Oh, "Alien" franchise, what a wild trip the last four decades have been. You've taken us from mining ships to penal colonies to research vessels, never missing an opportunity to jump-scare us with a Xenomorph or two ... or three. And now it looks like we're in for a long overdue blast from the franchise's bloody, horrific past.
Yes, the "Alien" franchise has spanned nearly 40 years and five movies (hey, "Prometheus" counts), so when Moviefone was invited to the Australian set of "Alien: Covenant," the sixth entry in the canon, we jumped at the chance to spend a day geeking out with a small group of like-minded reporters chomping at the bit to catch a glimpse of director Ridley Scott's return to the world that put him on the sci-fi map. We got to chat with the man himself (he couldn't have been kinder or calmer), a few of the special effects masters behind the camera, and the some of the movie's stars, including Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, and Demián Bichir, to name a few.
Before we get started, it's important that you know what "Alien: Covenant" is about, since we'll be referencing some plot and story points throughout. So here's the synopsis of the movie, directly from studio 20th Century Fox:
Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, the crew of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think is an uncharted paradise, but is actually a dark, dangerous world, whose sole inhabitant is the synthetic David, survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition.
All set? On with the show. Here are 10 things we learned while geeking out on the set of "Alien: Covenant."
1. Paradise gets lost real quick.One big thing, time-wise, that producer Mark Huffam revealed to us (that the synopsis fails to mention) is that the action in "Alien: Covenant" takes place 10 years after the events of "Prometheus." (Kind of a major point, actually.) Huffam also dropped the detail that the crew of the Covenant discovers a "rogue signal" of "human form," and that distress call is what leads them to a paradise-like planet, one that looks better than where they were originally headed. The crew then lands, as Huffam put it, "on what appears to be a very beautiful, unspoiled paradise of a planet, but from there on, it just all goes downhill for them." Well said.
2. There will be blood. So much blood.If you were unimpressed with the body count and splatter of "Prometheus," we have news for you: "Alien: Covenant" features a ton of blood, and not just any blood. Special blood. As special visual effects supervisor Neil Corbould explained, the production went to great lengths to get the blood just right, shipping in "a few thousands of dollars"-worth of prop blood, but ultimately using the gooey stuff they invented instead.
What's more? Not all the blood they manufactured was human. "... We've made some alien blood as well. We've made some black blood, and then we've got the android white fluid, or whatever that is. Uh yeah, so we've made quite a few different types, different consistencies, different colors. The red blood, we've probably made like a thousand liters of red blood, so... You can imagine what the film's going to be like." Yeah, we can imagine.
3. Michael Fassbender is twinning.Being in a room with Michael Fassbender is like visiting pandas at a zoo. It's an exciting experience, but you want to stay perfectly still as to not disturb the majesty of the moment. In this case, we interacted with him, which, if he were on the endangered species list, would have landed us all in jail. (There is only one Michael Fassbender, so he should really be on the list.) Fassbender's synthetic character, David (easily the best part of "Prometheus"), is back for Round 2 in "Alien: Covenant," along with a new iteration, Walter. Both are played by Fassbender, who, as it turns out, doesn't really find playing two characters in the same movie all that challenging.
"It's pretty straightforward in the fact that Walter is very much a synthetic minus any of the human traits," he told us. You see, Walter is the result of David's more human qualities taking root in the David 8 model, which really freaked out the robot-buying public. Walter is all business, all the time -- no hair dye or Peter O'Toole movies for him.
"It's been 10 years since we last saw [David], without any maintenance," Fassbender continued. "So those human qualities have sort of gathered momentum a little bit, I suppose. They're as much a part of him now as his synthetic qualities. But Walter's just really there to serve the ship and its crew."
So, will the next movie have Fassbender playing three parts? We can only dream.
4. The Covenant is full of couples.The Covenant, as you read in the synopsis above, is a colony ship, one seeking out a habitable planet. It is also a terraforming ship, meaning that it's full of plants and such. It's also full of people, and those people, much like the animals on Noah's ark, come in pairs -- presumably, to repopulate whatever planet they settle. And from what we gathered on the set (and in the prologue above), things can get very high school. Things also get very college, as we were told that some of the crew members don't stay loyal to their significant others. Drama!
5. A same-sex couple is front and center and it's no big deal.Demián Bichir and Nathaniel Dean play a married couple, because, in the future, gay couples are still a thing. Shocker! The movie won't focus on their relationship and the characters as distinctly gay -- in other words, they won't be walking around the movie wearing flashing neon signs that read "We're the gay ones." What makes their relationship distinct, however, is that Bichir's Sgt. Lope, the head of the ship's security team, is Dean's superior officer. When we asked Bichir about the inclusive nature of the characters, he was proud of what the movie is bringing to the table.
"We are all couples on this ship, all kinds of couples, even men and men," Bichir explained. "For me, that's a beautiful side of the story, when you can have these two almost iconic macho types being together and loving each other and being a part of keeping everyone alive." Awww.
