Backseat writer, how to fix: Alien Covenant

Backseat writer, how to fix: Alien Covenant

We recently looked at how close Prometheus came to being a classic science fiction film and had a few solutions on what needed or could have been done to make it a truly great film. In this occasion of Backseat writer, we are looking at Alien: Covenant. Which sadly needs a bit more work to get it there. However, I still enjoyed it for what it was, though I can understand why it wasn’t as well-received as it could have been. Let’s break the film down and see where we can fix it… albeit retrospectively. Shall we?

It wasn’t all bad

Alien: Covenant works on occasion, it just depends how deep you are into the Alien franchise or how much you are able to disassociate yourself from it, to show how much you love it. Similar to  Prometheus the general story is solid with it being pretty linear.

A colony mission is travelling to a new planet and on the way there an incident causes them to come out of cryosleep. During this time they receive a transmission from a human on a nearby planet. Upon scans of the planet is better than the one they were going to, so they decide to investigate. Chaos ensues (as it is want to do in such a scenario), but the crew who have gone down to the planet are saved by David, who brings them to the city. We find that David and Shaw did find an Engineer planet, but they are all dead. The surviving crew find that Shaw is nowhere to be seen and David is off. Freedom from Weyland has created a monster and the crew must not only survive David but the relentless creatures he and they have created.

It is a very simple story and it works. It isn’t a true continuation of Prometheus as it was centred on Shaw. But a good workable story all the same. The failings are again with the script. The how and why characters make the decisions that they do are sometimes bizarre and that is just the start…

Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, and Benjamin Rigby in Alien: Covenant (2017)

What went wrong

Unlike Prometheus where if just a few simple points could be altered and all would be well, Covenant needs a good deal more work to it sadly. Let’s be honest, until David appears, the film is going along at a good pace and although there is too much death and poor decisions (not that the franchise was known for that anyway) the film was working okay. Yes, the character choices are sketchy, but it felt like an Alien film (to those who wanted a return to such a thing, I enjoyed the ideas of Prometheus and wanted those further explored).

But when David arrives, the film effectively grinds all that good momentum to a halt. If I really broke it down, the first act is Aliens, with people out of their depth on a new planet, the second act is Prometheus with all it trying to be deep and then the third act is Alien, looking and trying to defeat a sole Xenomorph. It is just too much of all of those films to jam into one. Again Scott has been let down by the script.

Why no (or barely any) Shaw

I’d love to explore where the hell [Dr. Shaw] goes next and what does she do when she gets there because if it is paradise, paradise can not be what you think it is. Paradise has a connotation of being extremely sinister and ominous.

Well, that would be wonderful, the chemistry between Shaw and David was great and it would be interesting to see where that could have gone. Instead, well we know how it does sadly.

Oh and if you want to know who said that quote above. It was Ridley Scott. The change to focus on David and be more aggressive like Alien and Aliens seemed to have cost us the entire Shaw arch. Which, in the end really costs Covenant as we needed to see how Shaw’s story ends, even if it is the same fate as what we eventually see. We needed to see it and not just get glimpses, it does so much disservice to her and the audience who went through everything with her in Prometheus.

It is wrong to pitch the idea, but imagine if we opened Covenant the same way, David and Weyland conversing and then we begin the Shaw and David story of them travelling alone and building that connection. Then David and Shaw learn about the ways of the Engineers, their intents etc and although they both want to destroy them. Shaw wants to meet them and understand at first hand. Thus creating a divide with David who wants only to destroy. The Deacon comes into play to unite the two and after as they make it to the home planet and defeat the Deacon. Shaw is taken by the Engineers as David has been teaching her the ancient languages while they travelled for years. Then as Shaw is learning about the Engineers the film ends with David’s carpet bombing. A cliffhanger ending for the end of the trilogy.

This helps create David’s arc and gives Shaw a more prominent role. If Fox and Scott wanted to distance themselves from Alien and help create this expanded universe. That is the sort of route they should have taken. Instead, money spoke and they went to what the “fans” wanted. That never goes well. Go with your original intent, whether it fails or not, at least it was what they wanted.

Noomi Rapace in Prometheus (2012)

If we stick with Shaw’s death…

If we really want to stick with David killing Shaw or her dying and David using body then we do it simply. David alone on the ship learns more about the Engineers, hates them, but when they arrive at the planet, he does not tell Shaw. He gets Shaw to dock the ship and unbeknownst to her causes genocide with the pathogen.

Shaw sees this and tries to fly the ship away, thus the song that attracts the Covenant. David tries to stop her, and they crash. Shaw either dies there or is gravely injured and David begins his experiments on her to be his own creator. It at the least gives Shaw some form of an arc, even if it is still underwhelming.

