Note: Spoilers for both Alien: Covenant and Prometheus abound below.
Alien: Covenant is now finally in theaters, to a somewhat divisive response, but the film that Ridley Scott ended up making wasn’t always the one he intended as the follow-up film to Prometheus. Indeed, that (also divisive) 2012 movie was the Blade Runner filmmaker’s highly anticipated return to the sci-fi genre, and he did so under the guise of a prequel to the film that first put him on the map: Alien. Passengers scribe Jon Spaihts originated the Prometheus script as a film that brought back the facehuggers and the iconic xenomorph, but when Damon Lindelof was asked to weigh in, he shaped the script into more of a separate sci-fi film than a direct prequel to Alien. Instead of focusing on that iconic monster, the film introduced precursors to the xenomorph while focusing more squarely on the Engineers, the beings that created humans in the first place.
The end of Prometheus revealed that the Engineers had been using the planet that the Prometheus crash-landed on as a containment/creation zone for a biological weapon. They were headed to wipe out humanity when the organism they created turned on them, leaving behind the deadly tomb that the Prometheus crew finds. At the movie’s conclusion, Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and Michael Fassbender’s badly injured android David are the only two survivors, and instead of charting a course back to Earth, Shaw argues they should instead try to find where the Engineers came from to better understand why they wanted to snuff out their creation of humanity.
Shortly after Prometheus’ release, both Scott and Lindelof were fairly open about their plans for a Prometheus sequel, with Lindelof revealing that the two had already plotted out the answers to questions posed in that film:
“Ridley was very interested in talking about, ‘What are the answers to the questions that Prometheus is posing that are not necessarily definitively spelled out in the body of Prometheus?’ I said to him, we should be prepared for people to feel frustrated if we’re going to be withholding, so we have to be very careful about what we’re saving for later because it’s not a foregone conclusion that there are going to be sequels, and so if there isn’t a sequel, just be comfortable with what we gave them in this movie.”
Lindelof continued, as the initial plan was for Prometheus to spawn its own separate franchise further disconnected from Alien:
“This movie has two children: One of these children grows up to be Alien, but the other child is going to grow up, and God knows what happens to them. And that’s what the sequel to Prometheus would be.”
Scott maintained that it was pertinent to keep both Shaw and David alive at the end of Prometheus to set them off on a path for the eventual sequel:
“I know where it’s going. I know that to keep [David] alive is essential and to keep [Elizabeth] alive is essential and to go where they came from, not where I came from, is essential.”
As for what Shaw and David would find upon meeting the Engineers, Scott had already worked out that they would be portrayed as pretty evil beings:
“Because [the Engineers] are such aggressive fuckers … and who wouldn’t describe them that way, considering their brilliance in making dreadful devices and weapons that would make our chemical warfare look ridiculous? So I always had it in there that the God-like creature that you will see actually is not so nice, and is certainly not God. As she says, ‘This is not what I thought it was going to be, and I think we should get the Hell out of here or there won’t be any place to go back to.’
That’s not necessarily planted in the ground at the tail end of the third act, but I knew that’s kind of where we should go, because if we’ve opened up this door — which I hope we have because I certainly would like to do another one – 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.”
If you’ve seen Alien: Covenant it’s at this point that you’re probably thinking, “Uh, what?” Indeed, the film that became the Prometheus sequel doesn’t bear a ton of resemblance to the one that Scott and Lindelof were describing back in 2012, but that’s par for the course in Hollywood. Scripts get developed, evolve, and change, and clearly Scott opted to go a different direction with it.