6. Daniels is not the new Ripley (sort of).As yet another sign that the "Alien" franchise is going back to its roots, we have the return of a central heroine, this time played by Katherine Waterston, who, by the look of this photo, is channeling Ellen Ripley's big-gun-and-a-tank-top look. (And pulling it off quite nicely.) Waterston plays Daniels, the ship's chief terraformist on the Covenant's colonization mission -- not exactly the blue collar gig Ripley had on the Nostromo, but, as Waterston points out, not too far removed. "I think, because she doesn't think of herself with the captain [played by James Franco], she's one of [the crew]. Like Ripley in the first 'Alien,' she's technically third in ranking and that changes as the film progresses." Yeah, we're pretty sure that "change" comes by way of dying crew members.
When asked directly about her character's similarities to Ripley, Waterston acknowledged the comparison, but asserted that Daniels is very different from both the Sigourney Weaver character and Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw in "Prometheus." "I've probably been taking cues from [Sigourney Weaver's] performance on and off screen my whole life," she said. "It's just, to me, a very relatable, excellent depiction of a woman. But, at the same time, I loved what Noomi did. It was very different to what Sigourney did. I don't think she felt any responsibility to be like Sigourney, and I don't feel any responsibility to be like that."
There was one concession to the Ripley comparison, however, that Waterston was happy to make: "I'll say that, in this, she has really good instincts, like Ripley did."
7. "Alien: Covenant" will truly be an R-rated horror movie.Everyone we spoke to about the movie's R rating emphasized the fact that "Alien: Covenant" will be a hard R. In fact, rating it anything other than R was never an option. From the amount of blood used to the franchise's return to gory horror, it's clear that this movie won't be for the PG-13 crowd. Just watch the red band trailer above and decide for yourself.
When we spoke to Ridley Scott, he explained returning to the franchise's horror roots as somewhat inaccurate, because, to him, "Alien" was never really a horror movie. "'Alien' was kind of a posh horror film," he explained. "I never think of it as a horror film, it just scared the sh*t out of people. I think it had too much class to be classified as a horror film. Nothing wrong with horror, but I think horror is: What is real tension? What is real fear? It's very hard to scare people. In the bloody films you see, which, ironically, are not even frightening, they're just like, 'yikes!' So I thought I'd try to come back and do one."
It wasn't just the "return to horror" aspect of it that got Scott's blood pumping. He had some questions about the origin of the Xenomorph. "... We've come back with a very simple idea, which is Who made them? No one ever asked that question," he said. "['Alien'] was just about there it is, it exists, and this is what it is. So it became seven guys and gals in a steel hull, frankly the very old idea of 'The Old Dark House.' Who's gonna die next? The fundamental basis of 'Alien' was a pretty, you know, B-movie, but because of the cast and talent involved it came out an A+ movie. So we've reinvented the idea of 'Alien,' I think, which is that 'Covenant' gets us a step closer to Why was this thing designed, and who did it?"
8. You wanted more aliens? You got 'em ... and then some.One question shouted from the rooftops by "Alien" fans after the release of "Prometheus" was an incendiary, all-caps "WHERE ARE ALL THE ALIENS?!!!" Well, Ridley Scott heard you and he's ready to make amends.
When asked about fan reaction to "Prometheus," effects supervisor Corbould served up the most succinct response: "When the gloves are off and it's 18 or R-rated, then you can make the movie exactly what you want, with more aliens. [Scott] listened to the audience, that they want more aliens -- they're gonna get a lot more aliens. More than they probably anticipated."
The movie's high volume of aliens was confirmed by creature and make-up effects designer supervisor Conor O'Sullivan and creature effects supervisor Adam Johansen, who told us there would be an "enormous amount of creatures" on display in the movie. (Also, we got to play with a facehugger rig, so you're definitely in for some old-school Xenomorph action.)
9. "Alien: Covenant" is a little less "Prometheus," a little more H.R. Giger."Alien" fans longing for the franchise's return to the surrealist, organic aesthetic that artist H.R. Giger brought to the first (and subsequent) movies -- but disappeared in "Prometheus -- are in for a treat. Production designer Chris Segers told us that "Alien: Covenant" is "edging in" to the Giger look and feel. Ooh, cryptic.
Check out the newest iteration of the Xenomorph in the trailer released just last night.
10. The sets are make-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-stand-up fantastic.Now, admittedly, this photo has nothing to do with the sets. Just imagine the expression on an "Alien" fan's face looking somewhat similar to that of Daniels's when he or she walks onto a soundstage housing one of the most iconic visuals in the franchise's history. Yes, we stood aboard a Juggernaut, and it was fantastically detailed, dirty, and just as cold as it looks onscreen. We also walked through what can best be described as an Engineer temple, with giant, sculpted Engineer heads lining the rocky temple walls. It was damned impressive.
So why spend time talking about something we can't actually show you? To point out that these were NOT digital sets -- they were practical sets built with the purpose of better informing the actors' performances and creating an onscreen experience that feels (and looks) grounded and tangible. It speaks to Ridley Scott's determination to make "Alien: Covenant" a terrifying, visceral addition to the franchise, one that will (hopefully!) serve as a satisfying first entry in a new "Alien" trilogy.
"Alien: Covenant" opens everywhere May 19th.