Wow! It’s been a long time since I’ve done this column but I think the surfacing of the script for Alien: Engineers, the original incarnation of Prometheus, is a pretty good occasion, right? Ever since the release of Prometheus over the summer there’s been intense debate between the film’s fans and its (many) detractors – would it have been better as a straight Alien prequel? Would it have made more sense? Would the characters still have been petting alien vagina snakes for no reason? I mostly liked the film, but I certainly understand some of these gripes.
We’ve always known that there are two writers on the film, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Many of the film’s logical shortcomings were laid at the latter’s feet, which is understandable. He was the last writer on the project. But now that Spaihts’ original draft of Alien: Engineers has surfaced we can trace the exact origins of the elements that made up Prometheus. And, true to the conceit of the film, the answers are frustrating. While there’s some cool stuff, including lots more actual Xenomorph/Alien carnage, in Alien: Engineers – it’s surprisingly close to the Prometheus we’ve come to know and love (or hate).
So now it’s time to do an in-depth breakdown of some key differences. Do they still pet the snake? Does Fifield still turn into a Zombie? Is all of the “God” stuff still in there? Does old man Weyland still show up at the end to take you out of the movie?
For starters, let’s get our bearings and address some character differences. Noomi Rapace’s character Elizabeth Shaw is named Jocelyn Watts in this draft and Logan Marshall-Green’s character Charlie Holloway assumes the slightly different moniker of Martin Holloway. Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers is Lydia Vickers here. Most of the major character’s names remain the same, with small variations here and there (and of course there are some characters from the film that aren’t in this draft and vice versa).
Names aside, the character of Watts is largely the same in temperament as Rapace’s Shaw (if a bit less openly religious). Vickers is still a blowhard, but is actually less layered in this draft (I actually found her to be one of the more reasonable characters in Prometheus, icy exterior aside). The big difference here is that Holloway in this draft is older (in his 40’s) and isn’t nearly as big of an asshole as Marshall-Green’s iteration of the character.
Michael Fassbender’s David, meanwhile, likely wouldn’t have been played by Fassbender at all (at least as we see him in the film). Here David is described as being more overtly robotic, he’s humanoid in design but couldn’t actually pass for a human being. He’s still very curious about the mission, but his agenda here is more overtly malevolent.
Surprisingly, the opening of the film is very similar (as is the overall role of the Engineers both in the story and in the creator vs. creation dynamic). If there was one element I expected to be hugely different, it was this. But, as you can see below, it was all Spaihts.
Overall, Alien: Engineers still goes pretty heavy on the religious stuff, but it’s not as consistently faith-centric as the Lindelof draft. It also has less Peter Weyland, who pops up at the beginning not as a hologram but in the flesh (and doesn’t pop up at the end to surprise us).
In what amounts to a huge difference to me, the story actually takes place on LV-426. That’s the moon that the Nostromo lands on in the first Alien and it really helps tie the events of this version of the movie to that film. Because of this the crashed Engineer ship from the original makes way more sense in Engineers (it was always such a frustrating coincidence that the ship crashed in the same position in Prometheus but wasn’t actually the Space Jockey craft from the first film). Speaking of ships, the Prometheus is now called the Magellan.
Still the same? F*cking Milburn still has to pet the snake/centipede. It makes slightly more sense here, but it’s weird that it made it into Lindelof’s draft. It’s almost as if Ridley Scott (or Lindelof himself) fell in love with this scene and wanted it in the new version no matter how badly it clashed with their new film.
Holloway is still doomed. He blacks out in the pyramid and makes it back to the ship feeling sick. He then gives birth to a gelatinous, boneless Xenomorph during sex with Watts. This is not the “Alien” that we know and love, but it’s close…
Like I said before, Holloway is less of a jerk in this version. So while the less innocent David doesn’t orchestrate his demise here as he did in Prometheus, he does arrange for Shaw/Watts to be impregnated by a Facehugger.
It’s then that Shaw/Watts gives birth to the actual Xenomorph/Alien as we’ve come to know it. It all happens during the Medpod sequence that marks the highlight of the film, after which the device repairs her massive internal damage.
The Alien itself goes on a rampage and brutally slaughters several characters. While Vickers doesn’t have Weyland secretly stowed away aboard the ship, she does have soldiers to help carry out Protocol 2. What’s Protocol 2? The plan wherein Watts and Holloway are to be neutralized in the event that the Weyland corporation finds technology they want to use without any pesky civilians knowing about it. In Alien: Engineers we find out that the Engineers have actually been working on terraforming technology, something that Weyland has been developing unsuccessfully for years. The soldiers are Aliens style grunts, one of whom is oddly named Vigoda. Many of them end of as fodder for the Alien.
One of the worst elements of the finished film, a zombified Fifield, is still present in this draft. And now that he’s got acid for blood, it’s partially him that causes Vickers’ demise (the Shepherd mentioned here is also one of her soldiers).
The stuff at the end with the rogue Engineer (called a “Sleeper” here) is more or less the same. He still rips David’s head off and he’s still on a mission to get back to Earth in order to deliver the deadly payload of Alien eggs. Only here – as it should be in a friggin’ Alien prequel – he gives birth to a giant Xenomorph. Thus, our circle is now complete. This is the dude with the hole in his chest that the crew of the Nostromo finds in the first film.
Watts and Captain Janek (who doesn’t have sex with Charlize Theron) still ram the Engineer’s ship, which is now on autopilot towards Earth now following the demise of is pilot. He’s still killed and she still escapes via escape pod. Absent here? The co-pilots who so cheerily die in Prometheus.
In the end, Watts/Shaw doesn’t go off in search of other worlds after her pod crashes. Nor does she help the beheaded David. Instead she sets up camp (the Alien head trophy is a nice tough) and plays chess with him remotely, biding her time.
Watts is content to wait. She knows someone will come for her, whether they be human or engineer. And the last few shots of the film feature a beacon that just might attract the Nostromo. It’s a lonely, desolate and satisfying ending.
Overall? I’d say this draft works slightly better than what we see onscreen in Prometheus. The characters’ motivations are more grounded (here they celebrate finding an ancient Alien civilization as opposed to getting all mopey about it) and there’s some actual Xenomorph/Alien action that doesn’t feel tacked on like the final shot in the film. Structurally however, it’s very similar. If you had an issue with the lurching and exposition heavy narrative of Prometheus, you would have likely found similar issues in this version of the film.
Obviously I didn’t have room to touch on every similarity and difference between this draft in the film. If you’re so inclined, you should check out the script for yourself and draw your own conclusions.