It sits there in the tall grass, no bigger than a medium-sized dog but disturbingly larger than the baby xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s original Alien. It is fleshy colored and walking on four legs, holding its weight like tarantula gifted with the speed and precision of a feline. It’s a terrifying piece of work that’s fresh out of the womb (or in this case, a human spine). It’s also one of Alien: Covenant’s many surprises that we got a sneak peek of during the Fox Showcase at Lincoln Center earlier this month.
For the record, this critter’s name is “neomorph,” as revealed by Katherine Waterston during a panel discussion after the footage screened. Indeed, the neomorph appears to be borne from the same general life-cycle as the beloved xenomorph, however from the footage glimpsed alone, we can promise its evolution will be even quicker and more grotesque.
During the sizzle reel which followed the five-plus minutes of footage screened from the movie, a group of journalists and I caught what likely precipitated the neomorph’s birth. In Alien: Covenant, you need to worry about more than eggs or Prometheus’ black goo; there are spores in the air that can apparently infect folks at rapid speeds if you are unlucky enough to consume them.
During moments of an accelerated descent into chaos, two men (I could not recognize if one was James Franco due to the frantic nature of the sequence) are infected by spores. The first is rushed back to a surveying ship on a planet or moon that is covered in thick, tall grass. For the record, it has a much more welcoming climate than Alien’s LV-426 or Prometheus’ LV-223. An entire scouting party, seemingly led by Billy Crudup (and with tension next to Katherine Waterston’s Daniels), was exploring sans helmets when two members become violently sick. The first barely makes it into the medical room of the small surveying vessel before he is sealed in, along with his unenthused lover, by the terrified doctor. The resulting anarchy sees the birth of an instantly lethal neomorph extract itself from his spine in gruesomely bloody fashion…. It also doesn’t go too well for the doctor trying to keep the creature quarantined, or the folks outside with another sick man.
To put it mildly, Alien: Covenant looks determined to compensate for those that thought Prometheus was too slow or bloodless. This is thick, fast, and extremely gory with body horror violence so excessive that in a moment, it became clear this is not one to watch on a full stomach.
However, this footage was only one of several fascinating things revealed at the Showcase. The film is rich with Scott’s now familiar science fiction aesthetic. For example, the controls of the larger Covenant spacecraft illuminated in neon highlights (plus the sight of Danny McBride as its tech-savvy pilot, albeit he still sounds an awful lot like Kenny Powers). Yet, for all the visual splendor, what Ms. Waterston said might intrigue fans even more:
McBride, Waterston, Franco, and almost everyone else in the film will be involved in couplings. Like Noah’s Ark, these people are mostly paired off colonists with few, if any, military personnel accompanying their voyage across the stars. Evidently, this makes them even more unprepared for the alien horrors that are to come.
“There are some military dudes around to protect us,” Waterston says. “But… most of the people on the ship are couples. And then there are all of these colonists who are in a cryo-sleep.” This would also explain some of the animosity in the footage glimpsed between Crudup’s character and Waterston’s Daniels, as we know that James Franco plays the erstwhile captain on the Covenant, as well as Daniels’ husband, yet at some point early in the film, Daniels is calling Crudup’s character “captain.”
As for Waterston’s Daniels herself, the actress hinted at a strength and resilience that might be closer to Sigourney Weaver’s steely Ellen Ripley than Noomi Rapace’s intellectual Elizabeth Shaw. Indeed, with so many characters in Alien: Covenant, it’s obvious the film will return to the emotional effect of the 1979 film where the high stress of the situation will likely test each character differently, revealing whether they will resort to Ripley’s fight or Lambert’s doomed flight.
“It’s one of those things you always wonder,” Waterston begins. “What kind of person you would be in an extreme crisis. Will you be a coward or will you be courageous? And I think she’s just one of those people who, if her kids were in a car that was on fire, she’d be able to lift up the car.”
Waterston also revealed the origin of Daniels’ funky bowl haircut… and it isn’t about any throwback to questionable ‘70s fashion. Nay, it is more of a nod to the bizarre ‘20s-kind that Ezra Miller sported on Waterston’s other recent mega-franchise prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them!
“I’d been hanging out with Ezra Miller on that film, and I really loved his dumb haircut,” Waterston says in an almost confessorial tone before laughing. “So when I got this job, I was still shooting that… and in the hair and makeup trailer, they were making wigs just in case we had to do pickups and people’s hair had changed. So I saw his wig in the corner and I just said, ‘Can I just try this on?’ And so, I put that on, and I showed it to Ridley, and begged him to let me do it… So it’s really just ripping off Ezra!”
Thus one film about fantastic creatures informs another. However, there seems to be a lot less magical stuff going on in Alien: Covenant, not unless you can explain how Michael Fassbender’s David from Prometheus—who appears briefly in the sizzle reel talking with Daniels on some abandoned ancient staircase—got his body back. Hence there must be some surprises left when Alien: Covenant bursts back into theaters on May 19, 2017.