Alien: Romulus Trailer Sidesteps the Franchise’s Complicated Timeline

There’s back-to-basics, and then there’s this.

'Alien: Romulus' trailer, featuring a woman in a dimly lit corridor.
20th Century Fox/Disney

A group of desperate humans in space are stalked by vicious aliens who reproduce by infiltrating bodies, and bursting out through the chest. In the end, it looks like one woman (Cailee Spaeny) is the last hope of exterminating these creatures, who are as relentless as they are terrifying. If this all sounds familiar, it should. The new trailer for Alien: Romulus is aggressively paying homage to both Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), and, in the process, utterly sidestepping the confusing continuity questions raised by the last two movies in the franchise.

With Romulus, the Alien franchise isn’t doing a full reboot, but in terms of vibe, there does seem to be a massive reset button getting pressed here. Here’s why the next Alien movie looks terrifying, and a little bit safe at the same time.

As the trailer reveals, Alien: Romulus focuses on a group of humans, marooned on a planet, who find a derelict spaceship and view it as their only means of escape. Briefly, we see that one part of this spaceship is dedicated to the “Romulus Labs,” and out of these labs, some of the familiar face-hugger aliens are loosed upon the unsuspecting humans.

Interestingly, as far as the trailer goes, there are scant details that would give longtime fans of the Alien franchise a clue as to where in the timeline this takes place. There is an answer of course, thanks to press releases, we know that Romulus is a midquel, set in the 57-year gap between Alien and Aliens. But, if you didn’t know that, the trailer — and perhaps the film, in general — isn’t super worried about how much you understand the timeline details. (Though Star Trek fans might be understandably confused as to why this movie isn’t a crossover about naughty pseudo-Vulcans, the Romulans, and their homeworld, Romulus.)

But, just in terms of being a sci-fi movie, Romulus seems to be doubling down (tripling down?) on what made Alien so successful in the first place. This is a horror movie first and foremost, and the trailer doesn’t shy away from showing us the icky details of just how exactly those face-huggers get into your body. (This also might be a face-hugger-centric Alien movie. They’re in the trailer a lot.)

Complete with the classic tagline “In space, no one can hear your scream,” Alien: Romulus seems determined to be a low-key remake of the original film, with a slightly (but only slightly) different context. This is probably smart for casual moviegoers, but an interesting pivot away from the themes, and specifics of the previous two prequels, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Whereas those films created a new canon for the origin of the xenomorphs (and human life itself!) the timeline specifics of both films could, understandably lead to some confused head-scratching, even from hardcore fans. Did David create the form of xenomorphs seen in Alien? Or was there another step? And, what happened to the David robot model by the time of the first film?

Remember me?

20th Century Fox/Disney

Romulus doesn’t seem to care about these questions, because the trailer exists in a mood that prevents us from worrying about canon too much. For completists, the ringed planet we see in this trailer is probably Calapamos, around which there were two very relevant moons; Acheron (LV-426), and LV-223, the first being the site of Alien and Aliens, and the second, being the primary location of Prometheus. So, in this movie, the “Romulus Labs” on this ship are likely in the same space neighborhood as all of the other movies, making the preponderance of face-huggers more explicable.

But, smartly, we don’t seem to need to know much else about the set-up of Alien: Romulus to enjoy the film. Broadly, any person interested in science fiction movies will watch this trailer and say: yes, that looks like an Alien movie. Will this back-to-basics approach work? Can an Alien movie succeed on thrills alone, even if those thrills are aesthetically, very familiar? Right now, the answer might be a cautious yes. While the upcoming Alien TV series promises to go very deep into the lore and, do a ton of timeline tap-dances, Romulus seems content to play it safe, by attempting to deliver a new look at the scariest creature in sci-fi cinema, ever.

Alien: Romulus hits theaters on August 16, 2024.

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