Judge Neal Masri has acid for blood. Seriously.
Whoever wins…We lose.
Alien vs. Predator's tagline above could have multiple unintended meanings. Savaged by fanboys and moderately successful at the box office, AVP: Alien Vs. Predator is Fox's attempt to unite two of its more successful franchises.
Facts of the Case
Beneath the Antarctic ice a mysterious pyramid of unknown origin has been discovered. A Billionaire businessman has assembled a team of experts to investigate. Within the mazelike depths of the pyramid, they find two mysterious alien races warring with each other. The team finds themselves caught in the middle of the hunt. In order to survive, they will have to choose a side.
Every sci-fi fanboy knows the scene in Predator 2 that I'm talking about. No, not the memorable cameo by adult film star Teri Weigel. The scene in question is, of course, the one in the Predator's trophy room where we see the skull of the Alien. Shortly after the release of Predator 2, I understand that an Alien vs. Predator comic series from Dark Horse was quite a success (not being a comic reader, I cannot speak to the quality of those books). After years in development hell, AVP finally went forward with Paul W.S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil) as both screenwriter and director—a directorial choice much to the chagrin of the aforementioned fanboys.
I saw the movie theatrically upon its initial release. I was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed. While I do not rise to the level of fanboy, my initial reaction to AVP was that it was an insult to its heritage. Time has given me a bit of perspective however. The fact is, of the six movies that led up to this one, Alien and Aliens were great Alien3 was pretty good, and Alien Resurrection and the two Predator films were B movie schlock.
AVP appears to pick up after the events of the two Predator films and well before the events of Alien. Billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) is the head of Weyland Corporation (the predecessor to the evil Weyland-Yutani Corp. of the Alien films—you will immediately recognize Weyland as the human predecessor of Bishop, the earnest android from Aliens). One of the Weyland satellites has found the heat signature of a mysterious pyramid structure under the Antarctic ice that is seemingly centuries old. Weyland promptly assembles a team of scientists to investigate.
The team is your usual plucky bunch of experts found only in the movies. They are all the best in the world at what they do. They are also a young and rather handsome group to boot, looking like the type of folks who get into the nightclub while I wait outside for hours. Taking another page from the Alien handbook, we have a resourceful and tough-talking heroine named Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan, The Best Man). She is an environmental scientist and expert in arctic exploration. She is joined by an archeologist and pyramid expert Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova, Avenging Angelo), who provides the requisite romantic tension. Beyond these two, the team is composed of one-note characters without much to make the audience care about them. Seeing that the team exists merely for the plot purpose of being picked off one by one, it's no great loss.
Once the team is on the ground—and soon under the ground—in Antarctica, the hunt is on. The Predators are keeping a Queen Alien for the purposes of breeding Aliens in what is essentially a game preserve. The humans, however, are in peril from both the Predators and Aliens. When the fighting starts, there are some cool Alien fights which start to look a little too much like professional wresting. In the end, human survival depends on beating both the Predators and the Aliens at their own game.
When judged from the perspective of entertaining sci-fi action, AVP does succeed in what it sets out to accomplish. There are some cool effects to gawk at and some reasonably interesting action. I found the pyramid sets to be especially well done. We get to delve deeper into the mythology of the Predator race while continuing to see the Alien race as efficient killing machines that take care of their own. The tone of the movie is best described as combining the claustrophobic feel of the Alien films with the hunter vs. hunted vibe of the Predator films.
You probably detect some mixed feelings on my part with regard to this movie. On one level, I enjoyed it as an acceptably well-done sci-fi action piece. However, my reverence for its predecessors stops me from seeing the film as a success. Unfortunately, in attempting to please everyone, it seems Alien vs. Predator wound up fully satisfying no one. In the end, this is fun B movie material that would be at home at your local drive-in—if your local drive-in still existed.
Video is sharp with a couple of brief exceptions. AVP is a dark movie. A few of the scenes set in deep shadows exhibit some image problems that should not exist in such a recent, big-budget film. The problems are brief, however, and the image is fine the vast majority of the time.
We are given both a Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtrack. As has been my experience, the DTS track is mixed louder and perhaps has a bit more bass response. Other than that, either one is a pretty active affair. There is plenty of material here to make your neighbors complain, as befits a modern action film.
The ballyhooed aspect of this two-disc double-dip is the unrated director's cut featuring eight minutes of new footage. Through seamless branching, we have the option to view either the theatrical or new cut of the movie. We are also given an optional deleted scene marker to easily identify added material. This is such a great feature. I wish all expanded DVD versions offered this. The new material consists of a little more character development, some additional exposition, and a few slightly extended killings. Even with added footage, the movie still clocks in at a fairly brisk 108 minutes.
"It's super dense," exclaims Lance Henriksen in the commentary featuring he, Paul W.S. Anderson, and Sanaa Lathan provide. This comment from Mr. Henriksen is in reference to the plotting and action of AVP. Uh-huh. Dense is not the first thing that comes to my mind when considering the complexity of this screenplay. There is a little too much self-congratulatory talk during this commentary. The participants are all recorded together, though, which is always a plus. We are given a good mix of plot points and behind the scenes stuff.
There is also a commentary featuring Visual Effects Supervisor John Bruno and Creature Effects Designers Alec Gills and Tom Woodruff. This commentary features technical and special effects information. Like many commentaries of this type, it is on the dry side unless you are really into special effects and technical minutiae. However, it's always nice to see DVD producers working to deliver content for every type of interest.
Disc Two contains the remainder of the extras—a well done group of featurettes. The featurettes are organized into 5 categories: Pre-Production, Production, Post-Production, Licensing the Franchise, and Marketing.
Several of the documentaries feature a branching feature that allows one to click on an icon to get more in-depth information. Paul W. S. Anderson participated in the featurettes well before filming began, and even before the cast was in place, so they offer an in-depth soup-to-nuts look at the production and should satisfy almost anyone's desire for more production detail. In addition to the interviews and behind-the-scenes footage in the production featurettes, the Marketing section offers trailers and an HBO special. There are also a couple of featurettes focusing on the comics (excuse me, graphic novels), one notably featuring Todd MacFarlane (Spawn). Kudos to the DVD producers on the Disc Two extras. They're a nicely done look at the making of the movie and all that led up to production.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sanaa Lathan, I knew Sigourney Weaver. Sigourney Weaver was a friend of mine. You, madam, are no Sigourney Weaver.
Don't make the mistake of recalling the Predator movies and the last two Alien movies as better than they actually were. Alien vs. Predator does tie the two series together in an outlandish but sometimes entertaining fashion. While the unrated portions have a negligible impact on the movie, this may be worth an upgrade if you're really into the extra features and a few seconds' worth of additional gore. This movie will go down in history as a disappointment to the built in fanbase, but there is fun to be had here.
Alien vs. Predator is found guilty but released in consideration of time served since its original release. The life sentence handed down by Fanboy judges is hereby commuted.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary featuring Paul W.S. Anderson, Lance Henriksen, and Sanaa Lathan
Review content copyright © 2006 Neal Masri; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.