Judge Eric Profancik feels like the loser in this scenario.
Whoever wins…We lose.
It was one of those ideas that bounced around for years before finally coming to fruition. First there was the comic book series from Dark Horse, then a line of toys, then a couple of video games, and eventually the movie arrived in 2004. It honestly does seem like a winning formula, pitting two great sci-fi screen villains against each other. The alien from the Alien quadrilogy is an impressive creature in its visual style, its personality, and its biology. The predator from the pair of Predator films isn't quite as an ingenious a creation as the alien, but he has some cool potential and a solid cult following.
For fans of either series, there was much salivation for when these two formidable presences would finally face off. After 45 different screenplay ideas were submitted, it fell into the hands of Paul W.S. Anderson, the talent and brains behind the first Mortal Kombat and the first Resident Evil. (For the record, I actually enjoyed both of them, in a let-your-mind-go-and-enjoy-the-sheer-stupidity-of-the-action way.) Not that I was expecting Shakespeare or anything even averagely written or acted, but Alien vs. Predator still found quite a few ways to disappoint this reviewer, who proudly owns that nine-disc quadrilogy, both Predator Special Editions, Mortal Kombat, and Resident Evil.
Facts of the Case
A satellite from the Weyland Corporation is scanning Antarctica for hidden mineral deposits. Instead of finding that, it discovers something astonishing: a pyramid buried hundreds of feet below the ice.
Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, Aliens), founder and CEO of Weyland Corporation (the forbearer of the Weyland-Yutani in the Alien series), sends his top man, Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon, Resident Evil), around the world to assemble the best team to make a trek to the harshest continent and unlock the secrets of this mysterious pyramid. On the team are expert climber Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan, The Best Man), archaeology professor Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova, Under the Tuscan Sun), expert driller Mark Verheiden (Tommy Flanagan, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), Stafford, and a few other assorted meatbags.
They make the perilous journey and soon discover that a tunnel appeared overnight, allowing easy, direct access to the pyramid. We know that a predator ship in low earth orbit created the hole. Weyland's team descends to the pyramid to discover it's a deadly trap. Hidden deep below the pyramid is a queen alien, which has been awakened by the team's entrance. One by one, members of the team are caught in a brewing battle between the aliens and the predators. Humans are used to breed aliens, which are then hunted by the predators.
As the battle escalates, the question arises: What happens if the aliens make it to the surface?
This movie fell between the cracks for me. I definitely wanted to see it, but I couldn't rationalize spending $10 to do so in a theater. More and more lately, I've shied away from seeing movies in the theater, because my experiences have been getting worse and worse…much like the trend of both these franchises. Unfortunately, bringing them together on the big screen didn't live up to the potential demonstrated in the comics. There are four significant problem areas with this movie: the acting, the script, the hero, and the concept.
If you haven't seen this film, turn back, because we're about to venture into the land of the SPOILER.
As I said before, I wasn't expecting anything close to an Oscar-nominated performance, nor was I hoping to stumble into Razzieland either, but the latter is what I found in AVP. Not one person turns in a good performance in this movie. I thought the old veteran Henriksen would be able to lead the way, but he just looks to have shown up, gotten a cold, and struggled through for the paycheck. Even one of my favorite supporting actors, Colin Salmon, is lethargic and uninspired. I didn't believe any of these people were who they claimed to be, I didn't care one iota about them, and I didn't find anyone to root for in this (implied) battle to save humanity. Instead, I started rooting for them to die so I could see more aliens onscreen. After watching this film three times (once for the movie and twice for the commentaries), I didn't know the names of any character except Henricksen's (and that was only for obvious reasons).
There's no question this is meant to be a mindless, popcorn, summer, action flick, and that's exactly what it is. Yet it also has pyramid-sized plot holes throughout. There are way too many to detail, but let's talk about three in particular: the temperature, the alien queen, and the ending. Remember, this movie is set in Antarctica, the coldest, least hospitable place on the entire planet. It's cold, damn cold down there, so why is it that by the end of the movie, the survivors are able to stand outside with just a shirt and pants on? No hat, no gloves, no goggles, no nothing. Simple logic will tell you that they would die from exposure in a few minutes. (By the way, the average October temperature down there is -105° Fahrenheit.) And, I assure you, this total disregard for the sub-zero temperatures flows throughout the film. Sure, I can see why you think that's not a big deal, but actually it really is. These people wouldn't need to be killed by an alien or a predator; Mother Nature would do the job herself!
But, let's go on to a bigger problem, the status of the alien queen. Somehow, the queen is trapped and preserved at the bottom of the temple. In between forays, she's frozen for future use. When it's time for the hunt, a hidden trigger causes her to come out of storage to be thawed. I guess we can ignore the science of how they freeze her, how she defrosts, and how she survives, but we need to explore the question of her captivity. After thousands of years in "slave labor," this is the first time she realized she could use her acidic blood to free herself? And I thought that bitch was smart! How convenient that she finally figured it out.
Now, what's the beef about the ending? Very simple: How did the alien get inside the predator? There was no facehugger on him at any point, so did the queen suddenly evolve the ability to impregnate her prey via her tail? If not, there's no other way this could have happened.
[Writer's Note: Since my original posting I have been advised that I was incorrect about the impregnation of the predator and completely glossed over him/it being "facehugged" early on in the battle. As such, my tirade against the ending is invalid. However, there are two other things that can be said about the ending. First, when the queen.s tail comes plowing through the infected predator, wouldn.t the baby alien have been killed? Further, why would the queen jeopardize killing one of its own in this way? Second, the ending is utterly lame for it takes an easy way out, yet it does move it from a tie to a clear winner…for the time being.]
