Alien vs. Predator [Retro Review]

“The enemy of my enemy, is my friend.”

The Scoop: 2004 PG-13, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova and Lance Henriksen

Tagline: Whoever wins…We lose.

Summary Capsule: Human scientists investigate an Antarctic pyramid filled with 80’s action horror franchise licences. A lot of them die.

Rich’s Rating: I am the very model of a modern major general

Rich’s Review: Without a doubt, Aliens vs. Predator (or AVP to prevent overly stressing my keyboard throughout this review) is the ultimate proof, if proof be needed, of one of the great equations of movie-going: You amount you enjoy or hate a film will normally be inversely proportional to your expectations going into it.

It’s like grading on a curve. If you go into a film expecting it to be the finest cinematic experience you have ever witnessed, the very best a film can achieve is an “as expected” result, and more often than not it’s going to fall short, leaving you feeling disappointed — the inevitable result of the media hype machine that surrounds every major release nowadays. The flip side of that scale, though, says that if you go into a film expecting a disaster of colossal proportions which will make you rend the eyeballs from your head in a Sam-Neill-In-Event-Horizonesque way, any film will have a decent chance of at least clearing the bar you’ve set, and maybe exceeding it a little, leaving you pleasantly surprised.

Now, I first heard rumours of an AVP film back when I was 14 or 15. That’s 14 years ago, for those of you keeping count. Back then, Aliens and Predator shared the top of the “cool” mountain of sci-fi horror, neither yet afflicted with the sequels that many thought tarnished (read: ruined) the legacy of the series. Of course, nothing came of it, and while rumours continued to surface every 2 or 3 years, rumours is all they ever were. In fact (and this is absolutely true) amongst my circle of friends, the continual spewing of possibilities for an AVP movie with no outcome turned it into a sarcastic rebuttal used when someone would speculate about something that was never going to happen. For instance:

“Yeah, Oakland may be 2-5 but trust me that 9 game winning streak is just around the corner”

“Yeah, I hear they’re making an Alien vs. Predator film as well…”

Imagine my amazement then, when it seemed that our cinematic Flying Dutchman was actually in production. After so much speculation, the fact that it got the greenlight at all still surprises me. I mean, AVP hadn’t so much missed the boat on the popularity of the Aliens and Predator franchises as it had dived of the pier and was frantically paddling in the direction of the spec on the horizon. Had it been released in 1991, when I was 15, I would have been all over like a facehugger on an unfortunate marine. 2004? I’m afraid that my youthful enthusiasm had been long ago turned into bitter and hard-earned cynicism. What started as “Man, this is going to be the coolest thing ever” 13 years ago had morphed into “Please, don’t let this film suck too hard.”

Then came the US release. Now, I bitch and moan about non-worldwide releases on a regular basis because I think that, in this world on instant media, there is no excuse for A film taking 6 months to travel from the US to Europe. However, in this case, I’m willing to make an exception, because the howls of anguish from the US viewers of AVP had a most beneficial effect on me. I became convinced that this film was going to be the biggest disaster since Batman & Robin, my certified Worst Cinematic Film Release Of All Time. Of course, that wasn’t going to stop me from watching it — after all, it had the word Aliens in the title, and I am a shameless addict — but what it did do is set the bar of my expectations so low that a fan-film made for $33 and edited on a hacked Atari 2600 would probably have satisfied me. Since AVP actually had some money spent on effects shots and the like, I came away from the film with a mixture of surprise, pleasure, and relief.

Now don’t be fooled. AVP is no cinematic masterpiece. You may notice this review has spent a lot of time focusing on me telling stories and not really much on the film. That’s because if I tried to string the plot of AVP out over a full sized review I’d struggle to make a paragraph. In fact, let’s slot it in here while we have a second or two. Satellites discover a pyramid in the South Pole. Rich industrialist assembles a team of experts to go investigate it. Pyramid is full of nasty Aliens, Predators arrive to hunt them, carnage ensues. Honestly, if you’re looking for well thought through deep and meaningful character interaction, look elsewhere. But the title of the film isn’t “Ang Lee Presents: Alien Within, Predator Without”. What the title says is pretty much all you’re going to get, and most of the human cast of the film are there simply to die in gruesome ways.

