Alien: Covenant, which is the second installment in Scott’s prequel series and the sixth Alien film overall, serves as a bridge between Alien and 2012’s Prometheus. Set roughly ten years after the end of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant follows the crew of the Covenant, a ship that roams the galaxy in search of an uncharted paradise. What they find is hell.
To realize his vision, Scott sought the help of screenwriter John Logan, Scott’s collaborator on Gladiator. Several weeks ago, I had the chance to talk to Logan about the construction of the Alien prequel.
DG: How would you describe your relationship, your history, with the Alien film series?
JL: I first saw Alien in New Jersey in 1979, when I was seventeen. I didn’t know much about the film when I saw it that first time, except that it was science fiction, and the poster didn’t reveal much to me. But it was a cause célèbre when it was released, and it turned out to be a great movie-going experience for me. What I responded to in Alien was seeing real people, the crew members in the film, put into a provocative situation, and it was the drama of this that I found extremely terrifying. You had real people who were dealing with this evolving, terrifying threat, this alien creature, and they had to find a way to survive. Ridley directed the film like a master surgeon.
DG: What was the strategy that you and Ridley Scott came up with in terms of linking this film to Alien?
JL: Alien was a film that was steeped in purity. There was such a wonderful, frightening purity in the way those characters were placed in that terrifying situation, and Ridley directed the film like a science fiction version of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Now that Ridley has made his version of And Then There Were None, with Alien, how do we tell an equally terrifying story that falls before Alien? When Ridley and I looked at the 1979 film, we asked ourselves how the alien creature was created and where it came from. This formed the basis for Covenant.
DG: How would you describe the relationship between Alien: Covenant and Alien?
JL: We’re taking a firm step toward Alien with this film. There are little Easter eggs in this film that relate to the 1979 film. I picked the title Covenant, inspired by the name of the brig in the Robert Louis Stevenson novel Kidnapped. The word refers to a pact between two people, a solemn agreement between two parties or rulers.
DG: How would you describe the Covenant’s mission in the film?
JL: The Covenant isn’t on a military mission, or a mining mission, unlike Alien and Aliens. It’s a colonial ship, and they’ve left earth, and they’ve set out on a colonization mission. They’re trying to make a new home on this new planet, which has the feel and look of dark grandeur.
DG: How would you describe the dynamic that exists between Billy Crudup’s character, Captain Christopher Oram, and Katherine Waterston’s Daniels?
JL: Billy and Katherine are at odds in the film over how they’re going to build this new world on this strange planet. Billy’s character is a religious, spiritual man who feels very uneasy about trying to take over a new planet and then remake it in their image.
DG: What questions did you want to answer in the film, and what questions did you want to leave open-ended?
JL: What happened to David between the end of Prometheus and the beginning of Alien: Covenant? What about Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace, the last human survivor of the destroyed Prometheus? Where did Shaw go at the end of Prometheus? Where did the aliens come from? What happened to David? What role did the engineers play in the creation of the alien species? These are the questions that Ridley and I wanted to answer in this film.
DG: Although this is a prequel, you and Ridley have to contend with all of the alien sequels that have appeared over the past twenty years. How do you generate fear and tension in the aftermath of all of these films, most of which were regarded poorly by audiences?
JL: Ridley had a much broader palette to play with on this film than he did on the first film. On the first film, Ridley had one creature to play with, and he did a brilliant job. In this film, Ridley obviously had much more to play with, and you’ll see different creatures, different colors and shapes. We didn’t pay much attention to the Alien sequels, seeing that we’re only looking ahead to the 1979 original. I think the sequels all had flaws and qualities, good and bad points. I think the key is the dynamic that exists between the human characters and the creatures in this film. That’s what I found so compelling in the first film, and that’s what we focused on in this film.
DG: How would you describe your collaboration with Ridley Scott on this film?
JL: It was similar to Gladiator. All of our conversations for both films revolved around character and drama. We wanted to go back to the purity of Alien and other classic horror films from the 1970s and 1980s, like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Steven Spielberg’s Duel was another inspiration. We’re telling a story about the creation of a civilization, which led Ridley and me to talk about Shakespeare. When I worked on the James Bond series, the villains were the easiest part to write, because it was so much fun. The hardest part was writing the drama and the characters. The hardest part of writing Alien: Covenant was writing the scenes between Daniels and Oram.
DG: As a writer, how do you approach horror and science fiction compared to the other genres you’ve worked in?
JL: I know about photon torpedoes and xenomorphs. I know very little about the Harry Potter series and the Lord of the Rings universe. Like the James Bond series, I approached the Alien series as a fan. I knew the language.
DG: Do the crew members on board the Covenant have weapons in the film?
JL: They do have weapons. A terrifying development occurs early in the film, and the tension never breaks after this. There’s no break for them. They obviously encounter this mysterious menace, and there’s great tension and unease throughout the rest of the film. This film, like Prometheus, represents a vision of hell. It has the feel of gothic horror and the Hammer horror films. It’s like The Wizard of Oz for the characters in this film, except that their journey leads them to a discovery of unspeakable horror.