At their recent 2017 Showcase, 20th Century Fox previewed footage from the highly-anticipated Alien: Covenant, and it did not disappoint. Ridley Scott shows no signs of mellowing with age, as the clips contained some of the most brutal, visceral, and jaw-dropping scenes in the entire franchise. Here are my impressions of what we saw that day, and I’ve also included some interview highlights from the recent panel too.
For those who wish to go into Alien: Covenant knowing nothing, beware of minor spoilers below!
Alien: Covenant’s footage opens on a crew of men and women aboard the space vessel Covenant. They are close-knit like the Marines from Aliens but not military; joking around, trading good-natured insults, doing their jobs.
We already know this is a colony ship, and actor Katherine Waterston, who plays Daniels, explained further, “...They’re colonists. They’re scientists. They are not military experts or anything, they are all civilians… and there are some military dudes around to protect us, but most of the people on the ship are couples. And then there are all of these colonists who are in a kind of cryosleep.”
The crew is in contact with a smaller dropship on the surface of a lush, green planet (a far cry from the desolation of Acheron seen in the first two films) waiting for another group, possibly a science expedition, to return. This planet is presumably where Shaw and David (Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, who both reprise their roles) were headed to at the end of Prometheus… the home world of the Engineers.
A female crewmember escorts a male crewmember who is sick or wounded, spitting up black bile, aboard the dropship and into sick bay. Another female crewmember clearly sees the threat of infection and hesitates to let them in, which was reminiscent of the scene in Alien where Ripley refuses Dallas and Lambert back on the ship with the Facehugger attached to Kane.
Once in the med bay, the infected male crewmember begins to convulse, and of course, you know what happens next… except not the way you think. Sharp, spiky protuberances suddenly spring from the unfortunate host’s spine, as if the alien decided to about-face and exit from the back, bursting forth in an intense and gory fashion, sloughing off the body of its dead host like a wet sock. Honestly, it was pretty shocking, emphasized by the groans of disgust from the audience packed with press regretting their free lunch. Thanks, Fox!
The “Backburster," or Neomorph, resembled (at least in this early form) the fleshy, pale alien “child” in Alien Resurrection, but leaner and meaner.
The female crewmember scoots away, horrified, while total chaos erupts around her, in a scene that called back to Aliens, where Ripley and Newt are trapped with Facehuggers in the med bay. The Backburster is relentless in its attack, but she manages to fight it off, barely escaping into a cargo bay of some sort.
Elsewhere on the planet, another afflicted crewmember is carried back to the ship by colleagues, along with what appears to be an armed security force. He begins to thrash around in seizure, and his comrades hold him down, trying to stabilize him… when he suddenly vomits up another Neomorph! I guess if you’re a Backburster, when you gotta go, you REALLY gotta go, any way you can.
Needless to say, there was blood, panic, and screaming, followed by an explosion and the feeling that the remaining characters are all royally screwed. I admit I am having some trouble tracking characters and events, even from my notes… It was just a few minutes of unhinged madness and completely out of context, but damn, it hit all the right notes. No deliberate pacing here, this went straight for the jugular. So much bursting!
My initial impression is that this feels like a combination of the first two Alien movies, borrowing quite a bit of tone and action from James Cameron’s sequel, yet still keeping it extremely red and absolutely R-rated like the original film. While I don’t think Scott gave his own film The Force Awakens treatment, it should be noted that the footage we saw contains similar beats found in the first two films, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and only from events presumably early in the film.
Waterston, who from appearance and attitude, is already being touted as “the new Ripley” and spoke a bit about Scott’s history with strong female characters:
“...People are talking a lot these days about the progress we’re making, or storytelling with great roles for women. But… I don’t know, maybe Ridley’s not getting enough credit. He’s been doing it for a very long time.
...And I think his attitude about it is very similar to my own. It just seems obvious. It’s interesting, and there are a lot of cool, complicated women out there… it’s not rocket science.”
Waterston, who is coming off films like Inherent Vice and most recently, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, talks about the allure and challenges of playing a more physical, heroic role outside of her comfort zone:
“Well, I don’t think anyone ever has to convince any actor to work with Ridley Scott, or to be a part of something like this. I feel like I’ve heard actors say this all of the time, and they say it all of the time because it’s true: we do find ourselves attracted to the things that we don’t think we can do. That I’m always looking for new challenges, and, maybe, even on some level, I’m addicted to that horrible dread that you feel at the beginning of a project where you are not sure if you will have what it takes to, you know, pull it off…”
Another interesting note is that much of what we saw, and what we know of the film so far, seems to be revisiting ideas from what we know of screenwriter Jon Spaihts’ original draft for Prometheus, before Damon Lindelof was involved in the project. Namely, the fact that Prometheus was originally pitched as a direct prequel to the events of Alien, dovetailing the end and beginning of the two films together, much like how Rogue One leads into Star Wars: A New Hope. Also, it featured the inclusion of elements from Alien, like the classic “Big Chap” style Xenomorphs. Lindelof revised these ideas, and focused on Prometheus to be its own entity, existing in the same universe as, but without being directly connected to Alien. The title was also changed to reflect that, from, at one point early on, Alien: Paradise Lost, to ultimately Prometheus when it was not directly connected to the original 1979 film.
While I may be in the minority in that I think Prometheus is a solid film, it seems clear that separating Prometheus from Alien was probably a mistake. With all the elements in play, it was practically a no-brainer, but Scott chose another vision. It’s now rather telling that Lindelof is not involved in this film, and lots of those discarded Prometheus ideas are evident in Alien: Covenant. Even the title has course-corrected back to reflect the direct connection.
Scott has also said that this film ties directly to Ellen Ripley somehow. It begs the question, are the similarities, both physically and characteristically, between Waterston’s Daniels and Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley more than a coincidence? It was revealed recently that James Franco was cast as the captain of the Covenant, and husband of Daniels, so if Alien: Covenant, as well as subsequent prequels, are to segue into Alien, then in the timeline of the story, and assuming she survives, could “Daniels” be the maiden name of Ellen Ripley’s mother or grandmother? This is pure speculation of course, but not so outlandish considering Ridley Scott’s suggestion that the events of all the films, as well as the creation of the Xenomorphs themselves, are intentional.
Alien: Covenant hits theaters May 19th, 2017.
Synopsis: "Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape."
ALIEN: COVENANT Official Channels