“The microscopic world – as strange DNA invades Fifield’s bloodstream. Virulent strands of protein attack the native DNA, transforming…”
Alien: Engineers, by Jon Spaihts.
The Fifield monster was a minor feature in Jon Spaihts’ screenplay but the rewrite by Damon Lindelof gave the mutant (also know as ‘Beluga- or Babyhead’) more to do in terms of wreaking chaos.
In the original screenplay Fifield does not take a trip back to the ship after his exposure to the Engineers’ bioweapons. He is instead later encountered by Shepherd, Watts (Shaw) and Vickers within the bowels of the Engineer facility. By this point his transformation is essentially complete: “The label stencilled on the space suit reads FIFIELD. But the face is of no human shape. A hideous hybrid of the crewman and a hard-shelled Alien, pale and horrific.”
Spaihts provides additional detail: “The suit’s helmet is shattered. Inside the helmet, Fifield’s head is a horror: a gelatinous mass, skin reduced to putty.”
Fifield then attacks Shepherd, mortally wounding him. He next launches himself at Vickers, knocking her to the floor. “You,” he grumbles, barely able to enunciate, but the dying Shepherd manages to unload a full clip into him. Fifield dies but his acid blood also kills Vickers: “She dies horribly, caustic acid eating through space suit, flesh and bone.”
Damon Lindelof’s version of the creature does not really differ from Spaihts’. Both Fifields are mutated by the ‘black gloop’ and, after a period of hibernation/transfiguration, return to notch a few kills before ultimately being destroyed. The difference is that, as we know, Lindelof’s Fifield returns to the Prometheus ship to wreak havoc. He eliminates most of Weyland’s security apparatus before being killed himself – not much, but certainly a step-up from his previous flash-in-the-pan appearance in Jon Spaihts’ script. In the revised screenplay Fifield is killed by Shaw rather than Shepherd (the character is relegated into non-existence by Lindelof); while Fifield is attacking the security team Shaw slips by and commandeers a truck in Ripley-esque fashion. She reverses into him, crushing his skull:
FIFIELD turns his attention on them — NARROW ELONGATED HEAD that has PUNCHED THROUGH THE HELMET OF HIS TATTERED SPACESUIT
— GREY GLISTENING SKIN — HE RISES TO HIS FULL HEIGHT and –
SCREEEE! Shaw throws the BUGGY INTO REVERSE — SMASHES INTO FIFIELD, driving him BACK INTO THE WALL OF THE AIRLOCK –
CRUSHES HIM! POPS the Rover Forwards — Then REVERSES AGAIN JUST FOR GOOD MEASURE as she RUNS FIFIELD’S HEAD UNDER THE TIRES WITH A SICKENING SKLLLLISH!
~ Paradise, by Damon Lindelof
The film would present a different stage of Fifield’s transformation than both scripts, but this amounted to an aesthetic change rather than anything plot-altering. The production drew up a ‘creature family tree’ that detailed Fifield’s entire ‘arc’ as thus: “Ampule liquid contaminates him – Fifield mutates into Babyhead & attacks crew – Shaw crushes & kills Babyhead w/ rover.”
Fifield’s mutated form was known to the production crew as ‘Beluga Head’ and the basis for its design was provided by conceptual artist Carlos Huante, who also provided designs for the Deacon. Alien had left a deep impression on Huante when he viewed it as a young boy. “It affected me more directly than even Star Wars did,” he told 3Dartistonline. “The seriousness of the mood, the design of the Alien and the Space Jockey left an indescribable first impression on me. The actors were perfect, the look and mood of the film, the ship design and style of how the film was shot and the usage of effects elements; it was all new and struck right in the centre for me.”
Huante therefore did not shy away from the opportunity of working for Ridley on an Alien prequel. “If Prometheus took place some time before the first movie, I wanted to be the guy to police it and keep it looking Giger-esque,” he said, “so I was all over that!”
“I walked into the very first meeting [with Ridley] prepared with the Beluga Head,” Huante also told AVPGalaxy. This design “pre-existed the movie” and was originally an unused concept piece from Speilberg’s War of the Worlds remake.
Other concepts were designed by Ivan Manzella (who also worked on the Deacon, Trilobite, and MedPod Creature). Manzella went through many different permutations of Fifield’s transformation: in some he is an amorphous blob of wrinkled flesh and twisted, sunken features – recognisably human but horrifically deformed.
In other concepts the mutant is faceless, emaciated and long-limbed like a primate – some are very reminiscent of the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. He also came in a variety of colours, from a ruddy brown to translucent whites and yellows.
