‘Alien: Romulus’ Trailer Revives the Franchise With Facehuggers and More Scares; Director Fede Alvarez Wanted to Restore Series’ ‘Handmade’ Roots

The first teaser trailer for Fede Álvarez’ “Alien: Romulus,” released March 20, hints at a return to the same kinds of thrills that audiences experienced back in 1979 with Ridley Scott’s “Alien” — and that James Cameron delivered in the 1986 follow-up, “Aliens.” Opening with a parade of spaceships reminiscent of the Nostromo and Sulaco, the clip offers a first look at its young cast, which features Cailee Spaeny (“Priscilla”) and Isabela Merced (“Madame Web”). The crew navigates dimly-lit, hexagonal corridors, run from scurrying facehuggers, and deliver shrieks of fear that, despite the original film’s tagline (“In space, no one can hear you scream”), echo all too viscerally.

“Alien: Romulus” marks the seventh film in the “Alien” franchise, and the overall ninth involving acid-blooded xenomorphs, if you include the “Aliens vs. Predator” crossover films. Writer-director Álvarez is about to complicate its already convoluted timeline even further with “Romulus,” which premieres August 16. But the more important question is, will it be better than some of the more lackluster chapters in this ongoing saga — which there are probably more of than great ones?

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According to Álvarez, he’s hedging his bets: set in between the events of Scott’s film and Cameron’s, “Romulus” will draw heavily upon those chapters in terms of style, story and tone. Ahead of the trailer’s premiere, Álvarez, a veteran of inherited franchises including “Evil Dead” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” spoke to Variety about the ways his “Alien” film is the same, and different, from the ones that came before his, and reflected on his aim to bring the film series back to its scary roots.

This takes place in the 57-year span between “Alien” and “Aliens.” How careful did you have to be to not upset the larger mythology of the franchise?

[“Alien: Romulus”] takes 20 years after the first one, and for me, I don’t see it as upsetting the canon. It’s something I take personal pleasure in doing, making sure that it all tracks and is all part of the big “Alien” franchise story — not only in the story, but also when it comes to how to make it. I talked with Ridley [Scott] as a producer, and had long chats with James Cameron about it at the script level. After the movie was done, I showed it to them.

Everybody’s really important, from the VFX supervisor of “Aliens” and the guys that make the miniatures, and we hired a lot of them to work on the movie. Otherwise, it’s hard to nail the style and the look and the vibe of a film like I wanted. That was the biggest pleasure of making this movie, to be able to do that whole process.

How did you achieve your goals with this movie and incorporate their foundational knowledge of the franchise?

Obviously “Alien” and “Aliens” are very different movies, but we figured out ways with this story to make sure I didn’t have to choose. There are incredible, smart things [accomplished] in those movies. You really want to push it and create this world, so as a director, you’re not sitting in your chair and just pointing at shit. I do VFX shots myself. I’m puppeteering there with them. In every movie, I think, “Okay, this is the one where I finally got to sit down and just point at shit.” It doesn’t happen. The movies get bigger and I’m still there on the floor getting my hands dirty. And that’s really what Ridley and Cameron told me — the only way to make this movie is you have to be involved at every level. These are very handmade movies from their directors, that’s why they’re so unique. This is not a studio movie where you come in, do your thing and there’s a machine going on that knows how to do them.

As you said, each director in the series made their “Alien” movie all their own. What elements does this movie have, that the others may not, because of you?

Well, it’s definitely not just me. Roughly there are six years between the movies, so every movie has come out in a different era of filmmaking, so that’s why they’re so different. But for me, it was really taking it back to its roots. I wanted to travel back not just to the style of the original movies, but to the genre of the original movies. I really wanted to go back to the sheer horror of the first film, and to take those elements of thriller that “Aliens” has, and “Alien 3” has as well. We went to crazy extents to keep it pure to the filmmaking techniques of the first movie. But if anybody’s worried, “Is it going to be too retro?” Don’t worry, 2023 will pour through every window. There’s no way to stop the modernity of filmmaking. And from that combination of the best of the classics and the best of today, then you have something new.

How tough was it to find a balance between the little green computer monitors of “Alien” and the futuristic technology of the more recent films?

I know a lot of people felt like it makes no sense. But I think we make the mistake when we watch the Nostromo and assume that’s how the entire universe looks like. If I decide to make a movie on Earth today, and I go to the Mojave Desert and I take an old truck because a guy drives a Chevy, if you’re an alien, you’re going to go, “That’s what the world looks like.” But it doesn’t mean there’s not a guy in a Tesla in the city, which would be the “Prometheus” ship. The first movie is truck drivers in a beat-up truck. “Prometheus” is the ship of the richest man in the world.

It’s no secret that the first two films are revered. Not asking you to trash talk any of the other movies, but were there any pitfalls, perceived or actual, in the execution of these stories that you were careful to avoid as you were writing and directing this movie?

I think what happens when you come into franchise like this one is that everybody has a different idea of what this is or must be. When I did “Evil Dead,” some people thought it was a twist that I played it with a straight face, because for a lot of people that is a comedy. But if you saw the first one when you were a kid, like I did, there’s nothing funny about it. In the “Alien” franchise, there were places that the directors and Ridley were more interested in that necessarily wasn’t related to the horror of it all. But for me, “Alien” works at its best when it’s scary, and when it’s action like “Aliens.” The horror and the shock of that world is personally what I liked the most.

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