Alien vs. Predator Review
This film seemed to be an inevitability, ever since the Dark Horse comic first combined the two franchises fans have been salivating over the thought of them meeting on the big screen. But with the last good instalment of either franchise being more than 15 years old, it was starting to look like it would never happen. So when word spread that the half dozen producers had finally come to an agreement and that Alien vs. Predator was actually going to happen, there was certainly a buzz in the fan community. But when the director was announced as Paul W.S. Anderson, the man that brought us such fine adaptations as Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, many started to worry that it wouldn’t be the upturn the series’ so desperately needed.
The story-line surprises, as although the Predator movies were set in the 20th Century, the Alien movies were set a long, long way in the future. The comics took the track of taking the Predators to the Aliens, allowing for the colonial marines to provide the human face to the conflict, but Anderson has taken the opposite track. After a satellite picks up a huge heat burst emanating from the Antarctic, wealthy industrialist Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen) quickly gathers a team to discover just what’s under the ice. Their satellite surveillance appears to show a pyramid, one that displays features of Egyptian, Incan and Cambodian cultures, it’s a bit of a conundrum how it got there, but there’s a possibility that this could be the first pyramid ever built, quite the archaeological find. What the team doesn’t know is that the pyramid is in fact a hunting ground for the Predators, and every hundred years they swing by, tempt a few humans in, crack open a few alien eggs and have themselves some fun.
It’s a simple story-line, and not one that makes a huge amount of sense, but then we are talking about a movie about battling alien species, so maybe we should cut Anderson some slack. Alien vs. Predator is supposed to be a franchise all its own, which is why the decision was taken to set it now, the plot has many subtle – and not so subtle – nods to the other films and many little touches that lay the groundwork for the Alien movies, without stepping on anybody’s toes - it doesn’t interfere with the existing story-lines. In many ways Anderson has succeeded in his goal, Alien vs. Predator stands alone, if only because it doesn’t feel like either of its preceding series. It’s certainly a very long way from the Alien movies, although the architecture of the pyramid does its best to recall the claustrophobic atmosphere of the original film, it never really manages to infuse any tension into the movie. In fact the whole film just feels too well lit, even when it’s dark it isn’t that dark, and you’ll be hard pushed to find a frightening sequence. The film is certainly more towards the Predator side of the spectrum, with the focus far more on action than scares, but it doesn’t come with the tension of Predator either.
Where the film really succeeds, and possibly the only place it does, is in its action set pieces. Whilst those that involve the humans carry an air of inevitability about them, with everyone you expect dying swiftly and exactly who you thought making it to the end, when we finally get to see an Alien and a Predator square off it is everything the fans have been waiting for. Whilst the scenes have a slight look of CGI about them, they really are very well realised, with Anderson determined to capture as much practically as possible one showdown took up a whole month of the shooting schedule. It was well worth the time spent and the scene certainly sets pulses racing, it’s just a shame such scenes are all too infrequent. Anderson certainly tries a few tricks to get your attention, but they largely feel desperate or ridiculous - the face-huggers moving in Matrix-esque bullet time being particularly cringe-worthy. But the film’s single biggest disappointment is its rating. Hampered by the studio need to produce a PG-13 to draw in the biggest possible audience, much of what made the original movies classics (albeit in very different ways) has been lost. Alien was about tension, and tension often culminating in visceral scares, and Predator was all about ‘80s machismo and bloodletting. Nobody here gets their spines removed, held proudly aloft, nobody has the back of their head punched out by an alien proboscis, no no, these things would warrant an R rating, so the violence has been dialed back, and with it the tension. Sure you know people are going to die, but it’s like trying to get people worked up about a fireworks display that’s only got half a dozen bangers and a wonky Catherine wheel, you just can’t get excited when you know there’s going to be no big finish.
It should also be noted that this disc features 2 versions of the film, both the theatrical cut and an extended version. This, sadly, seems like a marketing ploy, as the only difference is a minute long introductory scene, showing you a glimpse of what happened at the training ground a century before. Anderson actually notes in the commentary that he liked the fact the ‘monsters’ don’t appear until quite far into the movie - it’s the Jaws technique - so giving us a glimpse of both an Alien and Predator straight away rather seems to go against that philosophy. Sure their appearance isn’t a surprise to most people, but it still reeks of a marketing ploy.
