Spoiler-Free Thoughts On 15 Minutes Of 'Alien: Covenant' Footage [SXSW]

"I'm pleased to show you some clips from our latest project, Alien: Covenant. My mantra has always been to scare the living shit out of you."

And after that brisk introduction from director Ridley Scott, we were off. Technically, the crowd in the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin was there to watch a repertory screening of the original 1979 Alien, Scott's horror/science fiction classic that has inspired countless imitators, but no equals. However, our session got started with with 15 minutes of the next film in the series, Alien: Covenant, with cast members Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender on hand for a brief Q&A.

We watched three full scenes from the upcoming film and they were very promising: slick, violent, and very intense. Oh, and full of what seem to be major spoilers, but we'll leave those parts out. Instead, let's dive into what was on display in this footage in the most spoiler-free way possible.

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Crew, Couples, Camaraderie

As we saw in the latest trailer for Alien: Covenant, the crew of the titular vessel is comprised entirely of couples, a smart move for a colony spaceship that intends to land on an alien planet and stay there. In the first clip, the crew dynamic was on full display: these people know each other, know each other very well, and have developed a rapport and trust. It's not clear if the Covenant crew will be as dynamic and down-to-earth as the crew of the Nostromo in the original Alien (space travelers who spend their time bickering about bonuses!), but it feels like a huge course correction after Prometheus, whose cast of dullards and dummies didn't inspire too much affection.

The scene we saw involved a small portion of the crew boarding a smaller shuttle and venturing to the surface of a planet. Naturally, they're forced to navigate a hostile storm to get there and it's a fairly tense sequence. But watching the characters deal with this unpleasant and bumpy journey turns out to be pretty fun. Sergeant Lope (Demian Bichir) teases his husband, who is not handling the turbulence well. Over the radio, Tennessee (Danny McBride) trades off-color playful barbs with with his wife (Amy Seimetz), who is piloting the shuttle, and she gives as good as he does. Captain Oram (Billy Crudup) eventually has enough of everyone's shenanigans.

It's silly to judge a cast of characters based entirely on a few minutes of out-of-context interaction, but there was more color and personality on display here than in most movies of this kind (and certainly more than there was in Prometheus). The best Alien movies allow us to fall in love with the humans before they're torn to pieces and this one seems to be going for that, at the very least.

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Tons of the Red Stuff

When we visited the set of Alien: Covenant last year, everyone on the production kept insisting that the film will be scary and gory, promising that they used an absurd of amount of fake blood and food products to create viscera. The second clip, which features a quarantine gone wrong and a the arrival of a certain beastie, lived up to that promise. In a vacuum, this scene was frightening and very violent, showcasing how the "neomorph" (one of several new creatures introduced in the movie), uh, exits a host. Anyone familiar with these movies can take a guess about the specifics and land in the proper ballpark, but let's just say the floors literally grow slippery with gore and that the baby neomorph is born ready to fight and kill and add to that general slipperiness.

If there was a downside to this clip, it's that this particular iteration of the alien was created with CGI, as were certain aspects of its birth. It looks great – Ridley Scott movies are nothing if not slick, professionally made, and crafted with extraordinary detail. However, it was disappointing to not see more practical monsters in this sequence, especially since plenty of practical puppets and suits were crafted for the actual production.

CGI beastie or not, the creature action we saw was genuinely intense and unforgiving. Like its larger brother, the xenomorph, the neomorph doesn't care about whether a character is likable or not before it gets down to business. Watching the charismatic characters introduced in the previous clip struggle to survive in a too-small room that grows increasingly coated in human insides makes for a heart-pounding experience. Hopefully, the final film has more like this.

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Prometheus Connections and Core Mythology

The third clip was surprising for several reasons. First of all, it features several direct callbacks to Prometheus and explains exactly what one character from the film has been doing for the past decade. Second, it reveals a major piece of the Alien mythology, answering a question that fans have been pondering for decades (and one that many would argue shouldn't be answered). Third, it borrows some very familiar iconography and stages the scene in a way that becomes darkly amusing because you know so much more than the characters on the screen. And finally, it feels like a big, huge spoiler and one that I'm surprised Fox was okay letting out into the wild this early.

So let's not dwell on the details. Instead, just note that Alien: Covenant is very much a Prometheus sequel and that Scott's stated goal of using these prequels to fill in various gaps in series canon has come to fruition. Like it or not, some of the big mysteries swirling around the entire Alien series will be mysteries no longer.


Alien: Covenant opens on May 19, 2017.