The annual SXSW Film Festival may specialize in screening innovative, low-budget films, but the Austin-set fest also relishes its starry premieres, which give a hip home to a handful of Hollywood’s most anticipated films. One clear highlights of this year’s lineup was a combination of those two ideals, a special screening of the sci-fi classic “Alien.” Prior to the film, filmmaker Ridley Scott, who directed the first “Alien” film way back in 1979, discussed and showed clips from his upcoming “Alien: Covenant.” The next film in the sci-fi franchise is being released on May 19 and serves as the sixth installment in the series.
“My goals have changed, my mantra has always been to scare the living shit out of you,” said Scott right before the lights dimmed to show the raucous, sold out crowd scenes from “Covenant.”
The approximately 20 minutes of footage showed whole scenes capturing the films setup of the Covenant crew setting out to colonize what they assume is an untouched paradise, but that they quickly discover is inhabited by remarkably frightening aliens.
In comparing notes with what Fox revealed at a special showcase of sneak peeks to select New York press back in December, the first two scenes showed at SXSW were repeats: The ship’s turbulent entry through the planet’s atmosphere and a longer sequence where Amy Seimetz’s character leads a small expedition that has a violent first encounter with the new aliens that likely marks the end of the first act (there’s a big spoiler that has dramatic consequences). You can read IndieWire Film Editor Kate Erbland’s detailed account of those scenes from back in December right here.
One thing the first two clips clearly establish is “Covenant” will be a hard R-rated film with gruesome violence and free-wheeling sexual banter between the crew, which consists of a collection of young couples.
As a counter-point, the dialogue-driven third scene shown starts off being far more expository and potentially hints at how the prequels (“Covenant” is the sequel to Scott’s 2012 “Prometheus,” both of which are prequels to the first four films) will, as promised, fill in gaps in the “Alien” mythology. In this scene, Fassbender (the assumption is he is playing the “Prometheus” android David, not a new character named Walter) leads Oram (Billy Crudup) around his cave laboratory where he’s been studying aliens. At the end of the scene he brings Oram into a room to show off his “successes” — a collection of large eggs, which he assures Oram are “safe.” (Spoiler: they aren’t.)
Also screened was the “Meet Walter” teaser which dropped online this weekend. It shows the creation of the android Walter (Fassbender), but at the end it’s cheekily revealed (that wife sure looks happy with her Fassbender-bot) that you’ve been watching a commercial.
The previewing of scenes was only part of the pre-screening event, as Scott was joined on stage to discuss the film by three of the film’s stars: Katherine Waterston, McBride, and returning fave Fassbender.
In a time when Marvel took years to create their first female action hero lead, it’s stunning to think about how high Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character set the bar for strong female action film leads back in 1979 with “Alien.” Waterston is well aware of the tradition she walking into, but admits she tried not to think about it too much about it while filming for fear of being intimidated. She shared a funny story about how another director she’s worked with (we’re guessing Paul Thomas Anderson) made her paranoid about what she looked like while she was running.
McBride, who is best known for his comedic work — in particular on the two HBO shows he created and stars in (“Vice Principals” and “Eastbound and Down”) — admitted that getting the call to meet with Scott was such a surprise that he assumed it was a mistake.
A large component of the film centers around Artificial Intelligence, with Fassbender playing two different androids. In discussing the A.I. component, Scott talked about how has leaned on a company that was at the cutting edge technology for assistance, plus the inspiration Stanley Kubrick.
“Alien: Covenant” will open in theaters on May 19.