Alien Vs. Predator: Extreme Edition Review
Have you ever wondered what a Predator does with its spare time? Chill, relax, knit? Not really - if their entertainment doesn’t come dripping in viscera, it isn’t worth the effort. Still, filmmakers have always shown them as intelligent and sophisticated creatures, that boast more than shoulder cannons and mini-nuclear explosives. They’ve been around for a while after all; going from planet to planet in search of new prey. So the question arises - how would ol’ pussy face fare in a battle to the death with an Alien? H.R. Giger’s creation would certainly be a fearsome adversary for the “Ultimate Hunter” (second only to the Governator, of course.) It’s a good question indeed, but one that is far from original. Science fiction nerds have waited for Alien Vs. Predator with baited breath, happy in the knowledge that Fox were finally making it a reality. I was one of them; hoping that AvP would be something special. The final product though, was something of a mixed bag. Love it or loathe it, the movie is destined for cult appreciation, no matter how disappointing.
The story whisks us off to Antarctica, where the Weyland Corporation is scanning for hidden mineral deposits. Instead of finding that, the tech-heads uncover something much more interesting - an ancient pyramid hidden 2,000 feet below the ice. It’s a discovery Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) has been waiting for. A billionaire industrialist, his legacy will later give birth to the sinister Weyland-Yutani Corporation, that plagued Ellen Ripley (but that isn’t for another 200 years, so let’s get back to the present.) He deploys his right-hand man Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon), who assembles a crack-team of professionals suitable for this “expedition”. No, not Tony Robinson and the gang from Time Team, but a group of stereotypes so familiar, they might as well be mannequins in disguise. Suffice to say, they’re about to become walking targets.
Leading this rag-tag group is Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), an experienced mountain climber, who is used to surviving in perilous conditions. It is her job to help protect archaeology professor Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova), expert driller Mark Verheiden (Tommy Flanagan), Stafford, and Scottish science buff Graham Miller (Ewen Bremner). However, as the group descends into the heart of the pyramid, the crap soon hits the fan. They’re in the middle of an ancient war between the Alien race, and the sporting Predators. The latter has been breeding the Aliens to hunt, returning to Earth every 100 years to engage in this ritual, and find out which species is number 1. So, it’s a good day to panic...
The idea behind Alien Vs. Predator is pretty old in cult circles, appearing in just about every form of the media possible (I even remember a lunch-box design, back in the day.) Everyone knows where the concept came from, and critics never tire of mentioning Stan Winston’s “gag” on the set of Predator 2. Imagine how life would have been, had he not thrown an Alien skull into the Predator’s trophy cabinet. It would have been more boring, that’s for sure. It was a notion that made fans tingly. They wanted the movie, and fast. A series of popular comic books by Dark Horse merely tossed petrol onto the bonfire, and the arrival of AvP on the PC was a day long remembered. After what seemed like 50 screenwriters delivering their own draft of the picture, Fox decided to give the reigns to Paul W.S. Anderson. Suddenly, everyone from Toronto to Timbuktu was squealing in horror. Anderson? The “auteur” behind Mortal Kombat was making AvP? Is there any justice in the world? If there was, Scarlett Johansson would be my girl.
Unfortunately, it was reality, and not a trip to Bizarro Land. But I won’t turn this review into another Anderson tirade. It’s old news. To cut a long story short, AvP is a mediocre film, with enough action and special effects to rouse, but no substance to impress or maintain a second viewing. It’s the type of movie that you forget about upon leaving your seat. In fact, it’s a decent example of the modern blockbuster - deliver a story with less-consistency than your popcorn, and with a stench of money-making so thick, it makes a Herta hot-dog seem desirable. But I’d be a real Barry Norman if I didn’t admit to liking some of this movie. It’s flawed for sure, but it isn’t without merits.
As an action blockbuster, AvP does its job with machine-like efficiency, providing a neat guide to economical storytelling. The combination of these franchises actually works very well indeed, and Anderson is clearly a fan of both. It makes total sense for the Predators to use Aliens for sport - what better way to train a hunter? The pyramid idea also has some mileage, with the Predator’s forcing our ancient civilisations to act as hosts for the Xenomorphs (the few shots of an Aztec-style community relenting to their every whim, is a glimpse of what AvP could have been.) Alas, the film is crippled through murky exposition, poor dialogue, non-existent characterisation, and a lack of gore. The latter isn’t mandatory, but in a film of this type, the absence of grisly violence is a major downside. Anderson maintains that he wanted a gory picture, but I just don’t believe him. It’s clear from every edit in every death scene, that the camera was supposed to turn away - even a shot of a chest-bursting lacks blood. Only the fluorescent glow of a Predator’s injuries passes as gruesome, with umpteen shots of an Alien’s acid-insides meeting with it’s opponent’s flesh. This was a PG-13 from the get-go, and even the “Extended Cut” on this DVD fails to get nasty.
