Chief Justice Michael Stailey is dreading the inevitable next wave of horror hybrids—like Dracuwolfenstein or Chuckykruegerpinhead.
Our review of Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem, published April 15th, 2008, is also available.
In space, no one can hear you scream. On Earth, it won't matter.
…and the reason it won't matter is because AVP-R doesn't deliver.
The one thing we can all agree on with art in general, and film in particular, is that no two people will have the exactly same viewing experience. Judge John Floyd reviewed the standard DVD release for us and absolutely loved the film for the ride it provided…"Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is hardly cerebral, nor will it ever be accused of being high art. However, when a movie is sold to me on the simple premise that I'll get to see two murderous beasts fight to the finish with a bunch of helpless people caught in the middle, all I ask is that it delivers plenty of brainless, popcorn thrills. This film does so admirably and with aplomb, making it easily the best sequel in either franchise since James Cameron's Aliens, and the only Predator outing besides the original worth the film stock it's shot on." I appreciate his opinion and respectfully disagree.
Facts of the Case
A doomed Predator science vessel crashes in the woods outside the ski town of Crested Butte, CO, thanks to a recently birthed Alien/Predator hybrid. With ravenous face huggers in tow, this merry band of murderous Aliens begin taking over the town, one hapless human victim at a time, and it's up to the Sheriff, an old buddy, the local nerd/pizza delivery boy, the popular hot chick object of his affection, a recently returned female Iraq war veteran, and the combined forces of the United States military to save humanity.
Having had the opportunity to sit down and speak with AVP-R's directors, the Brothers Strause, and creature designer Tom Woodruff, you can't help but appreciate the passion and hard work that went into creating this film. Greg and Colin are huge fanboys of both franchises and know more about the intimate geek details than you can possibly imagine. Alongside their hy*drau*lx team, the two push the envelope with their visual effects work, while Tom and partner Alec Gillis once again deliver fascinating creatures for a franchise they've been involved with since Jim Cameron's Aliens. Combined, one might think AVP-R would breathe new life into these respective series and reclaim their once proud glory as two of filmdom's mind blowing, badass sci fi icons. Sadly, that isn't the case.
Why, you might ask?
1) The film assumes too much. There's no jumping on point for moviegoers unfamiliar with these characters or the universe they inhabit. This is normally accomplished through a prologue voiceover, or an ensemble character that serves as an anchor for the audience. Neither is found here. Not an unforgivable sin, but the first of many confounding issues.
2) The story is half-baked. The idea of having these two species unleashed on an unsuspecting human populace is intriguing, but when the humans are as cardboard as the fake citizens of Rock Ridge (see: Blazing Saddles) it doesn't work. We don't care about these people, the choices they make, and whether they live or die. Unlike Ridley Scott's Alien, Cameron's Aliens, or John McTiernan's Predator, here the humans are little more than red shirt fodder. We care more about seeing what the beasts will do to each other, and even then we have no vested interest in the outcome.
3) Chet, the PredAlien, named by designers Tom and Alec in honor of one of the biggest movie pricks of all-time (see: Weird Science). Here's an excellent opportunity to create a brand new badass, surpassing his genetic heritage. It doesn't happen. Greg and Colin set out to bring back the blood and guts missing from AVP-R's PG-rated predecessor, but there's nothing scary about this guy. Do you remember the visceral reaction you experienced seeing the Warrior Alien or the Predator for the first time? Sure there are some interesting kills, but this creature lacks any sort of personality. His two defining characterstics are the dreadlocks and a pregnant woman fetish. Oooh, scary.
4) The acting isn't so hot either. I don't believe for one minute the woman coming home from Iraq is a) a soldier, or b) the mother of that child. Her homecoming is one of the most awkward introductions I've seen in a long time. Steven Pasquale—who most will know as Garrity the hilariously dorky fireman on FX's Rescue Me—plays Dallas the hero as angry…throughout the whole film. What makes characters interesting are the journeys they take and the discoveries they make. The only discovery I made with this ensemble is how much I wanted Chet to flay them all in slow and painful ways, especially the high school kids.
5) You can't see a damn thing. AVP-R is beautifully shot and rendered, but 75% of it is in the pitch black, making much of the action indistinguishable. You'll find yourself straining your eyes to make out what's going on more often than your brain can endure. God forbid you should watch the film under normal daylight conditions; it might as well be a radio play. Some critics have excused this choice as atmospheric. Others suggest it's to cover for flaws in the creature suits. Regardless of the reasons, the result is problematic at best.
I respect the creative talents of the people involved in AVP-R, but the film doesn't work for me. I would rather see Fox focus on developing interesting stories for these two creatures on their own, than throw any more money at completing an AVP trilogy. The concept may have worked well for Dark Horse Comics, but translated to the screen it's been a disaster.
Presented in 2.40:1, 1080p widescreen, the visuals throughout three quarters of the film are shrouded in darkness. There are fine details on the closeups when enough ambient light is present, but many of the action sequences will leave you clamoring for a flashlight that can break the veil of the fourth wall. Again, the hy*daul*lx team has created some amazing effects sequences—the Predator science vessel and its crash to earth, the Predator homeworld—but the wows are few and far between.
True to form, the Blu-ray audio continues to impress. While Bryan Tyler's score isn't a memorable one, it will give your home theater system one heck of a work out, as will the pulse-pounding audio effects of the various confrontations.
The bonus materials do enhance the experience. In addition to the original theatrical release of the film (with less blood and guts), there are markers to indicate where the new footage shows up, and two feature-length audio commentaries from creature designs Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, as well as directors Greg and Colin Strause alongside producer John Davis. The commentary from Tom and Alec is more entertaining than the one from Colin and Greg, but both provide a wealth of geek insight into these characters and the overall franchise. But there are a couple of uncomfortable moments, like listening to the Strause boys drool as they recall the night they shot the pool scene with Kristen Hager in her underwear. The Making-Of featurettes are fascinating for those interested in the ups and downs of big budget studio filmmaking, and the design galleries show how the project developed from concept to completion, and what was lost in the process. Oh yeah, and for those who want to take the film on the road, the second disc contains a digital copy for your iPod or other portable media player. My guess is it won't get a lot of use.
Stick a fork in this franchise. It was an interesting experiment gone horribly wrong. I have no doubt Greg and Colin can make compelling films, but here their geek cred has led them astray. Fox needs to either return the focus to the individual creatures or let the concept rest and invest that money in well-crafted stories that will wow us in new and exciting ways.
Guilty. Oh so very guilty.
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