This past weekend, 20th Century Fox unleashed the latest entry in its spacefaring horror-action film series Alien: Covenant onto North American audiences. The follow-up to director Ridley Scott’s 2012 film Prometheus follows the crew of a colony ship tasked with creating a new society beyond the bounds of Earth’s solar system.
When an apparent distress call after an onboard accident indicates the crew may be able to find a different planet than the one originally intended — while shaving more than seven years off their journey in the process — the new captain decides to investigate and find some answers. Unfortunately for the crew of the Covenant, all hell quickly breaks loose and exposes this group of explorers to a new kind of horror.
Taking a lot of its cues from Prometheus in regards to continued story threads and checking in with previous characters, Covenant is far more connected to Scott’s 2012 effort than it is to the original Alien film from 1979. Still, if you’ve just come from the theater and feel overloaded with revelations about where the titular “alien” species comes from, you may have some more specific questions about just how much Covenant fits into the timeline of the wider Alien film series.
Let’s answer some of those questions that might be burning in your head right now. Spoilers are ahead, so be sure you've seen the movie!
Where does Covenant take place in relation to the original Alien film?
Where most of the events of Prometheus took place in the year 2093, the beginning of Alien: Covenant establishes that the new film takes place roughly 10 years after the last one, in the year 2104. This places the events of Covenant approximately 18 years prior to those depicted in the original Alien film, which takes place in the year 2122.
Obviously, 18 years is quite a long time for future entries to play with, and according to Ridley Scott himself, he’s looking at creating at least two more films before the timeline of the prequel films links up with the original film starring Sigourney Weaver as the ultimate badass, Ellen Ripley.
What were Dr. Shaw and David up to before the events of Alien: Covenant?
Interestingly enough, Fox chose to release two online-only “prologue” videos that give some pretty important contextual information to the latest film. The first one, entitled “Last Supper,” acquaints us more specifically with the main crewmembers of the Covenant itself, including seeing the ship’s captain, Jake Branson (as played by James Franco), for more than just a few seconds. We also learn more specifically about the camaraderie of the crew as a family before they put themselves into hypersleep.
The second prologue, though, deals specifically with the two survivors of the incident with the Prometheus: Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) and the android David-8 (played by Michael Fassbender). Entitled “The Crossing,” in it we actually see Shaw finish up the work that allows David to walk around once more after losing his head to an Engineer at the end of Prometheus, while we also observe that Shaw and David learn the location of the Engineers’ planet and use their commandeered vessel to set a course there. While only coming in at just under three minutes, this prologue gives a surprisingly creepy context to a couple of pivotal moments that you witness in Alien: Covenant, making it a necessary piece to view either before or after seeing the new film.
What exactly did David do to the Engineers, and why did he kill them?
One of the primary themes with David in Alien: Covenant, from the moment we see his first interaction with Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce) up through his placing Daniels in cryosleep, is that he seeks to be the master of his own destiny. He sees his creators as unworthy of him, their creation, and seeks to be the architect of humanity’s destruction because he believes them to be, at the end of the day, far too weak and insignificant to be allowed to live.
By the time we see he and Shaw arrive on the Engineers’ home world and almost instantly begin to unleash genocide onto them, it may be for a couple of different reasons: 1) When an Engineer tore off David’s head necessitating his repair by Dr. Shaw at the conclusion of Prometheus, he likely wanted to exert revenge and similar control over the fate of his creators’, well, creators. 2) In order to properly begin to orchestrate the downfall of humanity through his experiments, he would need full access to the Engineers’ technological capabilities while also getting them fully out of his way.
So, to fully realize his unencumbered vision of becoming the master of those who first gave him life, David used the Engineer craft’s stock of hundreds of Steatite Ampules — the cylindrical canisters containing the parasitic black liquid seen in Prometheus — and proceeds to drop them on a massive gathering of Engineers at the destination planet. The bombs of the deadly chemical, in addition to killing the assembled Engineers, also began to overrun the planet and helped in creating the spores that would give the Covenant crew a serious problem, while also either killing or mutating all the nonfloral organic life on the planet.
Was the planet in the film the Engineers’ actual home world, or just an outpost?
The film doesn’t really answer this question as definitively as we would prefer. Since the ending of Prometheus and “The Crossing” prologue suggest that Shaw and David are specifically looking for the Engineers' home world, it seems logical to conclude that the planet on which Alien: Covenant largely takes place is, in fact, the home world itself.
Of course, though, seeds of doubt are immediately planted in a conscious viewer’s mind by virtue of the fact that the Engineers have already been well-established as having the abilities of interstellar travel for millions of years, as well being able to seed life in a lot of different and advanced ways. Perhaps the planet in Covenant is an outpost that’s simply been conflated with their home world? We likely won’t have an answer to this question unless the next film(s) decide to address the Engineers in greater detail, which isn’t necessarily a sure thing.
What have we learned about the origins of the xenomorph species?
We now know about the origin of the species that will one day vex the likes of Ripley, Dallas, Bishop, Hicks and all the other characters from the original films. Covenant makes clear that the xenomorph is not a species that is at all naturally occurring somewhere, and have instead been fully engineered as weapons to be wielded in David’s mission to obliterate humanity.
While some of the murals and hieroglyphics we see David absorb on the planet seem to indicate that he may be working toward a template of a familiar creature, as far as we know, the “neomorph,” the “protomorph” and, potentially, the xenomorph that we all know (and love?) are implied creations of David’s, all in an effort to wield a force of “perfection” to serve in his mission of destroying his creators.
That being said, truly definitive answers about David’s role in the creation of the xenomorph will likely be saved for future films, since there are several notable discrepancies in the looks of the various creatures. Which brings us to...
Are the aliens at the end of Covenant the same species that Ripley will fight in the original movies?
This may not be immediately clear to anyone except the most faithful fans of the series, but the answer is no. The aliens we meet in Covenant are not the same species, known as xenomorphs, that we see Ripley combat in the original film series.
While the “neomorph” we meet in Covenant looks more blatantly like a cross between humans and the more familiar aliens, the final species that Daniels and the crew of the Covenant take on are referred to by most hard-core Alien fans as “protomorphs.” They look close to the original xenomorph species, but they're not identical, which leads fans and observers to conclude that the final variant that will be encountered by the Nostromo and Ripley has yet to be seen in either of the released prequel films thus far. Most of the differences are anatomical, since the torso doesn’t have the same kind of biomechanical look as the original xenomorph, while the Covenant variant also appears to have more muscular limbs and smaller, thinner shoulders and dorsal tubes extending outward from its back.
The actual chestburster also looks significantly different than the version we first saw burst through John Hurt’s character Kane in the original film, appearing smaller with more thoroughly defined limbs while also seeming far less mobile than the newborn xenomorphs found in the original films.
Still, they do have a lot of similarities, namely the trademark inner pharyngeal jaw that can shoot out with significantly concussive, pistonlike lethal force, as well as the extremely fast and deadly spearlike tail. Bottom line, no, these aliens aren’t the same as the originals. But, if anything can be taken from their appearance in Covenant, David seems to be getting close to creating that image of lethal perfection.