'Alien: Covenant' Trailer Breakdown: New Planet, Same Problem

Last year, I visited the set of Alien: Covenant. Today, I was able to publish my observations, and I wrote all about the film's gore and monsters, its cast of characters, its sets and costumes, and its connections to Prometheus. And then, like clockwork, a new trailer arrived, and you know what means – it's time to go through this whole thing frame-by-frame.

Please note: While I have not seen Alien: Covenant, I will incorporate observations from the set visit into this trailer breakdown. Any potential spoilers are purely speculation. If you want to go in as fresh as possible, I'd recommend not reading any further.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 1

"You've all sacrificed so much to be here..." Interestingly, the trailer opens with footage that I'm not convinced is in the final movie at all. This scene, where the crew of the Covenant gathers for a meal at the start of their expedition, comes from the special "prologue" short that was released last week, and it's directed by Luke Scott, the son of director Ridley Scott. Since the actual plot of the film kicks off with the crew already deep into their outer space voyage, it wouldn't be surprising if this scene never exists outside of the internet and the home video extra features.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 2

Welcome to the Covenant, a massive colony ship that is venturing into deep space to find an uninhabited planet to terraform and make suitable for human life.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 3

"This crew is made up of couples." Because the crew of the Covenant is on a one-way mission that ends with everyone finding a new home and staying put, the entire ship is staffed with couples. You know, to assist the colony in growing in the years to come. Because this is the future and everyone has actually important things to worry about, same-sex couples are also present and one bats an eye.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 4

Here's one of those couples right now: Danny McBride's Tennessee, the Covenant's chief engineer, and his wife Faris, played by Amy Seimetz.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 5

Although most of Alien: Covenant was shot on sets built on soundstages, two weeks were spent filming in New Zealand. Although this trailer certainly features some digital assistance, there is plenty stunning scenery on display. It's easy to see why the crew would see this place and think "Yeah, let's settle here."

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 6

Naturally, every doomed mission needs to begin with on-the-ground recon, with Covenant scientists exploring this uncharted world alongside the military security team tasked with keeping them safe.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 7

Meet Walter, one of two characters Michael Fassbender is playing in Alien: Covenant. While the sinister David (introduced in Prometheus) is back, the trailer keeps him offscreen. This new artificial person is made from the same mold, but his human trails and emotions have been dialed back – Fassbender compares him to Star Trek's Spock. He's sort of an all-purpose ship handyman, with several crew members thinking of him as only a tool and nothing more.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 8

Here's some New Zealand countryside. It's not quite a lush or as inviting as Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth, almost as if...I don't know...as if there's something wrong here...

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 9

One of the tricky aspects of Alien: Covenant is that it has to be a prequel to Alien, with its (awesome) analog technology while also feeling like a somewhat realistic depiction of the future. I love how this little rover looks like the next natural step above the devices NASA is already using today.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 10

"This is wheat. What are the odds of finding human vegetation this far from Earth?" That's an excellent question. Meet Sergeant Lope (played by Demián Bichir), the head of security on the Covenant mission and a seasoned military man. He's in a relationship with Hallet (Nathaniel Deen), one of the soldiers under his command.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 11

Although we do not know her name yet, this is a biologist played by Carmen Ejogo. She's married to Billy Crudup's Christopher Oram, who we'll meet soon enough. Take careful note of the wheat field – we'll be back here under more dire circumstances later in the trailer.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 12

Meet Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the third-in-command of the Covenant mission and the expedition's chief terraforming expert. She's been planning this expedition for a decade and surely all of her hard work won't end in blood and screaming. Right? She's the lead character of the film and the latest in the Alien series' line of tough ladies rising to the occasion.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 13

On the Alien: Covenant set, we saw several different versions of the classic Xenomorph design, with some looking more like the classic alien than others. This shot of a boot crushing some odd vegetation and releasing some tiny spores makes me wonder if we'll see some additional creature origins in addition to the classic egg/facehugger set-up.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 14

Meet Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) the chief science officer and first mate on board the Covenant.  Despite his scientific background, Oram is a very religious man and sees his mission into the unknown as an act of divine providence. He doesn't like the crew, and the crew doesn't like him.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 15

"You hear that? Nothing. No birds. No animals. Nothing." New Zealand is so beautiful, even when it's been color-corrected to look like it's hiding a secret.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 16

The location work here is promising – Ridley Scott and his team seem to have created an area that is simultaneously inviting and totally creepy. That's no easy feat.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 17

It's a tiny thing, but I'm a big fan of Walter's head tilt here. Fassbender doesn't move quite like a human. He looks ever-so-slightly programmed, which is disconcerting and fascinating in equal measure.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 18

The last time we saw this ship, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and David the android (Fassbender) were using it to head on a mission to track down the Engineers' home planet. Is that why it's here now? Did they succeed? What happened to the two sole survivors of Prometheus?

