alien covenant trailer breakdown

A Model of a Dream

The concept art of the Covenant itself in the war room depicts a ship very much in line with the Nostromo from the original 1979 Alien. It’s very large and not especially streamlined. It looks ruthlessly practical. Nearby paper 3D models depict other locations: a giant domed cathedral that doesn’t look human in origin, some kind of all-terrain vehicle, and a human base of some kind, maybe even a temporary colony outpost.

One model catches my eye: a futuristic apartment setting titled “Daniels’ Dream.” Daniels is the lead character of Alien: Covenant and she’s played by Katherine Waterston. I file this away.

alien covenant trailer breakdown

One of the 3D models on display is that of a gimbal, built to simulate the rocking of a spaceship. Special visual effects supervisor Neil Corbould is happy to talk about it:

That’s sort of the top half of the gimbal, on this little spaceship. We made the bottom half of it, then twisted it and turned it. It was the size of a tennis court, that was the platform Ridley had to basically create this fight sequence on top. All the time this spaceship is on an Earth-type environment. And that weighed 27 tons that we were flying around and people were hanging off of it, which he loved, you know? It gave [Ridley] the opportunity to get a lot of these wide angles of the spaceship, and it’s real, you know? And then CG will then put all the rest of the engines on.

You can actually catch glimpses of this scene in the new Alien: Covenant trailer that was just released: Daniels clings to the side of an out-of-control spacecraft while an alien menaces her and Tennessee. The mix of the practical and the digital is fascinating.

While many of Alien: Covenant’s key locations were built on soundstages, the crew did film for two weeks in New Zealand, making use of the country’s beautiful scenery to create an untouched paradise planet (that just so happens to be home to an alien menace, of course). For one sequence, they shot in Milford Sound, on terrain that “Peter Jackson thought was too hard.” And then they staged a massive explosion in the area, because that’s apparently how Ridley Scott productions roll.

alien covenant trailer breakdown

The Hall of Heads

The stairs were built for creatures with much longer legs than humans. Each step requires concerted effort – you don’t walk up the steps as much as you literally climb them. It may be a movie set, but it’s huge. This place wasn’t built for us. We don’t belong here.

And yet, the beings it was built for aren’t around, either. The giant stairs lead us to a desolate corridor and two winding tunnels. At the end of the corridor is a giant door, and behind that door is a series of charred corpses that look like they’ve been dead for quite some time.

These steps and these rooms aren’t the main attraction of this particular set, though. That would be the “hall of heads,” a giant room where the walls are (you guessed it) covered with stone heads the size of automobiles. The heads are humanoid, almost surely created by the Engineers. They stare down at us. Sort of. Only a portion of these heads are actually here in person. The rest will be finished in post-production.

Still, it’s an impressive set and the detail is astonishing. It’s not clear what went on in this temple, but the intricate designs on the floor and the nearby altars suggest some kind of rituals were held in this space. Again: we don’t belong here.

As for the identity of the heads, Ridley Scott plays coy when asked: “If you ask me, they were a people who were superior. These were probably the ten apostles, the wise men.”

Perhaps it’s appropriate that this set visit ends with more questions than answers.


Alien: Covenant opens on May 19, 2017.

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