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Alien: Romulus – The top 5 takeaways from director Fede Álvarez

This summer, fans of the iconic Alien franchise have a brand new entry to look forward to, with director Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, Evil Dead) at the helm of the highly anticipated sequel – and we have some exciting details to share about the film.

The seventh instalment is set to follow a brand new group of characters – a much younger generation from a mining colony – who are scavenging a derelict space station in search of a certain “item” which will be their golden ticket out of there. However, as is the way of the classic sci-fi horror flicks, they soon come face-to-face with terrifying and deadly life forms.

With the chilling trailers and facehugging poster to go by, it certainly looks like this latest entry is going back to its roots, channeling the suspense, terror and deadly alien creatures of Ridley Scott’s iconic original Alien and James Cameron’s excellent sequel, Aliens.

The Uruguayan director shared an exciting new look at footage from the summer sci-fi horror to a packed audience of critics in London earlier this week (Monday 17 June), including We Have a Hulk, before delving into fascinating behind-the-scenes details and insightful information. Here’s our round-up of the main takeaways from the Q&A:

Practical effects are back, baby!

Following his love of re-watching the behind-the-scenes (which blew his mind) on his VHS copy of Aliens, director Álvarez spoke passionately about how “if it could be done practically, it will be” when it came to filming the latest entry.

Much like previous directors Sir Ridley Scott and James Cameron, he revealed that he was very involved in the filming and production process. Along with finishing some of the visual effects himself, he also puppeteers the Facehuggers, particularly in one key eerie sequence which takes place underwater.

“VFX is fucking boring” the director declared at the event. He was committed to provoking a similar reaction of “wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing this!” for viewers as the original elicited. So he set out to reunite the special effects crews from past instalments, hiring Alec Guiness to work on the creatures once again with Shane Mahan of Stan Winston’s Legacy Effects studio and also Wētā Workshop. He even had the legendary Phil Tippett and his crew to do a scene in stop-motion.

Furthermore, he wants the sets, the creatures and the environment to feel as authentic, practical and believable as possible for audiences, fully immersing them in the action. “Ideally we fool you” he commented, “which is what I think movies to a certain extent have stopped trying to do.” Therefore, there were little to no green screens on set, very limited CGI and VFX and the huge space station (the Renaissance) is a real set.

Similar to the original Star Wars trilogy, the director also had handmade miniatures of the spaceships created, which were filmed and then scanned digitally. These were crafted by Ian Hunter, who’s previously worked on miniatures and model effects for films such as Alien Resurrection, Godzilla (1998) and First Man.

The director also confirmed that the iconic Chestbuster used in the film is all practical with a total of eight people needed to puppeteer it. There’s undoubtedly a ton of passion and craft to look forward to!

He clarified where the new movie fits into the franchises’ timeline

A self-confessed fan of the classic first two instalments, Álvarez spoke in-depth about where the new movie fits into the franchises’ timeline, with audiences set to be transported back in time for a brand new journey.

Taking place between Alien and Aliens, the director has clarified exactly when the events will be taking place – roughly 20 years after Alien. “It was mostly something that made sense for a premise…that it needs to take place a few years after the first one” he commented, “but it has the DNA of both movies, it’s kind of the child of the both movies combined – visually, aesthetically and story-wise.”

However, make sure that you keep your eyes peeled right at the very beginning of the film, as all will be revealed. “There’s a date, actually. When you watch the movie, pay attention. There’s a screen that pops up, there’s a date, there’s a year – there you go. That’s the only chance you have. If you miss that screen in the beginning, you miss what year it is,” Álvarez reveals.

“It makes sense for the story and it was my way to make sure the technology could have the style of Alien obviously, (the old things from the era) and there would be newer things, like technology, that you could see how that will eventually, in a few years, become the technology of Aliens.”

He also wanted to reassure fans that he totally respects the cannon and continuity and “wouldn’t dare to change anything.” He even delved into the novels and comics and regularly sense checked many details for weapons (specifically pulse rifles) and Synthetics etc. There are some slight changes, such as Facehugger having slightl different skin, however he did note that they are “all explained in the story.”

An intriguing relationship proves the heart of the film

Ridley Scott’s iconic 1979 classic saw Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and the Nostromo crew hauling corporate cargo, the sequel then pitted her and some space marines corps against the deadly creature, while the third instalment flung her out to Fiorina 161, a prison colony with violent inmates. While each director put their own spin on the various instalments, Álvarez is looking to shake things up even further with his own unique take on the franchise.

Unlike previous instalments, the Romulus‘ crew are much younger and pretty much newbies when it comes to the realities of space. The gang are from a mining colony and realise that there’s no real future for them, so they head for the Renaissance in search of their ticket out of there.

The director also teased that “at the heart of the film is a meaningful and very interesting relationship/dynamic between Rain (Cailee Spaeny) and her android foster brother Andy (David Jonsson). Abstract all the Aliens and abstract all the horror and there’s still a story there that you’ll want to see to the end, to see how that relationship unfolds, which is quite new as well for the franchise.”

“As much as we all love the characters from the first movie, there’s no real meaningful relationship really, you don’t know how they feel for each other, or who is friends etc. There is no time for that. But we figure out how to to tell a compelling horror, action and thriller and still get a good story there I think.”

On pitching the story to Sir Ridley Scott

When asked about working with Sir Ridley Scott, who produces the film, his first words were understandably “it was terrifying!”

Their first Zoom call together wasn’t quite plain sailing, as Álvarez was advised to initially just pitch him the vibe of the film, but after hearing his take, the iconic director said “But you don’t have a story – I haven’t heard a story here. You need to bring me back a full story”

But following that slight hiccup, the Romulus director noted that he was very supportive from the beginning, with his feedback “you have to make this movie, the script is great!”

The Xenomorph is once again a mix of performance work and animatronics

The iconic fully grown Xenomorph is undoubtedly the most terrifying of all the franchises’ deadly creatures, and fans of the original design and look are certainly going to be pleased with it’s design in Romulus.

When asked how he was going to tackle the look of the double-jawed creature, Álvarez confirmed that it was going to be a combination of animatronics and also suit performance, with a stunt performer once again returning to the suit.

He revealed that the majority of the close-ups of the creature’s face is shot using an animatronic with facial animation and when there’s more movement, crawling or on top of something for example, it’s usually a performer.

“The art of this is to know how to shoot them” Álvarez commented, “you need to believe that it’s real, otherwise it just doesn’t work.” Furthermore, he opted for the slower presence of the Xenomorph of the earlier movies, comparing the creature to more of Nosferatu/Dracula presence.

He also emphatically noted that he loves the biomechanic aspect of the franchise, stating “that shit is terrifying. What you don’t understand is scary.”

The film stars Cailee Spaeny as Rain Carradine, David Jonsson as Andy, a synthetic, Isabela Merced as Kay, Spike Fearn as Bjorn, Aileen Wu as Navarro and Archie Renaux as Tyler.

Alien: Romulus is released in UK cinemas on 16 August 2024.