Sure, AVP has lots of other flaws, both in terms of the licences it uses and abuses to make the plot work (Alien gestation period drops from a few days to about 20 minutes, Predator wristblades are roughly the size of a small family car now), pacing (Do we really have to sit through 30 minutes of the human slaughter victims getting assembled into a team and trekking their way to the pyramid?), and sheer plausibility (The date-related timelock which, despite being thousands of years old, recognises dates on the Gregorian calendar, the Aztecs and their famous obsession with the Metric system which somehow includes that famous metric measure, the 60 second minute), but with my expectations so low, I found myself not really minding the implausibilities, and instead enjoying the action sequences.

And what action sequences they were. Now, this might be the fanboy of my youth coming out, but the fights between the Aliens and the Predators were cool. Seriously. If you didn’t like them, well that’s fine, but personally I thought they were interesting, dynamic, and showed off both races in a light that made me remember why I thought they were so cool in the first place. Granted, 3 or 4 fight scenes plus a climax doesn’t make for a great film, or a long one, but I’d come to see Alien’s fight Predators, and that’s what I got.

Of course, the film has to intersperse that with some human stuff so we have something to ‘relate’ to (sure, I understand the reasoning, but I honestly and utterly wish that all the humans were killed straight away and the rest of the film was just Aliens and Preds) which dilutes the action sequences a little, but overall, if you go into this film with no expectations, it’s possible, just possible, that you might come away without thinking you’d wasted two hours.

Kyle’s Rating: Oh, man, I couldn’t even finish this.

Kyle’s Review: I have to be honest right up front: I could not finish this movie. It was a rental and I had a few hours before it had to be returned (or else!), so it’s not like I ran out of time. What I ran out of was patience and belief in anyone involved in this film. Well, except Colin Salmon. You know, he might not be such a bad choice for James Bond after all. My biggest problem with him would be that he’s already been in the last couple films as a different character, but if Joe Don Baker can do it, while can’t Colin Salmon? Go for it!

But yeah, dude: this movie blows. I mean, watching the stupid introduction scenes, where there isn’t a shred of surprise or originality (wow, did anyone NOT think the helicopter was going to be at the top? How else could she have gotten involved?) and then seeing the big ol’ long new blades of the predators… goo. You gotta be kiddin’ me.

So I flipped forward and sped up the DVD and tried to see some shoot-‘em-up action and see the aliens and the predators and blah blah blah… so not worth it. This is probably a spoiler, so look away, but once the hotter girl was taken care of by a facehugger, I went “done,” ejected the disc, and headed off to Longs. Maybe I’ll catch it on Sci-Fi in its full horror and degradation of the two original franchises. But I doubt it.

Please avoid this movie like the plague.

Justin’s Rating: Thanks. Because I *like* pee all over my childhood nostalgia. Really.

Justin’s Review: If people from the 1980’s were suddenly able to time travel, possibly due to a tricked-out phone booth tied to the roof of a DeLorean, and arrived in the present to witness the tragedy of Alien vs. Predator, I know exactly what they would say.

“PG-FREAKING-13?!? What are these future spacemen SMOKING?”

I mean, here you have two well-established SciFi-Horror-Action franchises that didn’t exactly make their mark through E.T.-style hugs and warm feelings. These two series combined had more blood, gore and liberal uses of prolific profanity than pretty much any series before or after. Let us remember some of the high points of these series, including:

  • A nasty space creature burrowing out of someone’s chest from inside, redecorating whatever room the host was in with Bright Cherry Red
  • Decapitations
  • A “synthetic” android being ripped in half, spewing white “blood” and guts everywhere
  • A guy hanging upside down, being disemboweled
  • An autopsy being performed on a young child’s corpse, complete with lovely sound effects
  • An arm being severed with a laser beam, and
  • Paul Reiser

Yes, the Alien movies, well-known for their horrific H.G. Geiger-designed monsters who featured (a) acid for blood, (b) lethally spiked tails, (c) claws, (d) a mouth-within-a-mouth, are not exactly bedtime stories to tell to your children, unless you are a huge fan of having to clean up after a bedwetter. Likewise, the Predator flicks pulled very few punches, as if the filmmakers were competing in an office pool to see who could come up with the most ultimate disturbing visual. One would naturally assume, if such legendary film series were pitted against each other in a battle to the death, that the MPAA would be forced to invent a completely new rating, something like Double-R, which would bar entry to the theaters for pretty much everyone except one old geezer named Gus who wouldn‘t go anyway.

I now refer you back to the PG-13 rating. You may commence weeping.

