ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is a mess - the type of film that could, and probably should signal the end to two franchises. Not that I don't have fond memories of both series. I have remained unusually committed to the films even after most have thrown in the towel. But if this is what 20th Century Fox envisions for the future, we would all be better off going without.
You can't say they didn't warn us. The tag line clearly states, "Whoever wins, we lose." And we do. ALIEN fans lose. PREDATOR fans lose. Horror fans lose. People in search of a coherent storyline lose. The only one who doesn't lose is your ten year old nephew, entranced by the images of two monsters duking it out. The film is right on his level.
Since the film features the aliens who have always been a thorn in the side of future colonists, it's odd to see that ALIEN VS. PREDATOR takes place in the present. Not only have aliens landed, but they've been here for quite some time. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
A survey team from Weyland Industries notes an odd heat signature from what should be a barren region of Antarctica. Immediately, a group of experts is called in to give their input. Now, it's important to find out that Weyland Industries is the corporation that would eventually become Weyland-Yutani, the same bureaucratic jerks who screwed things up for people in all four of the previous ALIEN films. But in an interesting move, Weyland Industries never presents itself as an evil empire. Reckless and foolhardy perhaps, but never evil.
The group's namesake is Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen), the same man who would later be the model for the Bishop synthetic and whose children would continue the company for centuries to come. Called "the Father of Modern Robotics," there is no denying that Weyland is an imposing figure. But his character winds up being one of those reclusive billionaires who feel stifled by the boardroom. He could be in a cushy office somewhere. He does not have to be on a slow boat in Antarctica, but he wants to be. He's the type of person that would try to fly around the world in a hot air balloon, simply because the option is there. He is someone who wants a lot out of life, because he may not have much of a life left. Still, he is a man of surprising dignity and his line, "Don't you turn your back on me!" is the only one in the film worthy of applause.
If I sound a bit enraptured musing about Weyland, it is because it is the best thing in the film. Henriksen gives what could be his greatest performance, at least since MILLENIUM went off the air. He brings a certain dignity to the part that the rest of the cast is either unwilling or unable to pull out of the hackneyed script. It actually adds a new dimension to the mysterious "company" we always hear about. Before the ages of corruption, the company once had a center of dangerous but heartfelt compassion. Meaning Mr. Yutani must have been a real asshole when he merged the two conglomerates.
The group that is gathered... well, isn't too important to tell the truth. Everyone but the lead is only given the bare bones of a character to work with. Basically every single person is in the film only to deliver line after line of boring dialogue before getting served up as puppy chow for the monsters. But since the film spends a ridiculous amount of time with these saps, I suppose I should describe a few of them.
The most fleshed-out character is the lead, Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan - BLADE, OUT OF TIME) and I have to admit, it's nice to see an African American woman is the strong center of a horror film. She's a mountain climber who also handles safety issues for a lot of rich folks who don't know any better, and that's exactly why she's called in here.
Aside from Woods and Weyland, the rest of the cast is expendable. Their characters can be summed up in a few words each. Sebastian (Raoul Bova - UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN) is an Italian archeologist. Graeme (Ewan Bremmer - Spud from TRAINSPOTTING) takes videos for the kids. As for the rest, honestly it's been only a day since I saw the film and I can't even recall one thing that made any of them stand out.
Regardless, the group is hired to sniff out what could be the archeological find of the century. Weyland's satellites have picked up what appears to be a huge pyramid situated over two hundred feet below the ice. Markings on the structure appear to be Mayan, Aztec and Cambodian, meaning it could provide proof of an advanced civilization from which all others spread out from For those of you who know your weird stuff, they've stumbled onto the mystery of Atlantis, although that term is never brought up in the film.
The group makes plans to dig through to the pyramid. But as luck would have it, the predators enter the earth's atmosphere, and they dig their own hole, accomplishing in a few seconds what it takes most drilling crews a week to do. The predators' technology is a bit more advanced than we were led to believe. So advanced that their enormous spaceship is able to pass over a group of drillers without being heard or seen. Come to think of it, they didn't hear or see the giant blue light the exploded the ice and drilled a two hundred foot hole, despite being no more than a couple miles away. Yeah, I was pretty stunned myself.
The humans enter the pyramid first, ignoring every single mummy movie ever made. What they discover is a bunch of strange hieroglyphics that tell of the Atlantians who worshiped the predators as gods - wait, stay with me here. And they used the pyramid as a breeding ground for the aliens who they like to kill off every hundred years or so. As for the whole story, you'll have to watch the film. Needless to say, the explanation was about 20% interesting and 80% silly.
Naturally, the group zigs when it should have zagged and they wake up a bunch of angry aliens, including a queen who has remained alive for centuries tethered with a bunch of old rusty chains. Oh trust me, it gets dumber. The pyramid starts to shift, sealing everyone inside. In what has got to be the most hilarious sight in the whole film, a group of three predators are making their grand entrance when they hear the walls move and start running frantically so they don't get locked out of their own hunt. Too bad the predators do not use their ability to mimic human speech patterns here, because you can only imagine the barrage of obscenities that would be spewing from their jowls.
Sebastian guesses with very little evidence that the pyramid will continue to shift every ten minutes. This causes people who be caught in a landscape that is forever moving around them and they have to jump from one platform to the next as the heroes of dozens of video games have done before. It's an odd blending of INDIANA JONES-type adventure that does not quite pay off.
