Before watching Alien: Covenant, I decided to loop back and watch Prometheus again. It felt like a bad idea — kind of like taking your mask off on an uncharted planet where viruses could well be airborne — but it had been a couple of years and I wondered if my memory of Ridley Scott's prequel had been distorted, so I put on my Justice For Meredith Vickers t-shirt and pressed play.
As it happens, I wasn't wrong — despite the usual drop-dead gorgeous visuals and the introduction of David, Prometheus is a terrible piece of filmmaking. Entertaining at times, sure, but as a standalone story it's a failure, punctuated at every turn by gaping plot holes and characters whose motivations never graduate from random.
As a prequel to Alien designed to answer some of the questions that film didn't, though, Prometheus is arguably even more of a shipwreck — not only does it fail to fill in the blanks about how the "space jockey" and the Xenomorph eggs came to be discovered on LV-426 thirty years later (in the timeline), it confusingly introduces the Engineers, man's creator, and then does almost nothing to explain the mythology around them.
But all of those "WTF?" elements weren't always part of Prometheus. The original draft of the script (prior to Lost's Damon Lindelof coming on board) was written by Jon Spaihts and titled Alien: Engineers, and it did answer the key questions from Alien. Many of the main story beats made it to screen, but the details around them changed in a way that threw Prometheus way off course. Even some of the elements which didn't make the cut actually pop up in Alien: Covenant, suggesting Ridley Scott is still working from Engineers as a kind of bible to this prequel universe.
So while the movie we eventually got was fun (in the sense that if you didn't laugh, you'd have to cry), Prometheus could have been so much more. Let's take a look at all the major changes found in the Engineers script which, if left in place, could have given us the no-bullshit Alien prequel we really deserved.
Peter Weyland: A Smarter God
One of the first and most baffling of Prometheus' many holes in logic is the fact that nobody on board the ship knows why they're actually there. It's dumb because in reality nobody would jet off to a distant planet without knowing what was at stake. In Engineers, it's revealed that the mission is not really being funded in order to discover the origins of mankind — in truth, Peter Weyland dreams of terraforming Mars, but to do so needs to get his hands on the kind of alien tech not yet developed on Earth.
At one point, Weyland tells Dr. Shaw (or Jocelyn Watts, as she's named in this draft of the script): "I ask myself: What does God spend his time doing? And I go and do that." God created civilization on Earth, and Weyland intends to do the same elsewhere. Because he's also the CEO of a trillion-dollar company and not a moron, he never travels with the others on board the ship, and thus never meets his proverbial maker before the credits roll.
By removing all mention of Mars and terraforming, as well as Weyland's conversation with Shaw, and by putting him on the ship, Prometheus garbles all of the Weyland material into an incoherent, nonsensical mess. It's a stupid and unnecessary edit. What's interesting is that Covenant actually touches on the idea of Weyland (Guy Pearce) as God in its excellent opening scene. That God complex is pretty swiftly inherited by David, hence the atrocities he commits on the Engineer planet. Clearly Scott was not ready to part with some of Spaihts' best ideas.
Why Is The Ship Named Prometheus? Uhh, It's Not...
Presumably, the ship is called the Prometheus because by bringing the alien tech Weyland is searching for back into our solar system, uninhabited worlds will be made habitable — just like why Prometheus stole fire from the gods in Greek mythology. Makes perfect sense, right?
Except not, because the word "Prometheus" is nowhere to be found in the Engineers script draft. The ship is actually called the Magellan, and only when Lindelof comes on board does he name ship and movie Prometheus — something which makes zero fucking sense considering the Mars plan (and thus the obvious parallel between stealing fire and stealing tech to make somewhere habitable) is no longer in play.
Presumably in Lindelof's first re-draft, Operation Terraform Mars still exists, but when he cuts it later, he forgets to change the name of the script, or the movie.
Good work all round.
A Gruesome Climax
Although the completely gross birthing scene is one of the most memorable and disturbing moments of the entire Alien franchise, Engineers somehow completely one-ups it by using Holloway, not Shaw, as the human host which the alien bursts from — and the birth doesn't occur in the medbay, but in the bedroom.
Yup, the chestburster erupts from Holloway while he and Shaw are having sex, which is possibly even more traumatic than giving yourself a robo-caesarean. I'd put good money on this particular moment making it into a future Alien movie.
David Is Already A Complete Wildcard
In Prometheus as we know it, there's a suggestion that David is an asshole (hence spiking Holloway's drink), but it's never completely clear whether he's towing the company line and demonstrating loyalty to Weyland, or whether he's broken free of his programming. Engineers makes explicitly clear that the latter is true.
While the crew were in cryosleep, David spent years learning "trinary code" (actually called ternary code, but whatever), which changed how he thinks and effectively gave him the sentience necessary to think independently of his maker. It makes perfect sense of why David is somewhere between morbidly curious and downright evil, and considering Scott revisited the idea in Covenant, cutting it from Prometheus feels like yet another major mistake on Lindelof's part.
At the end of the script, David tries to persuade Shaw to repair him, but the ship Magellan is destroyed and Shaw opts instead to remain where they are rather than leave to begin another mission, thus choosing not to put her faith in a synthetic whom she already knows cannot be trusted. That's the kind of sensible decision nobody once made in the final movie.
Linking Directly Into Alien
Of all the differences between the two scripts, none is more key than the fact that Engineers is set on the planet LV-426, the very same planet on which Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo encounter the Xenomorph. Unlike Prometheus, this is a straight-up origin story which fully explains the space jockey's crash landing.
In Prometheus, the dormant Engineer is so incensed about being woken that he immediately tears David's head off. Lindelof's script doesn't bother answering mundane questions like "why?", but here we learn that the Engineer had put himself into that state because he knew he had a Xenomorph incubating inside him, and needed to save his race and the planet from what would happen if it got out.
After being woken and decapitating David, he pilots a ship out of the caves, but the chestburster makes his grand entrance, disabling the Engineer and causing the ship to crash in the exact same location in which it was later found in Alien. Which all makes so much more sense, it actually hurts.
At the end of the day, the fact that we didn't get this early, superior version of Prometheus is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, Alien: Engineers could have been a satisfactory explanation for the unsolved mysteries of Alien — but on the other, we'd never have got Covenant and seen the series' mythology expand to shift its focus from monsters to gods. In a parallel world, though, Alien: Engineers is the best Alien film that never got made.
Would you have traded Prometheus and Covenant for the logical, straight-up prequel of the Alien: Engineers script?
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