‘Alien: Covenant’: 38 Things We Learned from Ridley Scott’s Audio Commentary
One thing you can’t say about Alien: Covenant is that it didn’t spark conversation. While filmmaker Ridley Scott’s Prometheus follow-up amassed a somewhat divisive response among fans, it certainly posed a lot of fascinating questions for folks to argue over. So it’s a good thing the Blu-ray release of Alien: Covenant includes a full audio commentary from Scott, along with plenty of other bonus features that dive deep into the conception and making of the film.
Scott’s commentary for Covenant is, somewhat disappointingly, a bit of a mixed bag. There are times when he spends a bit too much time discussing things that are obvious to the viewer, but it ends up being a worthwhile listen for the insights he does give. He addresses some of the criticisms, from the scientists touching things to the particulars of A.I. anatomy, while also offering some great insight into some of the decisions he made and the backstory of the characters. It’s clear in the commentary, as in the film, that Scott is really interested in Michael Fassbender’s David, and there’s a lot of time spent discussing the philosophy of A.I. and the characters of David and Walter.
But the Blu-ray has even more to offer, as a nearly hourlong series of featurettes called Master Class – Ridley Scott go deep behind the scenes of the conception and making of the film, with interviews with Scott, the cast, and writer John Logan. There’s a lot of great stuff to be found there, especially for cinephiles, but for now I’ve put together a list of some of the more glaring insights that Scott offers on his audio commentary below.
Ridley says David wasn’t an A.I. that was an embryo and grew up—when we see him in the prologue, he’s freshly “born.”
- David realizes in the prologue that his creator has limitations (i.e. will die), and when Peter asks him to pour him tea after David points out that Peter will die, it was a challenge—his first “order” to David. Scott says that David’s choice to pour the tea immediately, with no reaction, shows that he’s political, and therefore dangerous. He’s biding his time and choosing his actions wisely.
- The opening title font, information about the ship, and even the score all harken back to the original Alien directly after the prologue.
- Scott says the nail necklace represents the idea of the cabin on the lake that Katherine Waterston and James Franco’s character’s planned to build.
- There’s no random choice in the crew members—they all had to earn their spots on the ship.
- Danny McBride’s character was inspired by Slim Pickens, down to the hat. Scott calls him his hat tip to Stanley Kubrick’s Strangelove.
- The holodeck on the Covenant is meant to be an evolution of the holodeck from Prometheus.
- Scott says on the set of Alien his actors would get fussy with him about not having any backstory or motivation beyond surviving the titular menace, so Scott sat down and wrote a page of backstory for each character.
- In the original script, Shaw’s transmission was a prayer. But Scott felt it was corny and instead changed it to the John Denver song because of its purity and focus on loneliness, despite not actually being a big John Denver fan himself.
- Scott acknowledges the plot point of receiving a transmission and going to its source is from the original Alien: “I think there’s a comfort zone when a film is so popular and is popular for 30 years, that it’s good to slightly revisit old ideas.”
Scott says this planet, Origae-6, has two moons and is roughly the size of Earth.
- All the landing shots are actual location shots from New Zealand.
- Scott confirms the planet we saw in Prometheus was a military research outpost, which he based on what he learned about Anthrax Island where they developed anthrax during World War II.
- Scott says he storyboards everything, noting that he went through many years of art school and can thus storyboard incredibly quickly.
- The neomorph literally grows as he’s running after Amy Seimetz’s character.
- Scott develops almost everything he makes, but he says The Martian came out of the blue as something he didn’t personally develop.
- Scott says on the commentary that Covenant is the middle chapter for this new series of Alien films: “There’s a platform for what we’re doing right now. It’ll be Prometheus, Covenant 1, and Covenant 2, then we’ll probably come in the back end of Alien 1, and that’s already kind of been worked out. Covenant 2’s already being written [by] John Logan.”
- The big statues inside David’s stronghold are probably the six elders of the entire civilization: “The intellects, the artists, the wise men.”
- Scott says he thinks the Engineers have a lifespan of around 150 years.
- The flashback that shows what happened to the dead Engineers wasn’t in the original script. Scott insisted they needed to show who killed all of them and why.
- David has been marooned on the planet for 10 years.
- Scott has answers for all your David body hair questions: “Does the hair of an A.I. grow? If David’s a super A.I., they’ll want his hair to grow. They couldn’t quite work out the red blood—they wanted to differentiate with white blood—but hair will grow, beard will grow… Does he get dirty? Probably, but he doesn’t have body odor or anything like that, so he probably just keeps the parts clean.”
The building David is housed in was based in part on the beauty of the Pantheon.
- Scott says the entire film boils down to issues of A.I. and creator/creation: “The subtext of this whole story is the evolution of an A.I. will eventually demonstrate his superiority to their human intellect, and if we invent a perfect A.I. and the next thing you do is have that A.I. create or invent an equal A.I., from that moment we’re in trouble, unless we can control it.”
- Scott says there were about 2 million Engineers in the plaza when David released the biological weapon. The weapon can kill a planet entirely in months, flora and fauna, then the planet will take years to rebuild.
- Visually Scott originally wanted Alien: Covenant to be like Black Hawk Down, but once they dug into it he felt Black Hawk didn’t look “cosmetic” enough for what he needed, so they found a middle ground between that look and Prometheus.
- Scott defends Billy Crudup’s character’s decision to touch and look in the eggs noting that John Hurt’s character did it in the first Alien.
- Daniels gradually taking over the group in Covenant harkens back to Ripley’s arc in the first Alien.
- Scott’s first cut was 2:20, 2:15 and he removed about 15 minutes of footage: “Half the time it’s when shots are too long or the sequence is too long, but I’m quite good at judging where I am and have I done too much and do I waste money by shooting stuff I don’t use.”
- The alien that comes out of Crudup’s chest was a puppet on set, then replaced with a digital version in post-production.
- Scott says David’s love for Elizabeth is real.
- Scott was worried people wouldn’t buy the fact that David stabbing Walter didn’t kill him, and he explains that the “kill button” that David thought he hit was already starting to evolve in this new version of the A.I., thus he comes back.
There was debate over whether to keep the scene in which Daniels flips through David’s drawings, which Scott thinks gives us insight into how David’s mind works.
- Scott wanted to keep the A.I. fight short and violent because we’ve seen similar kinds of fights before.
- Scott says he wants the audience wondering if the A.I. is Walter or David on the ship.
- On the original Alien, as written, when Ripley gets into the shuttle the movie ends. “I felt it was flat, it needs another evolution, so you need a fourth act. So I sat down and wrote the fourth act, which is what happens inside the escape shuttle, and it cost money so they didn’t want to do it, but I think it’s the whole difference in the film.” It constituted an extra five days of shooting, and Scott wanted to tack on a similar “extra ending” for Covenant.
- David sneaking the embryos onto the ship in his stomach was inspired by research Scott had done for a film called Cartel, where he learned that girls were swallowing drugs and carrying them across the border.
- David’s final walk down the corridor used to have a kick inspired by Adolf Hitler, but Scott removed it.
For much more on the film, Alien: Covenant is currently available on Digital HD, 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD.