I’ve been involved with Cinema Blend, either as a reader or writer, for several years now and I have to say I can’t remember seeing a movie get more bad press around here than Alien Vs. Predator. It all started with the naming of director Paul W.S. Anderson (Even Horizon, Resident Evil) who some around here liken to the devil incarnate. The stories from filming sounded bad, and then we got our first look at promotional material. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t promising either. The proverbial fan was hit after CB forum regular “NotSo” claimed to attend a test screening of the film and wrote a report on that, drawing much controversy as it was claimed his negative review was made up, and that no screening happened. Even this week news wasn’t good, as it was rumored AvP wouldn’t even make it to theaters on time and all the early press screenings were cancelled due to “last minute editing”. Through it all I’ve tried to maintain a positive attitude. If you can believe it, I avoided all the negative talk. I even stayed away from “NotSo”’s screening report hoping that the epic battle between these two intergalactic forces would be awesome, and that all the rumors were blown out of proportion.
Alien Vs. Predator is the film everyone was afraid Freddy Vs. Jason would be – an attempt to cash in on the popularity of two franchises with little to no respect for the material the sequel was spawned from. I suppose it’s ironic that the movie, placed in modern day, is technically half a prequel(for the Alien movies) - that dreaded word that continues to haunt sci-fi fans as it drops franchises to their knees. It is, at its very best, a sequel that should make Highlander 2:The Quickening proud.
Taking place only a few months from now, the movie opens with its thin, extremely slow plot. Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen playing the character his Alien franchise characters were based on) summons together a team of experts to help find and explore an odd pyramid found under the ice of Antarctica. The team is lead by Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) whose specialty is preparing and leading groups into unexplored territory. Everyone else in the team is kind of inconsequential. We never really bond with the characters, so each one is given a different accent to help identify them – you have Scottish accent guy, English accent guy, Italian accent guy, etc. There is an attempt to make us like a few of them so that if/when they get killed later on we have some sympathy for them, but it’s done so poorly and with such predictability that it’s hard to fall for.
The team finds an abandoned whaling village above their destination and a perfectly carved tunnel down to the site of the pyramid. As they explore, they activate something within the pyramid, and the audience slowly pieces together that the artifact was created by/for the Predators, who then used it to breed and kill Aliens. If the audience is slow this is explained by a cast member along with a handy flashback a little later in the film, but really by the time they spell it out everyone in the audience is pretty much ahead of the movie. As the Aliens are brought back to life and start to reproduce, the Predators enter the pyramid to stop the interlopers and destroy the Aliens, which leads to cool battles between the two races.
Correction: which should lead to cool battles between the two races - instead it ends up looking like so much homemade pornography. The camera continually jiggles and shakes, and no single shot is used for more then 5 seconds. The result is a fight where you can’t tell who is who, or what is what. As is all too frequent in modern day action movies, the fights don’t look choreographed. They look like a lot of shots put together to look like a fight - where really someone yelled “action”, someone else in a costume threw a punch, and someone yelled “cut”. It’s sloppy, and it removes all the fun from the fight sequences. You really don’t know who to root for until a definitive blow has been struck (sometimes in slow motion to emphasize it). I accept that the other Predator and Alien movies focused on making things difficult to see, but that was usually through atmosphere and special effects which heightened the terror of the films, not through confusing the audience which… well, just makes the movie more frustrating.
Let’s talk about those other movies, shall we? AvP is the first movie of either franchise to avoid an R-Rating. It’s a smart move, attempting to cater to a younger audience and hopefully sell more tickets. Unfortunately it does this by cutting away from shots that might be particularly gruesome. For instance, we see a flash of a chest burster doing its thing and then cut to a longer shot of that person's face as she hits the ground dead. I can respect that, after all lots of sci-fi/horror movies have gotten away with a minimal approach to violence. The problem is, this is a movie that combines two franchises that have never been bashful about showing that kind of thing on screen. If this were the first movie in a series I could understand the less onscreen and more implied violence approach. Instead it feels like a diet soda – sure you got rid of half the sugar, but with it went the taste. Instead of a cool film that combines characters being hunted, stalked, and mutilated, we get aliens who appear outright and mutilation that never gets shown. I think it’s a castration of the Alien and Predator films, and I’m someone who actually liked all of the movies in those franchises until now (even Alien3 and Ressurection!).
Some people say this is not solely the fault of Paul W.S. Anderson, but I don’t see how it could be otherwise. The cast isn’t given enough material or screen time to develop any sort of character, the special effects are impressive for the most part, and the bulk of the movie’s mistakes come down to scripting (written by Anderson), directing (directed by Anderson), and editing (again – Anderson). I can see how the story idea may have been good, but just not in this script. The bottom line is he made bad decisions and they hurt the movie – a movie that unfortunately has a potential sequel written into it and shown on screen.
Our head honcho Joshua Tyler, would probably tell you Alien Vs. Predator isn’t the worst movie of 2004, but it is the most blatant exploit of a franchise (let alone two), and that maybe that is worse. Personally I think there are worse movies out there, but most of it is original material that didn’t have a solid foundation to build on. Alien Vs. Predator not only ruined a great opportunity to combine two franchises (that have successfully combined in novels, comic books, and last year's fan made short Batman flick) but makes no apologies for it. I can’t even imagine how the serious fanboys are going to react to the movie – I’m not about to try and go into continuity flaws between this and its predecessors.