But the big problems with AvP are mostly script-related. As I’ve stated before, Anderson is no writer. The concept of the film is poorly handled, with no time spent on mounting tension or mood. The film zips from scene to scene, with plenty of exposition, but little conviction. I didn’t expect the film to be intelligent, but the screenplay is just too lousy - Anderson wants to get to the action as soon as possible, sacrificing any form of character development as a result. All of the Alien pictures took their time to give characters a solid place in the narrative, and we cared about them as a result. So did the adrenaline-heavy Predator films. There’s no-one here that would qualify as a Hicks, a Hudson or a Dutch. The film is also missing a Ripley. Lathan is out of her league trying to fit into the Sigourney Weaver mould, and when Anderson is you’re screenwriter, it’s safe to say that any depth will fall victim to the delete key. Thankfully, none of the actors here are bad, but the director treats them as mere props. The main attraction of this movie is the title, not the cast.
As expected, Henriksen is the most memorable presence. His casting is one of the films more inspired choices; allowing AvP to boast a shred of franchise continuity. That said, it seems to avoid the conclusion of Alien 3 (which, supposedly, included the “real” Bishop), and Weyland’s place in the tale is of little importance. Still, Henriksen is an actor that commands the attention, and the film improves whenever he’s on screen. But little can be said about Salmon and Bremner - two talented Brits, who are given paper-thin roles. Why go to the trouble of casting “name” actors if you don’t use them? Perhaps it helped to market the movie, but I doubt it. The core audience for this flick wouldn’t care.
Remarkably, the main strength of the film is attributed to Anderson. AvP is visually striking - a perfect marriage of photography, set design and direction. Anderson certainly knows how to compose a shot, and there’s plenty of money moments to keep fans engaged. While the movie would have been better suited to an open environment (when are we going to see the Alien and Predator home worlds?), the pyramid is a great example of creative design. Complex and full of booby traps, it allows the picture to remain interesting, no matter how repetitive the action gets. Anderson also uses visuals to tip his hat to either franchise. The opening satellite shot is a good example - emerging out of the dark, it looks like the Alien Queen, until we get close enough. It’s a nice touch, as is the moment when Weyland casually passes a pen between his fingers (echoing the famous scene from Aliens). Elsewhere, he has played with the formula, upsetting purists. Stan Winston has made changes to the Predator’s visage, and even the heat vision moments are different. Still, that’s nothing when you consider the director’s ignorance toward the Alien life-cycle. The gestation period for a human host has been dramatically reduced, with the creatures spawning in no time at all. The reason, clearly, is for Anderson to move the “plot” along as quickly as possible. For long-time fans like myself, this is simply unforgivable.
Which brings me neatly to the point of the movie - the battle between the terrible twosome. After 15 years, umpteen comic book tales, and a growing fanbase, the only way I can describe the resulting skirmish is “underwhelming”. Anderson really does drop the ball here, on a pretty severe level. The selling-point of the picture was to see them fight, and the action scenes are forgettable. They function pretty well - it’s a lot of fun to see the Predator swinging an Alien 360º by its tail, or an Alien deep-throating an unsuspecting hunter between the eyes. It also sent chills down my spine to see a facehugger pouncing in bullet-time, but at the end of the day, there is little here that sets the pulse racing. There’s no fear factor either, and the conclusion is decidedly weak, with Anderson wasting the Alien Queen’s potential. AvP disappoints on the most basic level, sealing its fate. For the first time, Fox’s premier monsters are stopped dead in their tracks...
Fox must be laughing themselves silly - Alien Vs. Predator raked in the dough at cinemas; proving just how powerful name recognition is. Still, something tells me that it’ll do better on DVD, and with Fox’s consistent high standard, it turns out to be a bona-fide “Special Edition” (despite the ridiculous Extreme tag.) But a word of warning to interested buyers - the “Extended” cut on this disc is purely marketing hoopla, with only a minute reinstated at the start of the picture. You won’t find any gory treats here...
The Look and Sound
AvP comes alive in this anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer, which is meticulous in its quality. It isn’t just good, it’s superior. The transfer handles the film elements with alarming accuracy - the colours are spot on, and the frequent bouts of dark footage are vibrant; boasting excellent shadow delineation. In most respects, it is crystal clear, remaining sharp from beginning to end. Still, I have tiny bones to pick. There was a smidgen of pixelation in a few scenes, and it was visible during the opening titles. But it was slight - most viewers will be marvelling over this transfer, which is free from grain, dirt, scratches or edge enhancement. Once again, a poor film is given the red carpet treatment.
The sound is very impressive too, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. It’s an aggressive, surround-heavy experience, with both of the tracks boosting the films entertainment value. Those who can, should go with the DTS option, and it’s a cracker, make no mistake. It takes a while to get going, but once the action erupts inside the pyramid, the track becomes incredibly dynamic - the effects used to create the Predator’s weaponry are fantastic, and the gunfire circles the viewer with loud, ecstatic bursts. It handles that classic Alien sound design with aplomb too; with the creatures given a moody presence whenever they appear. In fact, the audio probably has a slight edge over the video transfer, but the technical aspects of this disc are first-rate. Well done Fox.