The rush to kill off characters

There seemed to be a rush to kill off a lot of the crew in this one, which really doesn’t make sense that for the majority of the franchise and indeed even Prometheus we stuck with the crew and learned more about them before they met their deaths. When we meet the crew we learn very little about their personalities other than a select few and that they are all grieving over the loss of their Captain. Then within 30 or so minutes from that another, at least seven crew members are dead on the new planet. A good 4 of those dead we would not have remembered in the slightest. That is poor scriptwriting if those many characters die, and their loss is not felt.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

The scene in the field could easily have had one death at most and just the threat of impending doom as the creatures approach before David saves everyone. Is there even a need for that many crew members going down to check transmission and to inspect the planet? How much could the team scan and inspect the island from their main ship or via normal surveying? It merely means that the deaths that do occur mean more to us and the characters. Countless deaths and not too much reaction. Whereas the three that die on the ship, those deaths are felt as we experience the terror they go through and most importantly, we knew a bit about these characters.

Add the deleted scenes and prologue… Again.

Again, Covenant makes the exact same mistake Prometheus did. The film is a little over two hours including credits and they decided it was best to EXCLUDE  a scene where we learn and enjoy the personalities of the crew before they go into cryosleep. That was an excellent five or so minutes to build the characters, yet, nope. Some of these are merely an extra 30 seconds from original scenes. For instance, David tells Walter that he loved Shaw as Walter loves Daniels. But other than a few glances and sacrificing his hand we do not see that. In the deleted scenes, we see their relationship. She treats him as close to a person as he can be. She respects him than can build emotion, even in an android that shouldn’t have any.  Cutting all of those and the prologue just seems like a mistake.

Billy Crudup, James Franco, and Danny McBride in Alien: Covenant (2017)

I have seen people complain that Daniels gets over her husband’s death too quickly. Well if the deleted scenes those same people would not find such a petty thing to complain about. It is there to see. Just for some off reason, not in the final cut.

Not using precautions to explore the planet

It isn’t best to assume how much research has been carried out. A quick montage of these things would not hurt, otherwise, no matter how habitable the Oxygen levels are, they should still be careful. Be it masks or helmets, they should have some form of protected. I will not accept what goes on in Star Trek. This isn’t it. The only times in this franchise were people take their helmets off is when they have terraformed the planet and one that already had known humans on it.

It is a small thing, but a very frustrating thing at the same time. If knowledge about the entire planet, water, animals etc have been discovered then fine. But Daniels literally states that they do not hear anything, no animals at all. On a planet such as that, isn’t that strange? Should a scan not have been carried out to figure all of this out? If that amount of the crew and their sole android are destroyed on the planet then what does that mean for everyone on the main ship and the sleeping colonists?

They keep stating about doing what is right for the colonists, yet almost every decision goes against it. Send fewer people if this is a research team. Utter madness all around and those that try to defend that fact are merely lying to themselves. Get a damn drone to inspect the planet for a day or so. Not like the crew are in a hurry…

They somehow killed all of the Engineers?

We know that not all of the Engineers died after the pathogen hit as David was experimenting on them in his lab. But that then makes it thought that David or whatever David created, killed all of the other Engineers and that this is the one city on the entire planet? I doubt this so much, it just does not seem likely that for at least 9 years no other Engineers or the military ones from another warship came “home”. 99% of all of the citizens were in that circle waiting for a warship to come home? Not likely writers.

Billy Crudup and Michael Fassbender in Alien: Covenant (2017)


Quite possibly the stupidest person in the history of the franchise. He had a point about going to look at the planet to see how habitable it was. But to take so many people and to let anyone go on their own after the field attack is foolish at best. If his character was religious it would have been a lot better served to him and the film to begin to lose his grip on his faith more than he did. He should be positively spiralling to the point where Daniels has to assume control because he cannot cope with the events going on. Daniels pep talk merely gave him a boost for… Something. But it is wasted in that he follows and does exactly what an android that is acting dangerous and insane says. In what world would a character agree to go down into what looks like a basement with something stronger than them after he had already threatened to show and kill said android? Nonsense. He deserved his death… Speaking of which.

The gestation periods

In Prometheus, it took 10-12 hours at a minimum for the pathogen to take effect in Holloway. So why was the gestation period so short here? I would accept because they are different. But from Oram’s attack by the face-hugger to his chest-bursting scene is mere hours. Not nearly long enough. The same with Lopez. Does David somehow design the gestation to be longer? It doesn’t make sense and seems like a poor continuity error if we are honest.

Everything seemed to be so rushed and it really didn’t have to be. Have them on the planet for longer. It makes sense to do so. Again little changes to character decisions make the story so much smoother and easier to digest as a fan.

If you have gotten to the end then I salute you! Thanks for spending the time reading and please let me know your thoughts! Until next time.

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