Alien Covenant: Echoes of
Peter Greenaway's "Prospero's Books"?

leading from


a) Thinking of Peter Greenaway films

a.i) A thought about Zed and Two Noughts
Confusingly I had the idea that there should be some sort of Greenaway connection on the first day that photos of David's lab had been released online featuring rows of specimens of alien life forms on the table. Perhaps I was inspired by the layout of labeled decomposing apples seen in the trailer "Zed and Two Noughts" (1985), and the film features various decomposing items, mainly animal corpses. We see a small dead crocodile in the distance as a camera takes photographs of it decomposing.



a.ii) Connecting with Prospero's Books

On 11th April 2021, Clara Fei-Fei of Studio Yutani mentioned that Matt Hatton who worked on Alien Covenant explained to her that the flute scene was a homage to Hamlet.

The scene in particular was when Hamlet was aware of his friends trying to trick him. (See: Alien Covenant: Flute scene as a homage to Hamlet?)
But this led to is my assumption coming to the surface that Ridley Scott thought about Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books  (1991), when he made Alien: Covenant. 
Prospero's Books was an art movie version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, starring John Gielgud. 
It was very well known film when it came out, but decades later it would hardly be something that people would find much reason to discuss, perhaps because the film director Peter Greenaway's movie success would eventually fade away in short memories, and Michael Nyman who did his very memorable film scores found reason to walk away from him having watched Prospero's Books .

It isn't easy to pinpoint the connection, but I saw that it looked as if David the android had been creating his own alien life form museum and wondered what it would be like if the cinematographer Sacha Vierny who was famous for working on  Greenaways films had been alive to take a shot with the camera passing by these things.

See: Alien Covenant: Exploration of So is it Any Good's "Alien Covenant" photos






b.) Alone in cavernous architecture
b.i) Now it does seem to me that Prospero's Book with its derelict cavernous halls and Prospero living in near solitude for a decade with his daughter surrounded by his magically enslaved spirits, and his collection of books, some very hard, while living exiled on a mysterious island 

b.ii) Perhaps it ties in with David stuck on the planet living in with the dead city of the engineers, as he spent his time there evolving an alien species and losing his sanity in the way that an android could, and outside the mummified bodies of dead engineers littering the streets.




c) Dissected body of the dearly departed 


c.i) In one scene we are presented with an image of Prospero's wife who is does not appear in the Shakespeare' play beyond a brief mention, but in this film, she appears as a spirt or an illusion of some sort standing and lying down


c.ii)  She appears as a with her pregnant belly cut open, looking like a model for a Titian painting and a dissection from an Andreas Vesalias


c.iii) We find outselves presented with her the corpse lying down



c.iv) The corpse is briefly seen in the final movie in David's laboratory very briefly 

Here we are presented with the corpse of Elizabeth Shaw after dissection and perhaps plasticised. She is someone that David the android felt love for before it appeared that he killed her.

Perhaps as much as we might be confused about Prospero's wife and what happened to her, we find ourselves confused about what happened to Elizabeth Shaw and what appears to be her dissected corpse is doing in his laboratory.

See also Alien Covenant: Elizabeth Shaw corpse


Final Elizabeth Shaw corpse head as seen in the film
Final Elizabeth Shaw corpse head as seen in the film
Elizabeth Shaw corpse body  as seen in the film.

d) Giant pages

d.i)  Huge tomes in Prospero's Books

In Prospero's Books, the character Prospero has a collection of magic books, and the film shows these books and pages of their contents as a major feature throughout the film. 

 Some of the books are very large, here an Atlas that belonged to Orpheus showing maps of hell, and another giant book in the image below being used as a slide

d.ii)   David's nightmarish drawings of Elizabeth Shaw

We find in Alien Covenant, libaries of scrolls left behind by the Engineers.

