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I told myself that there was no way in hell I was missing this one. Ever since I first had heard of an Alien / Predator crossover in the comics over a decade ago, I swore to myself that I would see a movie version if it were to ever come out. And so opening weekend, I wasn't missing ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.
Except that I had plenty of reason to. For starters, why was this movie rated PG-13? Aliens pop out of human chests, while Predators skin their prey alive. Every one of the six films that precede it are rated R, so why were they cleaning this one up for the kiddies? And while the thought of that one Paul Anderson doing this movie might be intriguing, this ain't P.T. of MAGNOLIA fame. Nope, this is Paul W.S. Anderson, director of video game adaptations RESIDENT EVIL and MORTAL KOMBAT. Not exactly a guy whose films I make it a priority to see.
But still, I wasn't going to be denied seeing it. After all, it is ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. It's for the same reason that I saw FREDDY VS. JASON on opening night. It's the same principle behind me standing in line for hours to buy tickets to STAR WARS: EPISODE I. It's the same principle that will have me hanging on to the edge of my seat for the opening credits to roll on the upcoming Transformers live-action film. Some things are just sacred.
So, it being sacred and all, what did I think of the movie itself?
Well, here comes the hard part. For as much as I went in wanting to enjoy this movie, it was bad. Not nearly as bad as I expected it to be, but much worse than it needed to be. The plot was wafer-thin, the ties to the original source material were sketchy at best, and it reeked of every horror movie cliche from the last few years. Yet, for some odd reason, I enjoyed it. I can't really explain why, and I can't really cite a whole lot of positives. Maybe I was in a particularly open-minded mood when I sat down to watch it. Who knows? But this movie was still pretty bad, upon actual reflection.
I'll start off with the obligatory story synopsis. We start off with a crack team of scientists and tour guides and excavators all being assembled under the will of Charles Bishop Weyland, the type of eccentric millionaire industrialist that seems to only exist in genre movies. Apparently, he's discovered an ancient temple deep under the surface of Antarctica, and wants the best team possible to explore it. After some initial friction, the team heads down (all the way down) and prepares to dig.
Except that someone's beaten them to it. A tunnel leads them all the way down to the temple, where they start uncovering some bizarre artifacts. Next thing you know they're being assaulted by not only the dreadlocked killers that gave the future Governors of California and Minnesota headaches, but also the products of H.R. Giger's nightmares as well. What all of these freakish creatures are doing far below the surface of one of the coldest spots on Earth is a mystery, but what's more puzzling to them is why they're fighting each other.
AVP is sort of a sequel to the two PREDATOR films, while serving as a bit of a prequel to the four ALIEN films. The one thing that ties the series together is the presence of Lance Henriksen as Weyland. You might remember that ol' Lance played the android Bishop in ALIENS and then made a return in ALIEN3 as yet another Bishop android, creating a small but effective bit of retroactive continuty for the series. In the sense of doing the double-duty of prequels and sequels, it gets the job done. The film isn't a grand epic or anything, nor did it have to be. But it had plenty of flaws outside of all that. This is where it gets painful.
The first complaint I'm sure you'll hear people give involves the departure from the traditional stories. For instance, alien chestbursters only seem to take a few minutes worth of gestation in this film, as opposed to a period of days in the other films. But in the realm of science fiction, you can explain things like this away. Maybe it was the Earth's atmosphere. Maybe it was the temperature. A difference in gravitation, perhaps. Maybe even reverse evolution. Whatever. Then you'll get the people who will point out the physical differences or even certain character flaws in the Predators. But here's the thing: these are not the same guys who gave Arnie and Danny Glover a hard time. They're different members of the same species. Do you think all humans look and act alike? Especially when the film later reveals that they're basically just teenagers is this idea supported.
But fuck all that. There's nothing wrong with altering, or at least taking a new spin on, the original source material. Maybe that's what I did like about ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. I mean, it really would have taken very little effort to throw a bone to all of the little fanboys in attendance by keeping all of the little nuances of the previous films in there, but Anderson chose to make his own movie. While that might earn him jeers from certain geeks who worship the ground Harry Knowles waddles on whenever they can bring themselves to get out of their parents' basements, it gives him points in my book.
The problems in AVP lie in the basics of what makes every film tick: script, pacing, performance, direction. This is where Paul Anderson drops the ball. Anderson wrote and directed this film, which I think was his first mistake. Anderson is actually has a great eye for this type of film as a director. While he's made a few stinkers in the past (RESIDENT EVIL, MORTAL KOMBAT, SOLDIER) not many will argue that those films weren't visually pleasant. As a writer, he's not done much of note, But Anderson is one of the worst offenders of the MTV generation of filmmakers. Loud music, quick cuts, dark visuals, style over substance. It's not as cutting-edge as David Fincher or broad-appeal as Guy Ritchie, it's just kind of there. But you can see his flaws when the story starts playing out.
Once our human characters(which are developed more poorly than a Photography 101 student's first batch from the darkroom) enter the temple, the flaws stick out. When they finally take the "artifacts" that cause all of the hell to start breaking loose, it turns into one contrived plot device after another. The temple turns into this maze of hallways which shifts around like clockwork. It's like a giant bad parody of the adventure serial, and it's so transparently there to create conflict that you can't help but roll your eyes. When the action sequences start happening, they are met with the challenge of maintaining that PG-13 rating.
Now, a more talented filmmaker would be able to effectively get around this, but Anderson leaves a lot of scenes to be ungratifying. There are some cool visuals every now and again, including a scene where one of the Aliens gets its face sliced off samurai-style. But for the most part, the violence is toned down so much that it's unsatisfying. Close fight scenes are obscured by shaky cameras and dark closeups that are more likely to give you a headache than an idea of what the hell's going on. Some of the visuals are so ridiculous that they've etched themselves into my brain as an indicator of how not to make an action film (imagine a slow-motion silhouetted shot of a human and a Predator running from a wall of fire. Then chuckle.)
The reason why all this is going on is revealed in a big flashback sequence that is so visually stunning that you almost have to love it. I'll refrain from spoiling it here, but I will reveal that it involves a link to the distant past. The most ridiculous thing about all of this is how the characters seem to figure it all out based on context and a minimal amount of archaelogical knowledge. But this is one of my biggest problems with the movie, because it only reveals a much better setting that the movie should have taken place in.
And let's not even start to dwell upon the scientific fallacies involved. It's bad enough that Weyland's henchman manages to contact the movie's lead by cell phone somewhere in the Himalayas of Nepal (I want to know who her service provider is, considering I'm lucky to get one bar in my own house.) It's even worse that these people can run around with exposed faces and light jackets down in Antarctica.
But to end on a positive note, a final redeeming aspect of the film is one that surprised me: the body count. I figured the PG-13 rating would foreshadow a large number of humans left alive in the end, but I was wrong. Sure, the deaths weren't very graphic, but I can live without that. I was even surprised at how quickly certain characters were finished off, and completely floored that certain characters met their demise at all.
But still, AVP is a bad movie. It's a bad movie that you might enjoy a whole lot. I even enjoyed it a good bit. But don't kid yourself. It's still a bad movie.
Want a second opinion of this film? Take a look at Andrew Hall's review over at Living Corpse dot com!
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