Warning: SPOILERS for Alien: Covenant ahead
A sure sign that we're in the final stretch of the Alien: Covenant marketing blitz came to SXSW with last night's screening of Alien. Even the shot-in-Austin opening night premiere of Song to Song, which played prior at the fest's showcase Paramount Theatre, was soon no match for a 40 year old classic that still has teeth - two sets of teeth, to be exact.
A special screening of the original Alien played to a packed house of the film's fans, no doubt in part to Sir Ridley Scott's first ever apperance at SXSW (first to Austin, in fact). Fox knows everything's bigger in Texas, most recently from last year's boost of buzz for Logan at Harry Knowles' "Butt-Numb-A-Thon," where they surprised fans with a surprise screening of Logan's first act. As a result, last night's planned screening of the original Alien with the cast and director of the newest created slight speculation that perhaps this would be a work-in-progress screening of Alien: Covenant. Though that was not the case, the attending audience left satisfied.
After a rousing welcome from a crowd cloaked in passed out Alien: Covenant t-shirt swag, Scott took to the stage to talk a little bit about the upcoming sixth installment of the story. He also brought with him stars Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Michael Fassbender, to introduce 15 minutes of footage. Scott, joking with the audience's well-known thirst for details of the latest movie, started simply with an ask for "any questions," followed by a simple set-up before the first clip:
"My goals don't change. My mantra has always been to scare the living s--t out of you."
With that, the first sequence of the film begins with the Covenent coasting through space, heading for the "paradise planet" previously described in what we know from trailers and plot summary. Off the bat, what's most impressive is the attention to detail in the vein of the original film. Even the score from Jed Kurzel (The Babadook, Assassin's Creed) seems to be channeling the spirit of Jerry Goldsmith's groundbreaking melodic riffs. This sequence was a little more set-up to the events of the film, and probably occurs in the first act. The crew of the Covenent encounters a rocky approach, as the ship shakes and tosses passengers with varying degrees of flight sickness. It's clear from their reactions who's novice and who is not, and the sequence is reminiscent of the memorable express elevator to hell drop at the start of Aliens.
Danny McBride gets to pepper some of the tech dialogue with comical one-liners, again a tradition to these earlier calm-before-the-storm set ups of characters. There comes across a conscious effort to make a strong connection to the first two films especially.
Danny McBride's change of pace role isn't lost on him:
"It's the first movie I've done that my parents think is a real movie. It's good to finally have won their admiration. It's incredible though. I mean, I grew up on these films, and when I heard that Ridley wanted to meet, I didn't even know what it was for. And I didn't want to ask, because I was afraid he had asked to meet with the wrong person."
Next up was a full contamination sequence, picking up after a disastrous on-the-ground encounter. It is also apparent that the crew splits up - one on the ground with an explorer team. and a handful on board a landed shuttle. Some of the crew monitors the increasing chaos from the Covenent. It's unclear where in relation they are to the crew on the ground, which includes Waterson faced immediately with an infected crew member spitting up that black goo we last saw in Prometheus. The violence escalates as two of the infected meet their maker in a fate arguably worse than the chest-burster. Rather than the front, these guys are bursting from the back of one poor soul, and out of the mouth of another.
The sequence delivers on what we want -- a bridge between the prior film and the original classic. It is intense and gory, one-upping some of what we've seen in prior Alien movies. A lot of that sequence flashes in the trailer as well, showing just enough of the xenomorph emerging from the spine of one crew member. The sequence pans out long enough for us to get two fantastic glimpses of the new xenomorphs, which powerfully crawl on four legs, with ferocious, killer strikes. They're initially around the size of a small dog - not as snakelike as the classic chestburster, but just as fast and immediately out of their host for carnage. Applause from the audience was only over-powered by screams. Though not screened in IMAX nor 3D process, Covenant has clearly been crafted for both.
Taking to the stage once again, Scott and his three stars gleefully commented on being a part of the project. "I met with Ridley and I didn't know for what part, so I just figured I would do anything he wanted me to do," explained Waterson. Slipping, possibly in part to the recently debunked connection between her character and Sigourney Weaver's, she explained:
"When I found out I was getting to play Ripley, I mean Daniels, I was thrilled. You kind of have to not think about how awesome it is when you're shooting or you wouldn't be able to function."
Fassbender's David was highlighted in the third slot of footage. In this scene, presumably later into the film, Billy Crudup's first mate Oram makes the unlucky discovery of what synthetic human David has been up to since Prometheus. The scene makes more sense of a mysterious shot of what appears to be a skinned human figure posed as if on display. It seems David's become a mad-scientist of sorts, archiving a cabinet of curiosities that would impress even H.R. Giger. The lair's production design is phenomenal, bringing to mind Tyrell's gothic headquarters from Scott's Blade Runner. David's genetic engineering examples are just the beginning of a tour that ends none too well for Oram in the egg chamber. The sequence shows off more of Fassbender's playful take on his character.
In the final moments of the sequence, David essentially lures Oram to a room filled with ready to burst alien eggs - presumably genetically eng-neered. David explains that the creatures within are simply waiting for "their mother," and when Oram goes in for a closer look (which is never a good idea in any of these films), the face-hugger strikes.
The Covenant preview also showed off that beautiful "Meet Walter" campaign, which we reported on a few days ago. The AI short, produced by RSA Films may be Weyland-Yutani fiction, but Scott is very serious about the once-prophetic origins of his android characters, recalling:.
"Stanley Kubrick was the one who started this idea, and it was the star character of his 2001. He did it with just this one visual of the round eye."
Watching the original film back to back with the previewed sequences from Alien: Covenant also indicates a little of what we can expect in terms of pacing. Scott, a director who has adapted successfully to changing styles of storytelling throughout his career, appears to be going for something hybrid with this new project. The standout, albeit controversial, Med Pod alien extraction by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) from Prometheus only sets up a "what's-next" level of expectation from fans. The warmly-received preview last night, combined with the promise of more bridging story to the overall arch of the franchise, all but guarantees a monster hit for the studio.
- Alien: Covenant (2017) release date: May 19, 2017