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The Untold Truth Of Alien: Romulus

The Xenomorphs return in the upcoming film "Alien: Romulus," the latest installment in the "Alien" franchise. "Romulus" is set between the events of 1979's "Alien" and 1986's "Aliens," taking viewers back to the franchise's glory days. Director Fede Álvarez is under pressure to deliver something special since Ridley Scott's prequels, "Prometheus" and "Alien: Covenant," weren't universally loved and it's now been many years since an "Alien" movie last hit the big screen. There's also an air of extra scrutiny to "Romulus" since a proposed "Alien" film by Neill Blomkamp (which would have seen the return of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley) was sidelined for this project after Disney's acquisition of Fox.

There's a lot riding on this in terms of the franchise's future, but Álvarez seems to be the right filmmaker for the job. Not only did he look to the past for inspiration, but he also sought out the advice of both Scott (director of "Alien") and James Cameron (director of "Aliens") for his movie. The early signs have been positive: Scott raved about "Alien: Romulus" when he first saw it behind closed doors, heaping praise on Álvarez. With that said, let's take a look at the journey of "Alien: Romulus" from its initial pitch to finally reaching the big screen and adding another chapter in this sprawling mythology.

Conversations about Alien: Romulus started before Alien: Covenant came out

After the release of "Alien: Covenant" in 2017, there was significant chatter about the future of the franchise. Ridley Scott was said to be working on a third prequel, while James Cameron was apparently trying to revive the Neill Blomkamp "Alien" movie we never got to see. In March 2022, news broke that "Don't Breathe" director Fede Álvarez would be handed the keys to the franchise, owing to a well-received pitch he had made to Scott years earlier.

In a later interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Álvarez confirmed the timeline of his meetings with Scott to discuss "Alien: Romulus." He said: "Right after 'Don't Breathe,' I had a meeting at Scott Free, Ridley's company, and I think they were about to start doing 'Alien: Covenant.' And I mentioned something that I would love to see." Álvarez explained how Scott asked him more questions about what he would have done if he had the chance to do it his way, and it turned into an informal pitch meeting. Years later, Álvarez received a phone call out of the blue about the idea he had pitched to Scott and was asked if he would like the opportunity to write and direct the film. Naturally, he jumped at the chance.

The idea for the movie came from a deleted Aliens scene

Even after the first trailer for "Alien: Romulus" dropped, Fede Álvarez kept his cards close to his chest about the film's plot and the surprises in store for the audience. The only titbit that spilled out was how it's about a group of young people stuck in a rundown space station with a familiar terror looming large. So, how did this mysterious story idea materialize? According to Álvarez, "Alien: Romulus" is heavily inspired by a famous deleted scene from James Cameron's "Aliens" that got his creative juices flowing, one that takes place at the doomed colony Hadley's Hope.

"There's a moment where you see a bunch of kids running around the corridors of this colony," Álvarez told The Hollywood Reporter. "And I thought, 'Wow, what would it be like for those kids to grow up in a colony that still needs another 50 years to terraform? There's no sunlight and there's no real life, except to just take the place of a parent and do the same job they did.'" Álvarez questioned how these young adults would be influenced by their upbringing and how they would tackle an alien threat if they faced it as opposed to someone like Ellen Ripley. From there, that initial spark turned into a full-fledged script.

The film takes place 20 years after Alien

Figuring out the correct order in which to watch the "Alien" franchise might be tougher than slaying the Xenomorph Queen. Not only do the sequels jump many years ahead of each other, but there's also the issue of where the "Alien vs. Predator" spinoffs and prequels fit into the timeline. Fede Álvarez decided to keep "Alien: Romulus" simple by setting it between Ridley Scott's "Alien" and James Cameron's "Aliens" rather than complicate matters further with a massive time jump. There's still a small problem, though: The storyline gap between those films is 57 years.

Variety posed an interesting and worthwhile question to Álvarez after the first trailer for his film dropped, asking if there's any risk of the canon being altered with "Alien: Romulus." The filmmaker replied: "['Alien: Romulus'] takes [place] 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." Álvarez discussed his script with both Scott and Cameron, ensuring that he had their insight into the timeline and how "Alien: Romulus" fits into the overall mythology.