It just boggles the mind that a studio with two such beloved franchises would pretty much just prostitute this match-up for a PG-13 rating in order to draw in more “family” numbers. Hello, Hollywood, this is ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, not CARE BEARS VS. STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE (although I’d definitely pay money to see the latter). When your biggest draws to these movies lay in their explicit violence and scenes of such bloody horror that Edgar Allan Poe is still curled up in his grave at night trying to cope, you simply don’t water it down and then hope for anything less than a grand disaster.

The reason this is a true tragedy and not just a lame film is that the Alien vs. Predator idea has incredible merit to the idea. In Predator 2, we got a glimpse in the Predator’s ship of an Alien skull, suggesting that these two races were natural enemies and existed in the same universe. Through AVP comics, books and video games, fans have thrilled to pit the ultimate space hunter against the ultimate space monster to see who would triumph.

There are even fairly clever ideas executed in this movie, such as the set-up, where Weyland Company (a precursor to the infamous evil corporation of Aliens) sponsors an expedition to explore a recently-discovered pyramid buried deep under Antarctic ice. The whole sense of isolation, of human desperation, was nearly perfect. We even see the pseudo-return of Bishop (in the form of Mr. Weyland, the company CEO who the Bishop models were designed after) And then the movie goes and screws it up ten ways from Sunday, a lot of it thanks to Mr. PG-13.

The first and biggest problem is that there are no human characters to latch on to. With the exception of the ailing Weyland (Lance Henrickson), all of the humans are cookie-sheet cut-outs, two dimensional placeholders until either the Aliens or the Predators can slice through their soft pink bellies. They don’t even really grant us time to get to know all but one of these people, considering the 90-minute running time and the paleness of humans against both Alien and Predator. Both of these series were renowned for their excellent human characters, who had the funniest lines and made the best of a bad situation. Instead, we end up here with a Ripley-wannabe, and that is just sad, because it makes us miss a real hero or heroine even more.

And since the filmmakers effectively crippled their one strong PG-13 element (great human characters), they stuck themselves with trying to create decent horror, action and gore within very strict limitations. I know, I’m sounding all bloodthirsty and barbaric for protesting this — the campaign for a “Kinder, Gentler Justin” has officially failed — but I think even the most peaceful beatnik would watch this movie and be bored with how much restraint is shown here. They skirt around the PG-13 by either speeding up the action (and thus making it unwatchable), cutting away from anything remotely bloody (and thus leaving about half the movie up to the audience’s imagination), or by using very little blood at all when someone, for example, gets a spear thrust through their spinal column. They even cut away from the classic chest-bursting scene, the couple of times it happened, and if that’s not cinematic robbery, what is?

Shoot, they should’ve just given both Alien and Predator a couple pillows and had them smack each other around while getting half-naked and talking about boys or something. If you’re a die-hard fan of either of these series, sure, it’s a no-brainer that you’re going to see this movie. You might even get something out of it. Then again, you might denounce your faith in the power of the human spirit to overcome all odds of mediocrity. Way to go, Hollywood, for killing two awesome franchises in one blow! I hope you sleep well tonight!

Last one out the door gets mercilessly eviscerated!

Intermission!

