Director Ridley Scott descended on SXSW for the very first time in his long career yesterday in order to promote his upcoming movie Alien: Covenant. The movie, based on the trailers and posters alone, looks to be a return-to-form for the franchise and I can now confidently say even more so that seems to be the case. Last night prior to a screening of the original Alien, Ridley Scott screened several scenes from Alien: Covenant and it was mostly awesome...mostly.
Warning: this article may contain minor spoilers for Alien: Covenant, but I will avoid getting overly specific as to not spoil anything for those who want to see the movie when it comes out. The packed house at the Paramount Theatre on the first night of SXSW not only received free shirts and posters, but they saw three very encouraging scenes from the follow-up to Prometheus. One thing that I can definitively say about Alien: Covenant after seeing the footage is that, as frustrated as many were with Prometheus at the time, that movie as absolutely necessary to get us to where we are now. Not only that, but I am confident that Prometheus will look way better in hindsight after seeing Alien: Covenant. Even based on the little footage, that much is clear. Ridley Scott knows what he is doing here.
The first sequence was classic Alien through and through. The Covenant crew is seen making their initial descent to the planet they are scouting and it is bit of a bumpy ride. It is incredibly reminiscent of the original, only this time with more modern and fancy special effects. This sequence mainly gives us a bit of that "inciting incident" vibe while also giving us a very good sense of how the crew interacts with one another. Again, the interactions have that classic Alien vibe. But it is what happens on the surface of the planet that truly got the crowd going. And for good reason.
The second scene we were shown was a mix of unbelievably excellent and a bit of cause for concern to those who have a love affair with the Alien franchise for very specific reasons. Once on the ground, things have gone from optimistic and hopeful to downright worst case scenario in seemingly no time at all. Two members of the Covenant crew have been infected by some alien spores that have some pretty undesirable side effects. Most notably, an alien grows inside the host's body and bursts out of them in a very messy manner. One of the infected crew members is the poor gentleman we have seen in the trailers who is spasming in the med bay with his back getting broken from the inside out. What I can say is that this sequence is gruesome, tense and thrilling. Also bloody. So much blood. Ridley Scott makes good and creative use of the blood. Again, classic Alien. The other infected member of the crew never makes it back to the ship, but his fate is equally gruesome and not at all pretty. Lots of blood. Lots of screaming. Lots of awesome.
The bad thing about this long and again, mostly amazing sequence was that the creatures we saw, which appeared to be the rumored Neomorphs, is that they were totally CGI. Now, it was (or at least should have been) expected that a good chunk of Alien: Covenant would rely on CGI and digital effects. That is the world we live in. But there were those probably hoping for a nice blend of practical and CGI. It looks like this movie is going to rely heavily on CGI and honestly, the little critters were, though designed very well, kind of rough around the edges. That said, the movie isn't locked yet and they could still be working on getting things just right and the scenes were, overall, so great that it didn't personally take me out of it. But for some, practical is the reason that Alien works so well and those folks may be a bit bummed out. Still, I would argue that it is a small price to pay for what looks like the best Alien movie any of us will have seen in more than three decades.
There was one last scene and truthfully, it was the most encouraging thing we were shown all night. The sequence features Billy Crudup hanging out with Michael Fassbender's android David from Prometheus. It turns out he has been making use of his years alone on this planet and by that I mean he has been "studying" the alien life. This sequence has been teased in the trailers when we see Billy Crudup meeting a dreaded and classic facehugger. All I can say without spoiling much is that this scene makes Prometheus totally worth it. This scene answers a lot of questions about the Alien franchise in a fascinating way and it left me wanting more. A lot more. Michael Fassbender was flat out brilliant and the set design was eerie, practical and perfect. This scene made me feel that this movie will not only be good, but I now believe this movie will be excellent, possibly on the level of Alien and Aliens. Possibly.
One other, overarching takeaway is that everything Ridley Scott shot for this movie is stunning. Completely gorgeous. I cannot express how breathtaking some of the imagery is, especially on the surface of the planet. That, juxtaposed with some of the gore and carnage makes for a blend of elements that I'm just not sure we've seen from the franchise before and it really works. Lastly, I would say every member of the cast crushes it. Ridley Scott is very good at casting and getting the best out of those in his cast. Alien: Covenant is no exception. Danny McBride, a guy who it seems has no business being in this movie, is the true standout and might have a promising career outside of R-rated comedies after this.
It may only be a few scenes that equate to roughly ten minutes of footage, but I can promise you that if you weren't excited for Alien: Covenant before, you absolutely should be. The cast for the movie includes Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, James Franco, Demian Bichir, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby and Billy Crudup. Alien: Covenant is directed by Ridley Scott and is set for release on May 19.