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 19

As you can see from the interior, Shaw and David's borrowed ship has seen better days. It apparently hasn't moved in a long time and nature has begun to take its toll. We know that Alien: Covenant takes place ten years after Prometheus, so we have a pretty good idea of just how long it's been idle.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 20

This is one of the sets I was able to explore while on location last year, and it's just as dark, creepy, and filthy in person. In a little piece of movie magic, only a stretch of winding tunnel was built for the interior of the Engineer ship. Different set-ups and alternate dressings will make it appear much larger.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 21

We were only able to watch one scene being filmed during our set visit, but here it is: Walter and Daniels come across a makeshift living quarters while exploring the derelict vessel and find a set of dog tags. Elizabeth Shaw was here.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 22

Of course, the ship is also home to a new and nasty surprise: a whole bunch of alien eggs. This will not go well.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 23

Can someone tell Oram that this is not a good plan? That maybe approaching the creepy egg as it opens up is not the best course of action?

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 24

The egg and its interior look very close to the original design from the 1979 Alien, and this is very much a case of not fixing something that isn't broken. This looks as nasty as ever.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 25

Curiosity killed the colony ship science officer, I suppose.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 26

We visited the creature shop on our set visit, and this effect was demonstrated for us. It's almost too simple: inside that egg is a bungee cord-powered launcher that shoots a rubber facehugger into the air. If you film it in slow-motion, you get a very smooth and very scary leap.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 27

Speaking of things that aren't broken not being fixed, the bottom side of the facehugger still looks... Okay, let's be frank: original Alien designer H.R. Giger was all about vaginas and anuses. Giger has passed away, but his legacy lives on.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 28

Remember the rumor that Katherine Waterston's Daniels was the mother of Ellen Ripley, the lead character in the original Alien movies and one of cinema's greatest badasses? It's a rumor that makes me roll my eyes – it makes the vast Alien universe feel so...small. Then again, there's no getting around it: both on set and in the trailer, Waterston is the spitting image of a young Sigourney Weaver.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 29

Is it really an Alien movie if people don't frantically run down narrow corridors? Asking for a friend.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 30

Is it really an Alien movie if someone doesn't find themselves losing control of their body while some kind of fluid erupts from their mouth? Asking for a friend.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 31

And is it really an Alien movie if some kind of horrible beastie doesn't burst out of someone's body? However, the Neomorph, one of the alternate versions of the Xenomorph seen in Alien: Covenant, has a new trick up its slimy sleeve – it bursts out of its victim's back instead of the chest.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 32

My feelings exactly.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 33

From what I can tell, there are at least three spaceships in Alien: Covenant. There's the Covenant itself, the gigantic colony ship that never leaves outer space. There's a much smaller shuttle, used to bring scientists and soldiers to the surface on their initial ground mission. And then there's this one, which appears bigger than the shuttle and seems to come into play after the shuttle meets an unfortunate end. We see more of this one in the final shots of the trailer.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 34

I don't know about you people, but I'm thrilled we've entered the stage of Danny McBride's career where he gets to fight Xenomorphs and write Halloween movies. HBO's Vice Principals revealed a more sophisticated side of McBride, and it's weird and thrilling to see him playing a serious character (an engineer and a pilot!) in an Alien movie.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 35

While it was James Cameron who introduced the serious military tech into the Alien series, it looks like Ridley Scott won't by shying away from that aspect. Those green laser sights sure do look nifty.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 36

This was a common sight on the Alien: Covenant set: charred corpses, strangely preserved, all over the place. It's not clear who these people were or what happened to him, but something awful befell the race that used to call this planet home.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 37