  •  With wrist blades that long, the Predators have to be compensating for something…
  • “Well, it looks like a giant laser some space bored all the way through this ice last night without us noticing”, “Well, lets just go down there shall we?” – It’s around about this point that I would be RUNNING back to the ship to escape.
  • Lots and lots of nice nods to the respective franchises – I noticed a lot of Aliens related ones, anyway.
  • Why oh why oh why did they bother to have the humans in this film bring guns at all? Since they fire them approximately once to no effect in the entire film, was it worth writing in the scene which explains why they have guns in the first place?
  • Instead of the whole BS “The pyramid re-arranges itself every 10 minutes because the Aztecs loved the metric system even though minutes and seconds aren’t metric”, perhaps simply saying “The pyramid re-arranges itself every 10 minutes – I know because I timed it on my watch” might have made your film look slightly less boneheaded. Alien head shield and Alien tail sword – there isn’t a big enough rolleyes in the world to describe my feelings towards this idiocy.
  • The character played by Lance Henriksen, Charles Bishop Weyland, is a co-founder of the Weyland Yutani Corporation. This is “the company” referred to in the earlier “Alien” movies. The Bishop Android from Aliens and Bishop II from Alien3 were also played by Lance Henriksen.
  • When one of the explorers is searching the whaling compound and walks past a door to a building, there is a shot from within the building in which the red light from the guy’s flare comes through the crack in the door to form a flat vertical beam that’s picked up by the dust/snow from inside the room, just like the blue-green scanner from the salvage scene at the beginning of Aliens.
  • When Charles Bishop Weyland is sitting in his office on the ship, we can very briefly see him playing with his pen in a similar manner to the way the android Bishop (also played by Lance Henriksen) is playing with a knife in Aliens.
  • The opening shot of the movie is a silhouette of the Alien Queen from Aliens, before being completely revealed as a Weyland Satellite.
  • The altars where victims were placed in the Chamber of Sacrifices of the pyramid is arranged exactly the same as the hibernation pods in the original Alien
  • The black & white movie playing in the beginning of the film is another popular monster face-off, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
  • The heroine calling an Alien an “ugly mother…” is a reference to the two previous Predator films, in which both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover refer to the Predators as such (but with more profanity).
  • At the beginning of the film in the satellite control station, the technician has a ‘drinky drinky’ bird among the Tweety Pie dolls. These are the same birds that were seen on the dining room table in Alien
  • The read out of the predator ship at the beginning of the film, is shown reflected in the visor of the predator mask, as the readouts of the Nostromo in Alien were reflected on the space helmets.
  • The design in the centre of the floor in the sacrificial chamber is almost identical to the artwork of the Alien3 poster.
  • Paul W.S. Anderson stepped down from directing both Mortal Kombat: Domination (2005) and Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004) to write and direct this film, though he does remain as producer to the other movies.
  • The Alien Vs. Predator story crossed over virtually all forms of media before becoming a feature film. There was a successful comic book series, novels, toy line, multiple video games, sound track (of the PC game) and even a card series.
  • Screenwriter Peter Briggs wrote his original spec script for “Alien vs Predator” in 1991. The script sold overnight and made him the subject of numerous magazine and book “success story” articles. His version went adrift following studio politics in the wake of executive Joe Roth’s departure from 20th Century Fox.
  • This is the first Alien film, and also the first Predator film, to get a rating other than R. At a special industry screening director Paul W.S. Anderson said that the film was always planned as an R-rated movie and shot that way, but only three weeks prior to release the studio changed that by severely cutting the film for a lower PG-13 rating. This account has been heavily disputed by original “AVP” writer Peter Briggs.
  • First Predator movie to feature a left-handed predator.
  • A lengthy scene set in 1904 involving the Bouvetoya Island whaling station was cut. The sequence involved a group of whalers that discover an unopened Predator-pod in the snow and bring it back to the whaling station. The Predator later emerges from the pod and massacres the unsuspecting men. In the midst of the fray, a single whaler named Karl escapes, hiding in a field of whale bones. Frostbitten and tired, he later returns to the whaling station, where there is no longer any sign of the Predator. He finds his way into one of the wooden shacks, only to discover an Alien lying in wait. Before it can attack him, the Predator reappears and smacks Karl aside, breaking his ribs. Karl then dies from his injuries and the cold as the two creatures square off in the shack.
  • The words “alien” and “predator” are never said in this movie. Aliens are called “things”, “creatures” and “serpents”. Predators are referred to as “hunters”.

Groovy Quotes:

Rousseau: What did you say this room was called?
[an Alien egg hatches]
Thomas: Sacrificial chamber.

Lex: You’re one ugly mother…

Miller: Any idea what these are?
de Rosa: No, you?
Miller: No.
Stafford : It’s a good thing we brought the experts.
Miller: Well, yeah, it is a good thing, cos’ this is like finding Moses’ DVD collection.

Lex: [while exploring the abandoned whaling station, Miller is startled by a penguin] Careful. They bite.

de Rosa: I told you she’d stay.
Miller: She can’t resist my animal magnetism.

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5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem [Retro Review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  2. You boys are far too cynical to enjoy most movies. I found a lot to entertain me in the movie, Good action in fight scenes, wonderful effects, as good as any seen before or since,.Acting not bad at all even if characters are one dimensional. As mentioned before, most fans of this genre would have wanted to see these creatures face off. The meat in the sandwich effect position that the humans occupy makes as always hope that the story’s resolves itself in a positive way, for at least one human, ie. last man standing, was very classical concept. I am 68 years old and am still ejoying these films and feel very saddened to see such scathing criticism on a work of art, which all films essentially are.. There can be something in most films to satisfy a lot of people. This film had a lot to offer.

  3. Pingback: RoboCop 3 | Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  4. Pingback: Icebreaker | Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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