I was disappointed with these, but they’re still pretty impressive. Each menu recreates a location from the movie, with the main options appearing in the “Sacrificial Chamber”; complete with Alien eggs that rise up into view. Neat. However, the design of the menus did nothing for me, and not all of them are animated. It’s also annoying that the main menu on disc 1 took a while to load (the speedier the better, in my opinion). But, I’m obviously being too critical - they function well, complimenting the style of the movie.
This is a pretty stacked bundle of extra features, that improves on the American release in spades (look out for Matt Day’s review later this week). The features here are pleasant and often enjoyable, but it’s doubtful I’ll sit through them more than once. For fans, this is a treasure trove of insight; going into detail on AvP’s trip to the screen.
There are two present, and come attached to the theatrical version only. The first assembles director Paul W.S. Anderson, Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Lathan. It’s terribly light on sufficent details, but it’s always engaging. Anderson has proven with other commentaries to be a jovial presence, and he speaks with raw enthusiasm throughout. He was brimming with good intentions (as always), and the track largely documents his influences. In fact, most of the time is spent highlighting the references to each franchise. Henriksen talks about being part of the series, and why he felt the need to return. He clearly appreciate’s Anderson’s work, but becomes a little too complimentary for my liking; with the pair convinced they’ve made something special. As for Lathan, she joins in with their discussions, and offers some behind-the-scenes banter. Ultimately, this is a light and breezy affair that entertains, but never educates.
The second yack-track features creature make-up gurus Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr., and visual effects supervisor Tom Bruno. Naturally, this gets into the nitty-gritty geek-speak, that every Warcraft fan should appreciate. Full of technical comments, and computer jargon, it was surprisingly worthwhile. Gillis and Woodruff are legends in the genre, having worked on each of the Alien features since James Cameron’s sequel. Therefore, they have plenty to say about creating these two legendary characters, and the challenges they faced upon bringing them to the screen. Bruno leans toward the CGI effects as you’d expect, giving us a brief rundown of how to achieve convincing effects with a tight budget and limited time. This is technical, but never boring, and is probably the best of the two.
The disc also features the regular “Inside Look” from Fox, which previews the Robert De Niro chiller Hide and Seek, the dire comic book atrocity Elektra, and the up-coming CGI-fest Robots.
The extras are split into each area of Production, beginning with:
Pre-Production, of course!
“Conception” (25 mins), is pretty self-explanatory, and concerns the origins of the picture. There wasn’t much here that I didn’t know, but the talking head material had me hooked. “ADFI Workshop” (7 mins) features some technical background, and footage of the effects guys hard at work. This moves into the “Storyboard Gallery”, which is full with stills of the early artwork. It was fascinating to chart the visual dynamics of the picture - Anderon’s only gift as a director - and it was great to see the preparation. The “Concept Art Gallery” covers similar ground, showing the movie moments as they were on the page.
Here's where the meatist extras can be found, beginning with the excellent “The Making Of AvP”, which lasts for just under an hour. Anderson, the cast, Gillis and Woodruff Jr. are all included, with a pleasing amount of trivia. It’s better than many documentaries of its type, and provides the viewer with a neat insight into the mechanics of film-making. With oodles of behind-the-scenes footage, and some fun comments from the crew, this making-of is worth a watch. This segues into a small piece about miniatures (7 mins), before plunging head-first into alien terrain. “Facehuggers & Eggs” (14 mins) is pretty fun, and doesn’t really need an introduction. Finally, “Trouble At The Mouth Of The Tunnel” (3 mins), documents the discovery of the tunnel in question, and the action that follows.
The final leg begins with “Visual Effects Breakdown”, a comprehensive half-hour piece on computer effects, that manages to inform. Since AvP was so reliant on digital wizardry, this documentary was appreciated. You’ll also find a batch of “Deleted Scenes” (with optional commentary); lasting 9 minutes in total. Naturally, most of these are mere scene extensions or bits of dialogue. I doubt they would have hurt the film though...
The disc concludes with the promotional extras, found under “Licensing The Franchise”. “Alien vs. Predator: The Comic Book” (11 mins) is an all-too brief look at the comics and their fan-base/influence. It would have been great to see more about the Dark Horse publication, but it wasn’t to be. “Monsters In Minature by Todd McFarlane” is a 14 minute plug for McFarlane’s latest action figures (some of which I sadly own). Last but not least, there’s the flimsy “HBO Special”, and the films theatrical trailers. A commendable package.
“Whoever wins...we lose.” So went the infamous tag-line; a marketing quote that sadly became reality for AvP’s audience. It’s a chronic disappointment in every respect, but Anderson’s blockbuster is given new life in this spiffy DVD set. Fox’s treatment of the film shouldn’t go unnoticed, and fans of either franchise should have it in their collection. Now, if only Sigourney Weaver can get back to doing what she does best, and save us from AvP 2...