“Holy Shit.” These are the first words I write in my notes when I step onto the set of Alien: Covenant. I’ve been on a lot of movie sets, but I’ve never seen anything like this. This isn’t like walking through a film production. This is like walking into another world.
The entire soundstage is atmospheric, thick smoke sticking like cobwebs wherever you turn. From the entrance, it’s lit up enough that you can make out the artifices of filmmaking: the planks and platforms holding the set together, the lighting rigs and camera setups, and the bustling crew members, always moving from A to B between takes. But once you step onto the set itself, you are transported. You are in an Alien film. It’s movie magic in real life, and it’s so cool that it takes a minute to remember that is kind of terrifying.
But there’s a sensory element to being on the set that creeps through the wonder with surprising quickness. The sticky walls that actually drip and perspire in the thick atmosphere, the grit and gravel under your feet that threaten to throw off your balance. You take all that in and then suddenly, a few paces later, you’re standing in those familiar ribbed hallways of the Juggernaut ship, making your way down a tunnel that always veers just slightly too far to see what lies around the corner. There are lots of dark corners to go ’round on an Alien set.
It’s at the end of the hallway where the real “holy shit” stuff comes in. There, a right turn leads to another short corridor, just long enough to permit a chill to dance up your spine in the darkness. Just long enough for you to notice the giant “Space Jockey” suits — the spacesuits of the Engineers — towering over you on either side. When you finally make your way into the light, you’re standing on the iconic bridge of the Engineer spaceship. You know the one.
It’s a near picture perfect replication of that same type of spaceship that featured prominently in Prometheus — the same type of bridge where the crew members of the Nostromo found the fossilized Engineer pilot on their ill-fated detour in Alien. Basically, it’s like walking into movie history; a tangible, textured trip into cinema that builds an immediate sense of reality, from fleshy, gelatinous buttons on the ship’s navigation board, to the deep ridges scored across the floor, forcing you into an unfamiliar gait. It’s not like being there. It is being there.
Such is the way of Ridley Scott, a director well known for a detail-oriented eye and a passion for practical in-camera realism, who has returned to his revered sci-fi franchise once again with Alien: Covenant. The follow-up to his 2012 Alien prequel Prometheus, Covenant follows the crew of a terraforming mission who respond to a distress call on the way to their destination. That signal leads them to a picturesque planet where death, and yes, a whole fuckton of alien creatures lie in wait.
Back in June of 2016, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the set of Alien: Covenant in Sydney, Australia where the film was shooting at Fox Studios Australia. There, I joined a small group of journalists on day 60 out of a planned 75-day shoot where I had the opportunity to tour the sets for the film, obsessively pore over the concept art and models, and speak with a generous portion of the cast and crew, including a brief chat with Ridley Scott himself. We also talked with cast members Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Demián Bichir, Tess Haubrich, and Nathaniel Dean, as well as producer Mark Huffam, special effects supervisor Neil Corbould, production designer Chris Seagers, Creatures supervisor Conor O’Sullivan, 2nd Creatures Supervisor Adam Johansen, Costume Designer Janty Yates, and Associate Spacesuit Costume Designer Michael Mooney.
As you might guess from that enormous list of names, I learned a whole lot of intel on the set, and I’ve put together of all the most pertinent bits and need-to-know details below.
- Covenant takes place 10 years after Prometheus.
- The Covenant crew is not aware of what happened to the Prometheus crew.
- As the trailers have revealed, this is a hard R-rated horror movie.
- Scott listened to the fan response after Prometheus and Covenant is very much a return to the DNA of the original Alien film.
- However, Covenant will continue to explore the idea of creation myth as introduced in Prometheus and the Engineers continue to be a key part of the mythology.
- Huffman says David was always intended to be the throughline between the two films. “He was a great character from the get go, so he’s good, and he’s reasonably indestructible. So, he just can go and go and go.”
- We will see David as a disembodied head in Covenant, but he will also regain use of his body.
- Huffam says the Weyland Corporation (now Weyland-Yutani) is still an element in the film, but it’s “less so” about corporate interests playing against human interests.
- A film researcher was hired to put together an 8-10 page document about the rules of the world of Alien. Most of the rules came from Alien while the Alien vs. Predator films were pretty much disregarded a different tangent of the franchise.
- As Ridley Scott previously described, the plan is for Covenant to be the first film in a trilogy that leads to beginning of Alien.
- Scott wanted to reinvestigate the Alien mythology because no one had explored who created the Xenomorph and decided it’s “special kind of creature” that hadn’t run its course.