Meet the Neomorph, the latest incarnation of the original alien. Its full life cycle remains unknown but seems to grow in different ways than the classic Xenomorph, taking on forms we haven't seen before. Here, it can be seen launching an attack on Covenant crew members in that wheat field under the cover of darkness. It's small and spindly and very fast.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 38

Here's another look at the Neomorph as it rips a Covenant soldier apart. In this lightning, you can see its smooth texture and milky white skin.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 39

Anyway, it looks like it doesn't end well for at least soldier. Note the wedding band on that bloodied hand and remember that every single person in this movie has a spouse or partner. That's going to make every death sting just a little more.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 40

Based on the expression on Sergeant Lope's face, we may be able to assume which soldier just perished on his watch...

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 41

During our set visit, special effects supervisor Neil Corbould spoke about the production filming on the difficult terrain of New Zealand's Milford Sound and how they carefully orchestrated a massive explosion that would not disrupt the local wildlife or damage the area in any way. This appears to be that blast.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 42

Specifically, the explosion looks to take out the shuttle that brought the team to the ground in the first place. Perhaps this why that third ship comes into play, to rescue the survivors on the planet following the first encounter with the aliens.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 43

And who gets to pilot that rescue ship? Tennessee, of course. Danny McBride to the rescue.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 44

It's not clear who this mysterious, cloaked figure is standing in the middle of the wheat field is supposed to be. It could be a member of the Covenant crew. Or, if you'll allow some irresponsible spitballing inspired by nothing beyond my own penchant for jumping to conclusions, it could be our first look at Elizabeth Shaw, who has perhaps gone full Obi-Wan during her time on this planet.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 45

First, note the massive domed building in the distance. That could very easily be the Engineer Temple with the hall of heads, an imposing set I wrote about over here. Second, note the sprawl of corpses, all of them looking very much like the charred, preserved bodies we saw earlier. This could be the epicenter of whatever awful event happened here. Third, note the figure is walking through the field of bodies and note the cloak is swirling around their body. Is this the hooded figure we saw in the image above? Is this Elizabeth Shaw?

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 46

During the set visit, we learned that Danny McBride wears two spacesuits during the course of Alien: Covenant: a large, bulky suit nicknamed "Big Yellow" and a smaller, streamlined suit that allows for extra mobility. This one appears to be the latter.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 48

Here's our first glimpse at the fully grown Neomorph. We'll get a better look later. At the very least, we know that this early incarnation is still very much a fan of the "go somewhere high and dark and wait for the right moment" school of killing people.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 47

We already saw one facehugger launching itself at Oram, but here's another flying in the face of Covenant soldier. How many potential aliens are we dealing with here?

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 49

Look, going through a trailer frame-by-frame sometimes means coming across massive spoilers. For example, here is Billy Crudup's Oram falling victim to a facehugger.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 50

And here are more Crudup-related spoilers: an alien bursts out of Oram's chest at some point, making him the first main cast member that we know for certain doesn't live to see the end credits.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 51

Daniels: still looking very, very much like Sigourney Weaver.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 52

Okay, this is classic Alien: a creature that is almost impossible to describe runs down a corridor at speeds you cannot comprehend...

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 53

...and leaps right into a close-up. It's a shame that the few moments that really show off the new alien in this trailer appear to be CGI and not the practical puppets built for other scenes.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 54

The trailer ends with a stunt teased on the set visit. To simulate Daniels' struggle to hold onto this ship as it takes off, a 27-ton platform was built on a giant gimbal, allowing Scott and his crew to actually film live actors getting battered around on an actual set.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 55

CGI was used to help fill in the details, of course.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 56

And now we know why everything is so chaotic – the alien is catching a ride...

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 57

...and it's not going to let Tennessee take off without a fight.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 58

Here's our best look yet at what really distinguishes the Neomorph from the original Xenomorph. While the basic size and shape are the same, this version is more naturalistic than biomechanical, with musculature that looks more mammalian than previous versions. The almost machine-like quality of the original design is almost there, but this alien seems to share more DNA (perhaps literally!) with human anatomy.

Alien Covenant Trailer Breakdown 59

If you're the special effects master tasked with rendering CGI alien drool, please reach out. I'd love to chat with you.


Alien: Covenant opens on May 19, 2017.