It wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to not allow movies to catch me off guard with their release. My addiction to film news culminated with the development of the first X-Men movie. It was a learning experience that helped me understand what my own personal boundaries were concerning the matter of what I wanted to know and what I wanted to keep a surprise.
I had known from my searches that an Alien vs. Predator movie was in the process of development for a rather long time. And strangely enough, this one caught me off guard simply because of it long-standing development hell. I never actually expected it to get off the ground. So when it did I was gleefully surprised. I figured I could go see it with my dad, since he was a great fan of both franchises. As luck would have it though, a theatrical viewing was not in the cards for me. It premiered the same weekend that I got married, and following that was getting used to settling into a heightened relationship. It wasn’t until the movie came out on DVD that I was finally able to see it.
To be sure, I’ve seen it many many times since then because of its flashy presentation, so obviously I like the movie. I am writing this review from my most recent viewing of the original theatrical presentation, so while my words may be harsh, that doesn’t detract from what I still feel about the restored edition that was unrated. And I will attempt to tap my original thoughts on what I have viewed when the movie was new to me. If by some strange fluke you haven’t yet seen the movie, read no further, because for the rest of my review, I pull all the stops on revealing spoilers.
The most shocking aspect from the very beginning wasn’t the title screen but in fact the blue slide before it describing the film as rated PG-13 . . . what? For a film that’s borne of two franchises that have been nothing but R-rated to suddenly have a toned-down retarded cousin is not the best step in the right direction. As for the title itself AVP: Alien vs. Predator, I think it’s a little trite. Ever since the marketers of Terminator 2: Judgment Day thought of the intimidating short title T2, everyone has been trying to copy the ploy: D2: The Mighty Ducks, ID4 (Independence Day) and X2 (one of the worst ever). Though in the case of the title screen, I am more forgiving in part to it’s homage to the original Alien title screen.
All the previous Alien films began in space, and that’s something that I liked about the beginning of this movie. We’re treated to a dark and sinister shape with odd forms and spikes only to have it pass under camera and be revealed as the Weyland Industries satellite orbiting over Antarctica. Despite the continuity flaws in Alexa Wood’s introduction, I like how it was handled. It was quirky and less obnoxious than Ethan Hunt’s intro in Mission: Impossible II, though I doubt very much that Colin Salmon has much capacity to act like anyone other than a stubborn British suit. However the introduction to Sebastian and Thomas was stilted. It felt very much abbreviated. When Alexa is back in focus again, the character of Graham Miller is introduced to much chagrin. As a character, he’s a bit vapid despite his overly obvious abrasive accent. Clearly it’s authentic, but that’s not always a plus. By this time I recognized the clear attempt to have a multicultural ensemble like all the previous films. This is the first time though that it seemed forced.
The cover of Alexa’s magazine shows Charles Bishop Weyland, CEO of the robotics giant that later becomes the ultimate evil in the universe of the Alien franchise. While impressive that actor Lance Henriksen comes back to duly homage his characters, it’s not without the visible shoe-horning tribulation either. As I go along I’ll explain further, but for the first bit on that, why would a man in charge of a robotics company care anything about ancient archaeology?
Once assembled, the team comprised is larger than any cast seen in an Alien movie or the first Predator. Yet very little if any attention is paid to anyone else. I had to look up the name Adele Rousseau. Otherwise I would have never known what to call her. The first time watching I noticed Weyland tap a pen between his fingers, which I knew without a shadow of a doubt was a wink to his character in Aliens. Otherwise, the scene in his cabin with Lex doubting her abilities to train the team and the following with Sebastian and Miller wooing her with their knowledge of the aurora seemed nothing more than time killers.
Finally at long last the arrival of the predator ship came. I was a little more than a bit excited by that. I liked how when the computer holographics spring to life, they were reflected in the predator helmets like in the beginning of Alien. When the plasma cannon discharged and cut away, I wondered what happened, though. The scene cut right back to the exploration team again. With Lex back on as the guide, a bit of unexplained and out-of-the-blue tension appeared between Miller and Verheiden. As they disembarked, the toned switched again to an embarrassing flirtation between Sebastian and Lex.
Upon arriving at the abandoned whaling station, a bit more time was wasted with team members wandering about firing flares like they had a limitless supply. Miller goes off by himself only to have his bejesus lost when Lex chides him for slipping off alone and then a follow-up nod to Aliens with a harmless animal encounter. At last they stumbled upon the blast tunnel created by the predator ship. As the formation is described, I realized that just about half of the team has been rendered useless. Without a need to drill, all they’ve to do is slum about and run a few cables. Seeing the predators gear up was amusing and a guilty pleasure. They pulled off the quick montage much better than Batman or Robin ever did.
At last it is revealed to the audience that Weyland has a debilitating condition. Lex playing up the strong girl character again has the ‘nads to tell him to piss off. She waxes sentimental about her father and references drinking champagne at high altitude. And before she mentioned that I was feeling her story pretty well. But I know that the higher up you go, the easier it is to get drunk. I feel fairly certain that if you share even half a bottle with someone, you wouldn’t be able to tell the upside from a hole in the ground.
Again, what the characters line-delivery lacks, the action and cinematography jump milestones ahead. The tunnel sequence was impressive. The silent drop from the predator ship was amazing too. Not only was it an interpreting feat, but it was one of the few original ideas used. A giant ship cruising through the atmosphere making not a sound save for the three pods jettisoned from its hull.
