Judge Dennis Prince is convinced the HD format war is far more fascinating that this cockamamie clash between two of Fox's tired terror titans.
"We're in the middle of a war. It's time to pick a side."
While that may sound like the battle cry of high-definition fanboys determined to sway the format war one way or the other, it's actually the "we're in deep sh*t now" proclamation from the lead in Fox's Alien Vs. Predator. It is indeed time to pick a side, and I'm rooting for the moviegoers, who deserve much better than this interstellar insult.
As the film's tagline goes, "Whoever wins…we lose." Got that right.
Facts of the Case
Billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, Millennium) has unceremoniously pulled together a team of exploration experts that, while the individuals are as yet unknown to one another, will soon be tasked with a history-making discovery. Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan, Brown Sugar) is the plucky ice climber and expedition guide. Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova, Under the Tuscan Sun) is the well-traveled archeologist who can read ancient hieroglyphics to unlock the mysteries of the ages. Throw in a multitude of drillers and duty men and Weyland has the personnel necessary to explore and claim an underground pyramid buried deep beneath the icy surface of Bouvetøya, Antarctica. As the team arrives to the site, the find a precisely drilled tunnel that descends a perfect 30-degree pitch down to the ancient ruins below. But what seems to be the find of the century for Weyland soon reveals itself as a living nightmare. The pyramid is an ancient sacrificial temple and shape-shifting battleground where the garish predators face off against the barbarous aliens in an ultimate rite of passage. Now, Weyland, Alexa, de Rosa, and the others are caught in the midst of a war of ages and the casualties are about to include those of the human sort.
If you're reading this review now, chances are you've already heard of the illogical and ill-conceived mess that is Alien Vs. Predator. The short of it is these two genuinely intriguing creatures were pitted against one another in a Dark Horse comic series from back in the mid-1980s. It seemed silly then: really nothing more that artistically rendered comic panels that mimicked the 8-year-old kid banging his Alien and Predator action figures together. (For the record, this isn't the silliest comic premise on record as Tarzan as has since been pitted against the Predator and the Aliens have faced off with Judge Dredd.) But here, the idea is completely inane and there's not enough salient material to last for longer than a well-constructed movie trailer. But, they did it anyway and this is the bastard child of such an unnatural union.
Because of the poorly managed plot (full of numerous logical black holes) and the impossible premise, the actors on hand are left to try to make wine from vinegar. They can't. Lathan is a poor-girl's Lt. Ripley, de Rosa is a half-assed Indiana Jones, and Henriksen does everything possible to remind us how interesting the synthetic human, Bishop, was some 20 years ago (he does a brief bit of the famous knife trick). The actors all seem quite capable yet their hands are clearly tied here.
But the point of this particular release has little to do with the well-documented misfire of a movie and everything to do with the high-definition treatment. Re-mastered in a Blu-ray MPEG-2 transfer featuring 1080p resolution, Alien Vs. Predator almost has something going for it this time around. While high-def retreads can often make even the most un-watchable films just bearable for sake of the improved picture quality, this one never quite reaches the upper tier that early adopters would hope for. This transfer, framed at 2.35:1, is a definite improvement over the standard-def release yet it isn't consistent in delivering the sort of visual "pop" that high-end viewers deserve. The detail levels are certainly heightened here with intricate textures such as stone floors, icy walls, and artic outer-gear appearing as if you could reach forward and feel them. However, something odd happened with the contrast levels, resulting in a picture quality that is continually alternating between distinct and dimensional, then severely muted and flat. Add to this the presence of frequent distracting grain and this disc simply doesn't live up to enthusiasts' expectations. As a saving grace, the audio has been handled much better than the video, presented via the much-touted DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio. Although the beginning of the film is sonically bland and practically as lifeless as the frozen landscape, when the action kicks in beneath the surface, the home viewing experience definitely takes a turn for the better. From the point where the two warring creature camps engage in battle, all sound channels are kept alive and active. Rear channel effects are particularly effective, as you'll hear facehuggers slithering over your shoulder or warrior aliens descending from the deep recesses of the pyramid ceilings. The frosting on this audio cake, however, is the incredible use the LFE channel gets, especially as the predators blast plasma rounds from their shoulder guns, and later as the Queen Alien pursues Alexa and the lead predator, every footfall of the queen thumping heavily. The dialog manages to remain clear and well balanced, typically anchored to the center channel but also veering to a directional channel on occasion. The film's score does tend to suffer amid all the action but it's of little consequence its rather unremarkable composition. All in all, this Blu-ray presentation looks acceptable (perhaps lower Tier 2) but sounds stupendous.
As for extras, the disc menu begins by offering a choice of viewing the theatrical cut or the extended un-rated version. Choosing the latter will employ seamless branching to included the previously cut scenes, managed well here without detection of where or when the branching actually occurs. If the un-rated version is selected, the available extras include an option to display an "added footage marker" so you can follow where the inserted scenes occur. There's also a D-Box Motion Code option so you can experience the motion effects similar to that of a rumble pack in a game controller (on a grander scale, of course). Next up are trailers, including an HD version of the feature film trailer plus trailers of other upcoming Blu-ray releases, including Behind Enemy Lines, Phone Booth, Planet of the Apes (2001), and The Transporter. If opting to view the theatrical cut of the film, extras include the option to view each of the six unrated scenes individually (and they're not inclusive of extra gore, just exposition), plus the same collection of trailers. Available on this menu, however, are the two audio commentaries ported over from the previous special edition release. These include one track with Director Paul W.S. Anderson, Sanaa Lathan, and Lance Henriksen. The alternate commentary collects visual effects chief John Bruno plus creature creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.
Naturally, Blu-ray enthusiasts are eager to boast about "BR exclusive content" in the same fashion that HD-DVDstas (say that "deeveedistas") ballyhoo their proprietary perks (and those would be the IME and U-Control interactive elements). Exclusive to this disc is, sadly, a rather disappointing "Trivia Track"—a sort of Pop-Up Video clone that delivers on-screen factoids as the film plays (it's accessible from either cut of the film). This rather paltry offering gets further nullified, however, since it isn't aimed at providing production tidbits but, rather, gives us mock-mythology about the Alien and Predator species. It can only appeal to the most ardent follower of this comic-turned-movie fare. Unfortunately, I noticed several instances when the pop-up box appeared that a similarly colored fragment appeared in the middle of the screen. Whether it was shrapnel or over-spray, it shouldn't have been there. In a sort of reverse exclusive fashion, this Blu-ray release omits the various featurettes, deleted scenes, and photo galleries available in the previous 2-disc standard-def release. This is entirely confounding since this Blu-ray makes use of the BD-50 capacity but doesn't utilize its potential.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Whether you're an AVP fanboy or a Blu-ray fanboy (or both), the fact is this disc just doesn't measure up. Granted, if taken completely for mindless entertainment with a bit of HD sparkle—and a good amount of audio oomph—then it's conceivable this disc will be entertaining. It's quite a bit to forgive—this film's missteps and the disc's visual mishandling—but if you're up to the task, you'll likely consider this to be a very suitable choice for early BD selection.
While many have appreciated the initial entries in both of these creature franchises, they are the same who also feared this "clash of titans" would simply crash and burn. By and large, that was the result of this disappointing and ultimately far-fetched two-fer from Fox. If you're a Blu-ray enthusiast, rent it since HD content is still on the comparative scarce side. A purchase of the pricey disc, however, is a risk that only you can determine to take.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Paul W.S. Anderson, Sanaa Lathan, and Lance Henriksen
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