Neville Page also provided different concepts of Huante’s ‘BabyHead’, as Ridley called it. “There was one creature that Carlos and I were kind of batting back and forth to one another,” Page says in The Furious Gods. “When I was given Carlos’ image to work with Ridley said, ‘Just give me your own take on it. Give me what you think Alien should look like’. So I, if it’s a verb, Gigered the hell out of it and brought it in proud as punch, feeling like ‘Yeah, that really feels like Giger’s aesthetic,’ and Ridley was like, ‘No, that’s not it at all.'” Scott rejected the elaborate ‘Gigered’ monsters and pointed the artist back to Huante’s original design.
“Man, we were all over the place on Fifield,” he continues. ” I think I actually spent the most time on Fifield. Ridley wanted variations of a Carlos thing that he’d did which was a ‘baby face’, and the baby face character, that was Fifield, was gonna have inverted legs and a bit of a tail – it was like a very, very quick morph from Fifield to this monster.” This speedy transformation, along with concerns that the Baby Head was too similar to a goblin, would later lead Scott to reign back on the creature’s monstrosity and associate it closer to the human Fifield.
“The concern was, for a lot of it, Ridley’s feelings were that it looked too much like a goblin,” said Page. “And then we took it more where Fifield would be infected, still humanoid, limb length would grow, and we needed to keep some of his features, which again, that’s a real tough balance because as soon as you start to morph someone into a creature they disappear, so we talked about the tattoo and making that tattoo, whether it be on his face or body, become something that will allow us to basically see that it is still Fifield.”
Fifield’s appearance and rampage in the Prometheus hanger was originally rendered in CGI by Weta. The concept designs by Huante et al were largely naked creatures, but the scripts and film kept the monster inside his ragged spacesuit, ostensibly to demonstrate to the audience that this creature was, or had been, Fifield (it should be clear by now that the filmmakers were worried that audiences would not associate the monster with the human precedent).
“We clothed it in a simulation of Fifield’s spacesuit,” said Weta’s Martin Hill, “torn and covered in oil.” Once the creature was taken from the page and rendered in a computer, Weta were able to create a system of movement for it. “We studied reference of cats, gorillas, even crabs,” explained Martin.
But Ridley opted to make the creature even more human-like in form and movement, showing further the relationship between Fifield as a man and Fifield as an Alien. “It became a lot more humanoid,” said Hill, “but distorted and long limbed, and it moved with gorilla-type motion – very aggressive, walking on its knuckles.”
The desire to take “the design of this embryonic creature closer to the human form” would eventually result in the production removing the CG Fifield from the movie. Instead they had Fifield actor Sean Harris perform the scene in makeup. The mutation was dialed back; when it appears the monster is easily identified as Fifield: the shock of red hair and beard is more prominent, and he is recognisably tattooed on his engorged but visibly human skull. The translucent cowl and the beginnings of the Alien cranium were removed.
“We went through numerous designs,” explained Scanlan. “What was interesting was Sean Harris is such a superb actor, we did a test on him on stage, a very simple kind of makeup, and he gave such a strong performance that the general feeling was it would have been much better to hold onto the actor’s features, hold onto all of the things that he would bring to the show. His head is becoming horridly contorted. He is losing himself to the Alien within, but still he is Fifield. He hasn’t gone that far that we’ve lost Fifield.”
The CG Fifield had an unnatural fluidity to its movements that gave it away as a digital creation. This may have been corrected if Weta were given more time to finalise the effects, but Scott was pleased with Harris’ portrayal of the mutant and he wanted to move away from something that was overtly monstrous. “Funny enough, the actor is winning,” said Scott. “The digital enhancement is excellent, but it looks like a monster, whereas the actor still looks like the actor. And what he does is pretty damn good.”
Other members of the production offered the same opinion: Harris was fully capable of performing the creature’s stunts, including working with fire; the CG was too monstrous and was hard to identify with Fifield; and the actor’s monster makeup was suitably grim anyway, so the horror didn’t feel diminished.
Neil Scanlan stated in the Art of the Film that “Everything we’ve done on the film has a real world reference, and when you do your research, it’s so sad because Fifield isn’t really that much of a fantastical creature. These things happen in real life, like Elephantiasis.” In The Furious Gods and other production material photographs of Joseph Merrick can be seen stapled to the production office walls.
There were still changes in post-production. Fifield is no longer run over by Shaw, but is crushed by a random mercenary and finished off with a flamethrower.
“I saw all the outtakes as well,” Carlos Huante told AVPGalaxy, “and loved the performance of the ape version of Fifield, but the actual creature wasn’t Alien or Prometheus – it was an ape… It looked great though, but it wasn’t for this movie. The concept and thread of who the creatures are was all lost unfortunately. The only creature that had a bit of the vibe still left was the worm or hammerhead snake. In the end that sequence is probably the only thing that still held to the original albino concept of the creatures… All that being said I really liked the movie, and again it was beautiful.”