20th Century Studios gave Fede Álvarez creative freedom

The shifting landscape of the movie business after the COVID-19 pandemic and the cutthroat nature of the streaming wars changed how studios approach their tentpole films and popular franchises. According to The Hollywood Reporter, many directors aren't receiving the creative freedom they once did, as executives become more hands-on and micromanage their blockbusters out of fear of financial disaster and fan backlash. Considering how "Alien: Covenant" only brought in $240.9 million from a $97 million budget, one would have expected 20th Century Studios to be heavily involved in the production of "Alien: Romulus" at every level, dictating what it wanted to see.

According to Fede Álvarez, this wasn't the case for him at all. "This is not the era of Hollywood or even the studio of the era of 'Alien 3,' where [David] Fincher is fighting everybody to get his way," Álvarez told IGN. "I made this movie as independently as I made 'Don't Breathe,' really with a white page and the ability and the freedom given to me to write what we wanted." Álvarez added how everything that fans see on screen comes from is his unique vision for the story. "It is very me, believe me. The good and the bad. It's really me."

Alien: Romulus was written with Cailee Spaeny in mind

In November 2022, the trades reported on rumors that actor Cailee Spaeny was set to be cast in "Alien: Romulus" after having impressed the film's producers and Fede Álvarez. In March 2023, these rumors were confirmed as Spaeny was officially announced as part of the cast and the lead of the film. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has kept an eye on Spaeny's career to date: She has established herself as one of the brightest young talents in Hollywood with commanding performances in films like "Bad Times at the El Royale," "Priscilla," and "Civil War," as well as TV shows such as "Mare of Easttown" and "The First Lady."

It turns out that Álvarez paid close attention to Spaeny's burgeoning career as well, since he wrote the character of Rain Carradine with her in mind. "I always knew it was going to be her," the filmmaker told Entertainment Weekly. "I almost wrote the movie for her." Álvarez added how Rain serves as the audience's eyes in the movie, and how they experience the thrilling adventure from her perspective. "That's the big difference it makes when you bring in younger characters in their early 20s. It's not that the audience is that age necessarily, but we are as inexperienced as they are when it comes to dealing with the situation that they're in."

Isabela Merced was blown away when she saw the Xenomorph for the first time

In an era where big changes are coming to movies and TV because of AI, nothing is more pleasing than a filmmaker utilizing creative practical effects on a project. In fact, "Alien: Romulus" director Fede Álvarez had the internet gasping when he released a nightmare-inducing video of a remote controlled facehugger, adding to the hype surrounding the movie. However, it isn't only the facehugger that's practical in the movie, as the Xenomorph is also a combination of robotics and a person in a creature suit.

Isabela Merced, who plays Kay in "Alien: Romulus," spoke to Collider about how seeing the Xenomorph in action for the first time blew her mind and proved to be the standout experience during the production. "They used a robot for that," she said. "And also, they used a human being, like a really tall person, in the costume and special effects. We had two Xenos on set, at all times, and they were just terrifying." Merced praised the level of work that went into making the Xenomorphs, especially the small things like the chrome nails. "The detail is incredible," she added.

There's one gross scene that made the crew look away

Anyone who has watched Fede Álvarez's 2013 "Evil Dead" re-imagining or his hit film "Don't Breathe" knows that the filmmaker isn't afraid of a little blood or gore in his movies. Consequently, letting him play in a franchise where creatures burst out of people's bodies and possess acid blood meant that the expectation levels soared, with fans hoping that Álvarez would amp up the gruesomeness factor for "Alien: Romulus." Apparently, he did not disappoint. In fact, he even had his own cast and crew gagging after one gross scene.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Isabela Merced discussed her excitement about having a part in the film, as well as how she had participated in a memorable reshoot. After a specific scene, the director played back the footage to her on his iPad to see how it came out — and nobody around them could bear to watch it. "There's a scene that I'm in, and they all had to turn away," Merced said. "Not one person stayed looking at that iPad because it was so disgusting."

James Cameron and Ridley Scott gave the director very different notes

Ridley Scott and James Cameron both brought something uniquely brilliant to the "Alien" franchise, with the first two installments widely considered to be the best. When Fede Álvarez decided to set "Alien: Romulus" between "Alien" and "Aliens," he knew that gathering feedback from Scott and Cameron would be essential to its success. While Scott was involved on a producer level, Cameron wasn't. Even so, that didn't stop the "Avatar" director from speaking to Álvarez about his script and providing input.

