of the creatures that are the result of it in order to create the perfect killing machine.
But again, why?
ANDROIDS DREAM OF XENOMORPHIC SHEEP
David is not only narcissistic but psychopathic to boot. His confusion over the works of Shelley and Byron show his programming is corrupted, his mind unraveled. In addition to the Engineers, he murdered Shaw and experimented with her body—despite proclaiming his love for her and remarking repeatedly on her kindness. Murderous androids are not unknown in the Alien franchise. Ash begat David—or is it the other way around? Additionally, the themes in Covenant mirror those of Scott’s other masterpiece—Blade Runner—but with a Shyamalan twist.
Ridley has suggested that Blade Runner and Alien might inhabit the same universe. In both franchises, human replicas—in Alien machines, in Blade Runner, more organic alternatives—struggle to come to terms with their creators. In David’s case, barring permanent damage, he will live forever—something that Blade Runner’s Roy Batty would have coveted.
It is this longevity that makes David as arrogant as he is, that makes him consider himself more god than his gods or their gods as well. David is far more than mortal. David is something far more sinister.
The Covenant’s interim captain, Oram, tells David that he saw the face of the devil at a very young age. Ironic that he then allows the devil that is David to lure him to his own demise. If the Engineer’s homeworld (or colony, it is never made clear) was indeed paradise before the xenovirus altered it, then David is indeed the serpent in the garden.
THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
The original title for Covenant was to be Paradise Lost, named after Milton’s 17th-century epic poem. In the poem, Satan is a sinister yet somewhat sympathetic protagonist, determined to take what he considers an arrogant God down a notch. He manages to corrupt mankind, but his coup in heaven is ultimately put down by God.
In Alien: Covenant, the devil has won.
David has positioned himself as Lucifer–and he and his Xenos—his fallen angel followers–-have not only beaten god (the Engineers) but have begun the corruption of mankind as well.
Covenant is the story of Paradise Lost with another twist—Satan and his hordes have already defeated god, only to find themselves trapped in the Garden of Eden. Here, it is man’s entrance into the paradise that provides Satan with his means of escape, and the chance to bring his corruption and demons to a new world.
AN IDLE ANDROID MAKES FOR A DULL ANDROID
David, in this manner, is responsible for the entire Alien saga. We live in an age when villains often serve as protagonists, offering an alternative view on our belief systems. Like Satan in Paradise Lost, David is a fully developed and relatable figure, despite his obvious Machiavellian tendencies. Also like Satan, he offers his brother android, Walter, a choice postulated from Paradise Lost—either reign in Hell or serve in Heaven. When the film ends with David in control of the Covenant, you aren’t sure if you should cheer or jeer.
Prior to the Covenant’s arrival in paradise, David wasn’t just sitting on his hands. After murdering mankind’s gods, he experimented with the Engineers’ xenovirus for a decade to create that perfect organism. It’s not an easy task. The virus created by the Engineers mutates life into obscene parodies of it, but there is no rhyme nor reason to its transformations. In Alien, the transition from egg to chestburster to adult Xeno was logical, for all its alien-ness. This is not the case with the Engineer’s black goo—the creatures it creates in Covenant are very different than the random permutations in Prometheus. David appears as intrigued by the xeno-virus’ chaotic nature as the audience is perplexed by it. His experiments seem determined to make sense of and bring order to it. And despite initial appearances, the fruits of his labors are not as alien as you might hope.
Call them what you will–protomorphs, neomorphs, ultramorphs—the aliens appearing in Covenant are animals. They react like a rage-filled tiger and are not the cold calculating stalkers from the original three Alien films. As such, they are easier to kill. Take the film’s climactic scene of the new “alien” being tricked into the truck hangar on the Covenant. The beast hesitates upon entering the room. As soon as it realizes female protagonist Daniel’s location, it hisses like a rabid animal and leaps toward her in a frenzy. The alien we know from the past would have tilted its head and blended into the shadows creating an element of fear and terror rather than shock.
Much to the die-hard fans chagrin, the alien-ness of its behavior is gone.
Behind the scenes, there is a reason for the difference in behavior. As it turns out, the way the Xeno in Covenant moves is exactly the way Ridley had originally wanted the Alien to act.
“…when Dallas first sees [the alien in the air ducts],” Scott told Cinefex, it [was going to be] standing on the roof of this giant wind tunnel, suspended upside down. Then I was going to have it roar down the tunnel toward him, running and jumping full-circle around the walls.”
They couldn’t make it work—the problem was in the limitations of the suit. There was little flexibility in the costume, and that led to the deliberate and, quite frankly, alien movements of the original Alien.
“Ridley was forced to stage around the physical awkwardness of it,” Alien writer/creator Dan O’Bannon said in an interview with Fantastic Films, “but the visual appearance of power and grace was retained, quite striking.”
Alien screen test, 1979
One must wonder if the creature would have become as iconic had it behaved more animalistic than just odd.
From an in-universe perspective, it appears David hasn’t quite achieved his goals yet—his alien still has some growing to go.
Unlike H.R. Giger’s original biomechanical nightmare, there is no mechanical influence on any of the creatures in Prometheus and Covenant. While the final creature in the new film does have a carapace, its body appears to be all flesh and acid. Its size and position of its dorsal tubes are different than the original Xeno, as well. Nor does it have metal teeth.
It’s not the same animal.
David’s been working towards the perfect killing machine, but he isn’t there yet. One might postulate that the key to success—and the creation of the Alien we all know and love, is to create a synthesis of flesh and machine—if David himself must somehow meld with his creations to achieve their ultimate form.
An evil android’s work is never done.
JUST LIKE THE CREATURES APPEARING IN THE FILM, ALIEN COVENANT IS A NEW ANIMAL
Ultimately, the answer to the question ‘why’ is a bitter drive to be a better god than God himself. It is what drove Satan in Paradise Lost—the idea that he could govern heaven better than God could. David wants to create life that destroys the life that created him.
Ridley Scott has broken new ground with Alien: Covenant. On the surface, however, it is ground that the fanbase had preferred left undisturbed. Covenant is not a horror film despite the promotional material promising that it was returning Alien to its roots. In many ways, it felt like a space adventure film that just so happened to have our favorite Xenos along for the ride. This is not necessarily a bad thing, simply an unexpected one. While there were many enjoyable moments in Covenant—notably David and his machinations—I found myself less than satisfied upon the first viewing. Once it was available for home consumption, however, I saw it in a different light. It’s not the first Alien film to delve into different genres. While the original Alien was space horror, Cameron’s follow-up was, in fact, a space action flick, the third movie was apocalyptic, the fourth a dark comedy (shudder), and Prometheus was about faith.
The beauty of the Alien saga has always been its ability to support multiple genres and Covenant is no exception. It opens up new possibilities for the Alien Universe. It may not be the Alien film we wanted, but depending on what comes next, it may be the Alien film the series needed.
—Andrew E. C. Gaska
An author, designer, game-writer, and graphic novelist with twenty years of industry experience, Gaska is the creative force behind BLAM! Ventures and has worked as a freelance consultant to 20th Century Fox and Rockstar Games. In addition to being the Senior Development Editor for Lion Forge comics and animation, he is a contributor to both their game division and their licensing team.
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