Let's move on to the tale of our hero, actually our heroine, in the film, expert climber Alexa Woods. The entire concept of her surviving, paralleling that of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, Alien), was completely lost on me. I never made the connection because Alexa wasn't a compelling or interesting character. For most of the movie, she was just background noise, an opinionated woman who really didn't want to be there. Then as her teammates were picked off and she became the last survivor, she got tough…but not all that tough. There was nothing in her character that made me think heroine; nothing she did made me think she was a capable fighter. When she killed her first alien, it was just random luck that her weapon was within reach. She had no skills, no talents, nothing like Ripley. Alexa wasn't smart and it was a complete surprise when she outlived everyone else. But the most hilarious moments were when she got all tough around her predator "mentor." I just laughed when the two of them ran side by side; I didn't think they were a great team, I just saw her as a pity trophy. Alexa Woods is not a heroine and she isn't the merest shadow of an Ellen Ripley.
But all of my previous complaints are truly insignificant in comparison to this final one, the concept. Allow me to remind everyone of the title and purpose of this film: Alien vs. Predator. Simply, the thrust of this movie is about aliens fighting predators. We want to see our acid-blooded friends take on the cloaked warriors; we just want to see some intense and rousing action between these two species, and it certainly wouldn't hurt if there were a ton of it along the way. But that's not what we get in AVP. In this mere 90-minute movie, the action doesn't even start until 45 minutes in. Even worse, the first alien-versus-predator battle doesn't occur until the 53-minute mark. While that action scene is fun, it's also lame. "That's it?" I exclaimed. All that buildup, all that potential, all these years for this? What a waste of time! And for the next 35 minutes, the action doesn't get much better. While there may be an interesting moment or two, it doesn't live up to the alien versus predator billing. The movie never gelled as an epic battle between the two. I wanted more battles and more action, but there just weren't enough aliens for the job. With a team of ten humans, well, you can do the math and realize that more is better. In this regard, Alien vs. Predator is a complete failure as a movie, and it's clearly the reason that I did not enjoy it. And to think that this story, after 45 other drafts, was considered the best idea…I'd hate to see the losers.
This DVD from Fox continued my general disappointment, for I felt the transfers weren't as good as they should have been. Today's discs have a very high bar to maintain, and AVP just misses it. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video is clean, accurate, and without error, yet it wasn't as realistic and crisp as I craved. This more likely stems from the low levels of lighting used throughout the movie and isn't a reflection of a poor quality disc. With the audio transfers, there is a choice of either a DTS or a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. I watched the movie with the DTS track and was underwhelmed by it. It certainly was aggressive and loud with clean dialogue and abundant use of the surrounds and bass, but it too lacked that powerful edge you expect from such a bombastic movie.
On the disc is a smattering of bonus features for your continued viewing pleasure. Though not quite a special feature, this disc also includes an "extended version" of the film. From what I could tell, all that has been added is a two-minute introduction to the very beginning of the film where we see the predators hunt some humans at a whaling camp in Antarctica.
• Audio Commentary with Paul W.S. Anderson, Lance Henriksen, and Sanaa Lathan: While everyone here is a bit too pleased with the final product, I mostly enjoyed the casual banter amongst the three. Paul easily shared a lot of behind-the-scenes info, while Lance "Great Stuff" Henricksen took cell phone calls, and Sanaa "Gross" Lathan ate a hamburger. I think you'll not be too bored by this track.
• Audio Commentary with Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., and John Bruno: These are all special effects guys from the film, and they talk exclusively about how everything was put together in the film. Loaded with lots of dry, geek humor, this track is oddly dull yet interesting. I did skip ahead at times, but I enjoyed gleaning some tricks of the trade.
Note that both commentaries are "only" available on the theatrical cut of the film.
• Deleted Scenes (2 minutes): Nothing here but three insignificant scene extensions.
• "The Making of Alien vs. Predator" (25 minutes): I was surprised by this very good featurette. It steered away from being pure fluff and actually spent a bit of time on the various facets of the film from start to finish. Again, there's a touch too much self-congratulation in here, but it's tolerable.
• Super Bowl XXXIX Promo: Nothing but a misplaced promo for Fox Sports.
• American Dad Promo: Nothing here but a misplaced promo for an upcoming Fox show.
• Dark Horse "Alien vs. Predator" Comic Covers: Just as the name states, take a look at the covers for the original comic books.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Alien vs. Predator is a great, non-stop, action rollercoaster filled with thrills, chills, amazing stunts, and spectacular special effects. The movie that cult fans have waited years for is well worth the wait. You'll jump up from your seat with excitement as the aliens and the predators finally meet and kick each other's alien butts! This movie grabs you from the first minute and doesn't let go! Action and excitement don't get much better than this.
No need to go on or mince words, but I was quite disappointed with AVP and am not going to recommend it. There was potential for a knockout killer fight between two franchise kings, but the movie squandered this opportunity. Instead of wasting your time on this limp piece of celluloid, watch Aliens or the first Predator if you need a great action fix.
By the way, we didn't lose.
AVP has passed the burgeoning franchise's P.S.R. and is hereby found guilty of fraud. The court orders no sequels to be made under Anderson's leadership.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Paul W.S. Anderson, Lance Henriksen, and Sanaa Lathan
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