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR plays fast and loose with its own timeline actually. You may remember in ALIEN that the incubation period from when the facehugger attaches itself to its host, lays the eggs inside the body and said eggs explode takes a minimum of several hours. Not here. The first person to have this happen is attacked, sedated, incubated, wakes up and gives birth to the chestburster in between the first and second shiftings of the pyramid - in other words, less than ten minutes. Maybe they were in a hurry.
As if it were not enough that the script by Paul W.S. Anderson is Swiss cheese, the film has other things going against it. First thing is that is an ugly film. The original ALIEN was one of the first to de-romanticize people's lofty visions of clean-cut heroes in sparkling white spaceships. Likewise, PREDATOR 2 (criminally underrated, in my opinion) showed the violence of Los Angeles taken to a grimy and satirical extreme. The people behind ALIEN VS. PREDATOR couldn't even be bothered to light the set properly for a good amount of time. The setting of an advanced pyramid may be of interest but only if we can see the damn thing. Instead, most of what we get are flashlights zigzagging around like it was the glow in the dark condom scene from SKIN DEEP.
I had commented to Horror Express' own Poshyface about ALIEN VS. PREDATOR before it came out. He said that at the very least the film would look good, because Anderson's films at least had a slick design. I said I hoped so because the trailers made it look like it was filmed on an abandoned set. Unfortunately, I was not placated, most of the film does look like an abandoned set. Toss in a few flashlights and high-tech gear, superimpose some snow, either from a machine or a computer, and you're good to go. Works in theory anyway.
It's also been dumbed down considerably. Not that you would expect a lot from any film with "Vs." in the title, but the fans deserve more than this. PREDATOR was originally designed as a formula film, often described when it came out as "ALIENS Meets RAMBO." Still, it managed to have some degree of depth and characterization that kept things interesting. Likewise, the ALIEN films took the "trapped with the monsters" premise and did intriguing things with it, even if the results were not always successful. This film fills the blanks by inserting scene after scene of meaningless dialogue spoken by underdeveloped characters. This is the first time we've seen the predators on the big screen since the 1990 sequel under-performed at the box office. I had been hoping that the big guys would be brought back in style. Remember the part in PREDATOR 2 when the predator tossed Danny Glover the gun from the 1800s. Maybe a prequel set in a more primitive setting like that would work. Well, things are primitive here, although they shouldn't be and it doesn't work. Really, there are only a few instances of the advanced culture of the predators on display, usually when they get really involved in the hunt and go into survival mode. They are nice bits, but all too fleeting. The aliens in contrast have never been more boring. Whether represented by animatronic effects or CGI work, they don't do anything remotely exciting for the whole film. They appear to be past their prime. Taking away some of the subtle nuances of each creature seems to have been done deliberately. The relatively simple figures of the aliens and predators have been reduced to their barest essentials so that all that remains is for them to rumble.
The battle should be more entertaining, but since so little has been invested in the story and the art direction and cinematography are dull, even this is no where near as exciting as it could have been. The pummel and slice each other and even the guys in the suits seem to be going through the motions. In place of what could have been a complex or entertaining extension of the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises we have what essentially boils down to a live-action version of the old ALTERED BEAST video game. And frankly, I've wasted enough quarters on that one already. I suppose I should be thankful that there is no nu-metal soundtrack as one might expect. But should we really give a film credit for not screwing up even worse?
Although it is not a very popular opinion to have in the horror community, I am a fan of David Fincher's ALIEN 3. While not as good as the first two, I thought it reduced things to a primitive level and took the series down a fascinating darker path. Perhaps the best thing about ALIEN VS. PREDATOR next to Henriksen's performance is that now, no one could possibly say that ALIEN 3 is the worst of the series. Hell, they couldn't even say it about ALIEN: RESURRECTION. This is easily the worst treatment the aliens or predators have ever received. It's a bad film for the casual fan, but if you're someone who has been collecting the comics, novels, games, etc. and has been waiting for the big screen treatment, you have every right to be furious.
The balls have been squeezed out of both series. I'm not just talking about the PG-13 rating either. It's true that the film stretches the violence to the rating's limits. There is a pretty high body count here, simply because there is nothing else going on. Of course, the gore has been toned down considerably. But also the execution is completely different. The whole thing seems aimed for an entirely different age group. There's a reason why I mentioned video games numerous times in this review. The style seems more suited to that forum than for the cinema. It's made for young teenage boys to stare wide-eyed as the monsters beat each other senseless, with no pesky traces of plot, substance or reason to get in the way. It should be a clue when one character coins the phrase from the PREDATOR films "You are one ugly mother-" and is not allowed to finish the sentence. Exploding chests are fine, but the word "fuck" is a no-no. Fans of the original films need not apply here.
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is an attempt to market the old characters to a new generation of moviegoers. Tossing away anything that made earlier entries great, they have been shoved out like a piece of junk food. Sure enough, the film feels marketed, processed and doesn't contain any ingredients you'd be proud of. Like a piece of junk food, I left the theatre feeling miserable and really I just wished I could have thrown up. It's dumb, lifeless, ugly and boring and yet features just enough brainless pummeling to keep those weaned on DRAGONBALL Z interested. This one is strictly for the kids.