As the audience filed out of Austin’s Paramount Theatre following the South by Southwest opening night screening of Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” there was a line around the block waiting to get in for a screening of Ridley Scott’s 1979 film “Alien,” along with footage from Scott’s upcoming “Alien: Covenant.” Opening on May 19, the film is the sixth in the series and the third directed by Scott.
Scott first took to the stage to introduce the footage from the new film, telling the ecstatic crowd, “My goals haven’t changed. My mantra has always been to scare the living … out of you.”
And with that there were three scenes shown from the new film. The first scene featured a team that includes Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Amy Seimetz, Demian Bichir and Carmen Ejogo take a craft from a main spaceship down to another planet. Among those seen on the main craft are Danny McBride, Jussie Smollett and Callie Hernandez.
Piloting the ship and about to enter rough weather, Seimetz’s character is asked if it’s safe. Her response, part hard-boiled, part hesitant, is “Depends what you call safe.”
In the second scene, the team has landed and are exploring the planet when things take a turn for the worse. Two crew members are seen infected with the alien creatures, in moments that are intense and bloody.
Overall, these two scenes had a rough, frenetic quality that made them feel more akin to James Cameron’s “Aliens” than Scott’s more elegant and restrained “Alien” and his more recent entry to the series, “Prometheus.” The technology is a bit clunky, as in one moment where great drama comes from a video feed cutting out or another where Seimetz struggles to close a door and make it down a narrow corridor.
As a character exclaims at one point during the rough landing sequence, “I hate space.”
(And, intentional or not, it was a treat to see the two scenes feature so much of Seimetz, the kind of indie-scene talent that South by Southwest has long championed taking on her first role in a megabudget studio picture.)
The third scene featured Crudup and Fassbender. Fassbender shows Crudup his research on the alien creatures and then the two go down to a dank basement where there are a handful of the incubating pods from which the creatures are born. No one should call that safe.
After the scenes, Scott came back onstage to bring out Waterston, McBride and Fassbender. Conspicuously not doing much in the two scenes she was in was Waterston, as her character was present but without many lines or much action. Presumably the bulk of her role is still being kept under wraps.
As Waterston began to talk about first meeting Scott she inadvertently referred to her character in the film as “Ripley,” the name of Sigourney Weaver’s heroine in four of the six “Alien” pictures. There has been much online speculation as to whether Waterston’s character is somehow related to Ripley and Waterston quickly caught and corrected herself and added, “They’ve been asking me questions about this all day, sorry.”
Though she was also seen in the recent “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Waterston added she still finds being an action heroine a challenge.
“There was another director I had worked with who would send me emails all the time saying, ‘You know, Daisy Ridley is a really good runner,’” she said. “And say things about other actresses who looked really tough in movies just to [play mind games] with me. So I got really obsessed with my run and I still think I kind of look like a Fraggle. But I tried.”
As for McBride, the comedy star seemed as surprised as anyone that he is in a Ridley Scott outer-space action film.
“It’s the first movie I’ve done that my parents actually think is a real movie, so it’s good to have finally won their admiration,” McBride said. “I grew up on these films, loved them, and when I heard that Ridley wanted to meet, I didn’t even know what it was for and I didn’t ask, because I was afraid that he had asked to meet the wrong person.”
Fassbender was asked about reprising his role from “Prometheus” and whether it was difficult playing a nonhuman. “Easy,” he said to great laughs before adding, “I’m half-German.”
They all exited the stage again so that the mock advertisement released earlier in the week could be shown. In that, an android called Walter — played by Fassbender and not to be confused with the android he plays named David — is seen being assembled and sold to a couple as something of a valet/personal assistant.
Then the recent red band trailer for the film was shown. It featured a fair amount of footage from the three scenes shown just previously, as well as quite a bit more of the creatures and big-scale action.
Then Scott briefly came back out onstage a third time to introduce “Alien” by using its famous tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream.”
Watching the 1979 film after having just seen the “Covenant” footage was actually rather handy, as there were many design elements and bits of internal iconography and mythology that seem to be purposeful callbacks in the new film.
There were also T-shirts, posters and figurines given away as the audience left into the late Austin night.
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