On a bench there are to be found a pile of large drawings that are a collection of David's nightmarish drawings of Elizabeth Shaw 

The character Daniels discovers them and turns the pages looking through them as if they were a book, before David comes to attack her.



e) Caliban!

e.i) It appeared that there was a connection between Alien Covenant and The Tempest established in some way already in script writer Dante Harper who worked on earlier drafts of the script, when he saw the film for the first time starting findhing himself comparing David to Caliban a grotesque  misshapen near human who is the son of a witch name Sycorax, Perhaps Dante Harpder had seen a production of The Tempest where nothing had been done to show that Calliban was particularly different from any other human in appearance, which one could say about the character as in Prospero's Books, looking very much like a well formed dancer with a bald head and makeup. In the end it doesn't say very much but still it's a suggestion of something.

  1. Aaron Couch: It’s at that moment we really understand who David is?

    Dante Harper: When I saw the movie the first time, I recognized for the first time the degree to which it’s very much a Gothic story, in a formal sense of what the elements of a Gothic story are. Which I wouldn’t really say about any of the other Alien movie. You go to this place that has elements of this lost civilization that may have been evil, or maybe not. You’re not sure. And it’s been destroyed and the whole planet is this haunted house. And then you meet this person who is this sort of Caliban or a Fall of the House of Usher type of figure who, everything you see, you aren’t going to have it explained, but you have a sense that many terrible things happened in this past in this place. It deals with history, which you don’t normally see in science fiction. (Heat Vision interview for Hollywood Reporter


e. ii) A key to neomorphs

In the film Prospero's Books, the makeup for the performer Michael Clark playing Caliban was based on Francis Bacon's paintings. 

Ellen Lens the costume designer presented on her website comparisons between the paintings by Francis Bacon and the character Caliban as seen in the film.

Should one consider David the robot part Prospero and part Caliban?




e.iii) In the Alien production, Ridley Scott showed HR Giger Francis Bacon's Crucifixion Triptych as a starting point for the Chest burster. ( See: Alien: Ridley inspired by Francis Bacon)

In Alien Covenant, we have the Francis Bacon-esque biomorphs such as the Neomorphs and the Xenomorphs and perhaps here they represent the deformed monster Caliban and all the spirits under the power of Prospero's


Neomorph from Alien Covenant


Neomorph from Alien Covenant

f) How else does Shakespeare's The Tempest Books also connects with the scifi?

We also know that the film The Forbidden Planet was inspired on the Prospero's Books with Dr Edward Morbius as the Prospero figure, and the monster in the film would have been Caliban, as the monster that couldn't be tamed

One can know that this was one of the films that Dan O'Bannon could think about and compare to Alien in terms of the similaritiy of the scenarios.

  1. Dominic Kulcsar: However thinking about this need to use Shakespeare in Alien: Covenant. It occurred to me that the lab display on the first day that I saw an image of it leaked to the public made me think of something that ought to have been a set in a Peter Greenaway movie, and this led me to think about Prospero's Books by that director. The film was based upon Shakespeare's The Tempest and that made its way into scifi movie world before in the form of Forbidden Planet, and this Peter Greenaway features the Prospero character in lonely world with his daughter and a vast deserted palace populated by his magical creations. It's a very abstract elaborate art movie and tough to describe. So I expect that Ridley must have taken an interest in that film and then again it can be a bit of a danger being influenced by Greenaway's films so it's not wise to try to be so obvious. Here is David living in a derelict alien city near enough in the way we encounter Dr. Edward Morbius in the movie Forbidden Planet. (April 10th 2021
  2. Dan O'Bannon: I had the material necessary for the , for the first half of the script, a kind of Forbidden Planet situation where one of our starships lands of a mysterious planet, gets stranded there, bit by bit becomes involved with some mysterious and threatening organism. I had that all worked out pretty good, but I really didn't know what to do with the second half." (Alien Evolution documentary 4:25 )

1 comment:

  1. "Alien Covenant: Echoes of Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books" was posted on July 4th 2021