Anderson did say he was going to make a new franchise, so in a way it’s fair enough that he’s changed things up - including the target audience - to create that. Sadly though, whilst he may have found a new audience, he’s lost the old one, and that’s a pretty awful thing to do if you’re a man who claims to be as much of a fan of the original series as anyone who paid to see this film. Alien vs. Predator is left as a good looking, flashy, but ultimately heartless movie, less deserving of the title Alien vs. Predator, more, Alien Resurrection vs. Predator 2.
One area the movie does have the previous series beaten is the image quality. Even the polished versions of the Alien films in the Quadrilogy box set can’t touch this release. Whilst the majority of the film takes place with very little light, there isn’t any problem picking details out of the shadows - a problem for the movie’s tension, but it goes to show how good the image quality is. The only time it seems to falter is when the scene is lit with nothing but flares, their shimmering red light drifting into the darkness is a nightmare to compress adequately, so the encoding falters slightly, but it isn’t particularly noticeable, in fact is was only on my computer I spotted it at all.
The film comes with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks, and whatever your feelings on the usefulness of half rate DTS tracks, you’ll be in for a great ride whichever track you choose. The soundtrack is incredibly dynamic, and the fights sound fantastic, with gunfire echoing around you and the sub really rumbling, at least Anderson can get something right.
Commentary from Paul W.S. Anderson, Sanaa Lathan and Lance Henriksen
The first of the two commentary tracks on the disc is by far the most entertaining, with a very fun atmosphere that makes for an entertaining listen. Anderson leads the commentary’s detailed discussions, it is his movie after all, and he reveals plenty about shooting on a tight budget - though strangely is very reluctant to reveal just how much they spent on the movie - and Henriksen is very amiable, in fact he sounds pretty grateful to Anderson just for giving him a job. Lathan doesn’t contribute as much, apart from making sure they don’t take breaks in recording because she’s got somewhere to be, but then she spends so much time getting compliments from the guys that it’s tough for her to get a word in.
Commentary from Visual Effects Supervisor John Bruno, and Creature Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.
This second commentary is from the technical crew and, wow, is it dry. Now that doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain a lot of interesting information, but these guys just aren’t having the fun the others were and it makes this a hard track to listen to. It is rather educational though, and the participants have no problem going into a lot of detail on all aspects of the effects, including pointing out a lot of things that you wouldn’t have noticed, it’s just a shame that it’s so hard to get into.
3 very brief deleted scenes make it onto the disc, and you have to wonder why they bothered as they add nothing to the film, nor your enjoyment of the special features, and unless you need to know just how little of a sense of humour the Predators have then you’ll most likely be left thinking “is that it?”
Making of Featurette
More extensive than the title suggests, this is promo is almost 25 minutes long and is a reasonably interesting look at the making of the film, but it certainly leans more towards promotion than information. Starting out with how hard Anderson campaigned to get the movie - apparently his was the only decent pitch made, how bad were the rest?! - and going through the design of the updated Predators and taking in shooting that mammoth Alien and Predator face off this manages to entertain, but looks paltry in comparison with the material on the R2 disc.
Dark Horse Comics AVP Cover Gallery
A nice addition to the disc is this collection of all the covers from the Alien Vs. Predator comic book series, there are some really nice pieces of art here, though I found they just reminded me of the potential the movie had.
The disc also contains a Fox Sports promo - well why not take the opportunity to push your TV sports coverage on a science fiction/action movie? - and a trailer for American Dad, the new, and strikingly similar, animated series from the creator of Family Guy.
The movie was a disappointment, but it is excellently presented on this disc from 20th Century Fox, who rarely have a problem producing high quality DVDs. However, despite this being a perfectly reasonable special edition, it doesn’t come close to the upcoming R2 “Extreme Edition” which seems to contain everything on offer here bar the pointless deleted scenes, and carries an awful lot more in their stead. If you have to add Alien Vs. Predator to your collection, it looks like the UK release is the one to go for.
Last updated: 10/06/2018 06:45:04