Alien vs Predator

Dual franchise-killing effort that's more fun than expected but still flawed up the wahzoo.

Released in 2004, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 01 Dec 2004 by Scott Morris
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Now, I'm predisposed to liking this film for a few reasons. Firstly, it has Aliens in it. Secondly, it has Predators in it. Thirdly, it has a chemical engineer in it, providing a welcome 'big up' for this under-represented cross section of the public of which I'm fortunate enough to belong. I'm predisposed to hating this film principally because it's helmed by crapmonger Paul W.S. Anderson, notable mainly for the crime against humanity that was Resident Evil. It also effectively kills off the individual franchises, although cynics would say they're already dead. Predator 2, while an enjoyable enough outing hardly set the box office alight and the least said about the utterly joyless Alien: Resurrection the better. Still, rumours had abounded of James Cameron returning to the Alien series for another outing before this came along to quash those hopes, but enough of what might have been - what about the dish that has been served us?

It's bland and inoffensive for the most part, which is actually significantly better than expected. The monolithic Wayland Corporation's satellites pick up a new heat source from under the ice of a particularly remote Antarctic island. It would appear to be a pyramid of some nature, which piques Mr. Weyland (Lance Henriksen)'s interest. Sparing no expense at assembling a crack team of experts and adventurers headed by idealistic Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) they head off into what the trailers have already revealed to us as a giant trap.

Those crazy Predators have apparently been here before, worshipped as gods by our primitive forefathers who would build pyramids to exalt them. Rather like the ill-fated Kinder Death Egg, there was a horrible and horribly fatal surprise in the centre. A captured Alien queen spews forth drones for Predator warriors to test their mettle against in a game that's certainly a few orders of magnitude more realistic than Counter Strike.

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So, Weyland's team of disposable heroes are soon tailed by a hunting party trio of Predators, Frank, Esmerelda and Kevin. The usual gameplan of humans triggering the face hugging, chest bursting alien proceedings and the other aliens playing a spin on the 'shooting fish in a barrel' game takes a bit of a diversion when the home team breaks open a casket containing the Pred's natty shoulder cannons, which are kept in the pyramids for reasons that no doubt make sense if you're a Predator.

Cue the real reason you've ponied up the cash to see this film in some form or another, mano-a-mano, or perhaps zeno-a-zeno slobberknockin' fist fighting, spear chucking, acid drooling, jaw snapping action. Sadly, nowhere near enough of it. The whole point of this film is rather neatly encapsulated in the title but rather than the all action extravaganza we're hoping for we get an hour of foreplay concerning characters that are utterly irrelevant to the last half hour mixed with some largely redundant exposition.

Making matters worse, of the two main Predator / Alien (common or garden variety, we'll get onto the bigger fish later) fights, the first one is so horribly edited and framed it's like watching a film by strobelight. A shame, as the second major sequence is more worthy of the weight of speculation that a generation or so or sci-fi fans have heaped on this clash of the titans. There has to have been more fights between the two important factions in this story than that, but damned if I can remember them. Which is sort of the point of a film really, popcorn fodder or not. I suppose this pacing becomes inevitable unless Anderson was given a Titanic-esque budget to play with but the film does suffer terribly from it.

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This leads in a roundabout fashion to the problem with inevitable conclusion to affairs as the survivors take on the fearsome alien queen. The computer generated alien queen. Ick. Given what they end up doing with the final battle we'll let it away with it, but at the risk of repeating our oft-told anti-CG ranting it doesn't look particularly nice. Worse are the CG alien footsoldiers in a few scenes, perhaps more as a reaction to the care and effort that James Cameron put into the movement of his 'men-in-suits' of the earlier film.

The only real issue I have with this film is that it desperately wants to be an action movie but doesn't have anything like enough action in it. The fanboy rantings of both Alien / Predator camps aside, it's not the potential ruining of the pedigree that's the dealbreaker. It's not the relative obscurity of the cast that drags the film down - as mentioned the human contingent in this movie is uniquely irrelevant and frankly they do about as good a job as we've any right to expect. It's not the fact that Anderson's used Ewen Bremner's character's job title of 'chemical engineer' to mean 'generic scientist of every field'. It's not the fact that the theme tune for Barry Foster detective vehicle Van Der Valk was Eye Level, performed by the Simon Park Orchestra. It's not the fact that the last fact is a complete irrelevance apart from the fact that I'd scribbled that fact onto the end of an earlier draft on my Palm IIIx so I wouldn't forget, and figured it deserved a permanent place on the InterWeb. It's none of these facts that drag AvP down in the snowflake race. Just that first one on top of this paragraph, but sadly that's more than enough to earn it a recommendation to avoid.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.

Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast list:
Sanaa Lathan (Alexa Woods)
Raoul Bova (Sebastian de Rosa)
Lance Henriksen (Charles Bishop Weyland)
Ewen Bremner (Graeme Miller)
Colin Salmon (Maxwell Stafford)