Alien: Covenant is getting mixed reviews, but it’s hard to deny that there’s an absolutely incredible moment at the beginning of the film involving actor James Franco. It is, no joke, the most amazing thing I personally have seen at the movies this year.
Big spoilers for Alien: Covenant (and also Life) are below.
So, at the beginning of Covenant, following a scene where Peter Weyland creates the android David from Prometheus, we see the Covenant flying through space. It’s still years away from its final intended destination, and all the human crew are in cryosleep. Except, there’s an accident that damages the ship and necessitates the early rousing of the crew.
Almost everybody wakes up and escapes from their pods, but one person, Captain Branson (Franco) is stuck. His pod won’t open, and as his wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston), frantically looks through the glass while others try to pry the pod open, it bursts into flames, killing Branson.
James Franco does not utter a coherent word in this entire scene. His character is introduced literally seconds before he’s burned alive. The next scene is his charred corpse getting dropped onto a tarp.
It’s so good, you guys.
Killing off a major actor almost immediately is a tried and true horror trick. Scream famously did this with Drew Barrymore in the opening scene, while Life more recently offed Ryan Reynolds up earlier than anyone was expecting. Covenant took this one step further, though. If you paid close attention to all the trailers for the movie and were already somewhat familiar with this death trope, you might’ve guessed that Franco would die early. He was barely in any of the trailers, which was weird given that he’s arguably the biggest actor in the film. Savvy fans reasoned that he would probably die early.
But nobody expected this. Not a single scene of Franco from the trailers made it into the final movie. All of that stuff was supplementary promotional content. He died instantly. It’s impossible for him to have been killed off any quicker than he was.
(Technically, we get one additional scene with Franco. While mourning her dead husband, Daniels watches a video he shot of himself free climbing. It’s slight enough that you almost wish he’d literally just played a corpse, ‘cause it’d be funnier.)
Covenant’s screenwriter Dante Harper told The Hollywood Reporter that Franco originally had a slightly more substantial part, but it was always meant to be a small role.
“Originally, the James Franco character was part of what was a larger storyline, involving learning a little more about his background and actually getting to see some of his dreams that he’d had while he was asleep,” Harper explained to THR. It had to do with the backstory of both Daniels [Katherine Waterson] as well as Billy Crudup’s character, Oram.”
“Part of Ridley [Scott’s] idea was that this was a ship that not only had this external problem, but it also had this problem that there was this captain who was not the original captain who is now going to lead the mission and maybe make some terrible mistakes. The James Franco character is in that teaser a good bit more and I think in different versions of the screenplay as it went along, he had a larger role, but his role was always to be an absent captain.”
Luckily, Franco’s role in the final film was reduced to nearly nothing, resulting in a truly amazing and unexpected death scene. He deserves an Oscar.
Alien: Covenant is now in theaters.