As a fan of both filmmakers, Álvarez told The Hollywood Reporter that he cherished the experience. However, even he laughed at how Scott and Cameron provided different advice to him. "It's also fascinating because [Cameron and Scott's] notes and comments are completely different," Álvarez said. "Whatever Ridley said, Cameron said something different. They were all super smart comments, notes and thoughts on the film and the filmmaking, et cetera, but both of them have completely different approaches." This must have felt like the ultimate master class for Álvarez, as he learned from two of the greatest filmmakers of all time and got the chance to pick their brains.

The same team that built the Xenomorphs for Aliens also worked on Alien: Romulus

When the filmmakers began discussing "Alien: Romulus" in interviews, perhaps the most prevalent theme was that they were determined to be faithful to what came before them. And so it should be, since "Alien" is one of the most iconic franchises in cinema history, with its own specific look and feel. If the Xenomorphs suddenly looked too different or modern, that wouldn't sit well with longtime fans of the franchise, and Fede Álvarez was always well aware of this.

Wisely, Álvarez and his collaborators didn't try to reinvent the wheel or fix what wasn't broken. As Cailee Spaeny explained to Variety, the people in charge went back to the past to create the future of the franchise. "They brought the same team from 'Aliens,' the James Cameron film," she said. "The same people who built those Xenomorphs actually came on and built ours. So getting to see the original design with the original people who have been working on these films for 45-plus years and has been so much of their life has been really incredible."

It was originally meant to debut on Hulu

After announcing that Fede Álvarez would helm a new "Alien" movie in 2022, 20th Century Studios also confirmed the film would be a Hulu exclusive. The decision was based on the notion that a theatrical release would require the movie to be toned down and this wasn't anyone's desire. Later in 2022, the "Alien" franchise's intergalactic cousin, "Predator," had its latest entry, "Prey," debut on Hulu. The film received rave reviews from critics and fans, while also becoming Hulu's biggest premiere yet.

While this all boded well for "Alien: Romulus" and its inevitable arrival on the streaming service, 20th Century Studios made the bold choice to switch the release from Hulu to theaters. Álvarez told The Hollywood Reporter that the decision wasn't based on positive test screenings, but that it actually occurred much earlier in the production process. "Right when we started shooting it, the studio was like, 'F*** it, we're going into theaters with this,'" he said. "So we shot it already knowing that it was for theaters, and the team did such a good job."

The film is inspired by the story of Romulus and Remus

There are many things in the "Alien" saga you only notice after watching the films more than once, including several allusions to ancient mythology. When the name "Alien: Romulus" was first revealed, history buffs immediately asked if it had anything to do with the popular legend of Romulus and Remus. It turns out that they were right. "It's based on the Romulus and Remus myth," Álvarez confirmed to Total Film. "If people aren't familiar, it's the creation myth of Rome. Romulus killed Remus. It's not a siblinghood that went down the right path. ['Alien: Romulus'] is a film about siblinghood. A lot of the character stories are related to siblinghood."

Showing off his deep and intricate knowledge of the "Alien" universe, the director mentioned how Weyland-Yutani (the nefarious, profit-driven multinational conglomerate at the heart of the franchise) is obsessed with imperialism and the Roman Empire in particular. Álvarez added how many of the planets in the films are also named after cities and rivers from the Roman Empire, something he continues in his film. "There's a station where most of the story takes place," he said. "It's called the Renaissance Station, and it's made of two big models that are connected. One is Remus, the other one is Romulus."

What has Ridley Scott said about Alien: Romulus?

Fede Álvarez understood the pressure he faced making an "Alien" film — not just from fans, but also from Ridley Scott. Considering Scott's deep connection to the franchise, Álvarez naturally wanted his approval, but he was well aware of Scott's reputation for not always being keen on other filmmakers playing in his sandbox. Nonetheless, Álvarez arranged for Scott to be one of the first people to watch the film in person so he could get his honest feedback.

"Everyone gave me the heads-up that Ridley is really tough," Álvarez said during the DGA Latino Summit in 2023. "He's really tough, particularly if it has something to do with his movies. He was really tough on 'Blade Runner [2049],' which I saw as a masterpiece, and he had issues with it because it's really hard for him, because it's his work." According to Álvarez, Scott watched "Alien: Romulus" on his own, and when it was finished, he said: "Fede, what can I say? It's f***ing great." Álvarez called the experience "one of the best moments" of his life, since he's always revered Scott as a filmmaker.