When the team reached the bottom of the tunnel, I felt the movie trying to look too self-important again by over dramatizing the reveal of the pyramid. What worked well for the story telling, particularly in part on the predators was the use of holographics. Since they didn’t speak a human language, their intentions needed to be shown visually, and I think it was effective. It worked well as a point of reference also, particularly in the queen’s reveal. The queen did not disappoint. I was confused at the notion that she was actually kept on earth, but nonetheless, it was an interesting way to bring her into the movie . . . just in time for the unimportant drill team to be strung up like sausages in haste on the surface by the three predators.
I felt a strong sense of foreboding once the discovery team fell upon the sacrificial chamber. Anyone who’s seen an Alien movie knows what this part is all about. And then seeing the queen pinching out her sprog was the nasty bit of icing that would easily make anyone want to immediately set down whatever they might have been eating at the time. I liked the architectural decoration in the pyramid. The use of the predator and alien figures was visually stimulating. I especially liked the grating over the shaft beneath the sacrificial chamber. The fetal queen looked just like the cover of Alien³.
When it came to the gun vault though, I wasn’t sure what to think. For one thing, I don’t understand why the predators would have kept 100-year-old weapons locked up on Earth. And since the pyramid antics didn’t begin until after the last gun was taken, I’m not sure what the point of the predators having to wait around for their prey to grow up would have accomplished, unless they need to learn a level of patience. While it was cool to see a really good image of a jumping facehugger, I’m among the throng that believes the concept of bullet-time has really jumped the shark. It worked for the Matrix movies, but only the Matrix movies. Everything to follow looks like it’s trying to rip off the Wachowskis.
After the sacrifice of the six scientists that stayed in the chamber, the film finally amps up and turns into an action piece. The time of impregnation for the chestbursters took hardly any time at all. The aliens in full form appeared even more quickly, and once that happened, the threat of humans was immediately sidelined when an alien killed a predator outright with no trouble whatsoever. During the major brawl between the alien and the second predator, I was changed from skeptic to fanatic. Just watching the two slug it out was an awesome sight. And I would have liked it even more had the battle ended in favor of the predator.
Another nod to Predator 2 is evident when the third predator is chasing what’s left of the pyramid team and catches up with Weyland. The fact that Weyland is spared due to his ailments is a testament of predator ethics I think. But when the CEO inevitably pissed off the big guy, no tears are shed as the corporate man is laid asunder, thus leaving me to think, “Why should I care about anybody now?” And if the Company from the Alien movies is so diabolical, why is the founder portrayed as such a kindly old man with thoughts of placing others before his self? I really expected Lance Henriksen to play a jerk-off rather than a dying rich man with a heart of gold.
More action follows in without any particular rhythm. Sebastian is dispatched in there somewhere after he recants the history of this particular group of predators on earth as he sees written on the walls of the pyramid. The flashback story was an engaging piece of visual eye candy, a strong point of this film. Before the Italian stallion is whisked away though, we’re treated to two consecutive homages. The expansive leap across the gap bows to Alien: Resurrection while the extreme close-up on Lex’s hand on the edge of the broken bridge followed by a harsh focus on her distraught face pays tribute to the original Alien.
I’m willing to bet that I’m among the minority that thought the joint venture between Lex and Scar was a neat idea. If nothing else, it was original for the two film franchises. Something else it did was kill the excessive dialogue which didn’t fair so well on me. When only Lex is the one to talk, it makes the scene go a lot better.
The climactic cavern blast and the slug out with the queen was pure enjoyment. I’m from the generation that found battling huge monsters to be extremely cool. I remember what it was like seeing Ripley battle the original queen in the power loader, and to see two characters so exposed at the mercy of this new was very much pulse-pounding. As the film wound down, it wandered back into Predator 2 territory with the elder and the ship kind of sequence. I thought it was neat that Lex got to keep a keepsake regardless of how messed up her future would be from then on. And when the chestburster slid its way through Scar on the ship as it was leaving, all I could say to myself was, “Ha ha! Sequel!”
I’m not one that enjoys every movie I see. I’d be a lunatic if so. I do however have a special place in my heart for creature features, because it’s something that I grew up with. The Alien movies gave me nightmares. I knew about Star Wars because of my father, not because of Lucas’ re-releases. AVP: Alien vs. Predator was definitely sub-par, but I would gladly watch it over and over again before I had to sit through a “classic” like The Shining again.
In all honesty, I never really thought about the length of the film. I had seen Jurassic Park, and balked at the shortness of that one. Yet this one I didn’t notice. What I did notice though was the considerable amount of alien and predator gore compared to the amazing lack of human gore, particularly when it should’ve been necessary like with the chestbursters. It’s the same issue I have with PG-13 movies that have bloodless melee battles. It takes away the realism.
But really the best aspect of the film was the music. It wove the predator theme very nicely and made the end credits pump with energy. The aliens seemed bigger because of it and the mediocre aspects like crossing a glacier improved through the score. Some other reviewers may take this time to assign a rating. I don’t do that because I’ve just seen too many movies, and I never keep a consistent system of measure. The main point of this is that I liked the movie, more so than I liked Alien: Resurrection. I look forward to the sequel for this one, as will my father who’s a 52-year-old kid.