“Alien vs. Predator” follows in the cinematic tradition of “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”, “Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man”, “King Kong vs. Godzilla”, “Godzilla vs. Mothra” and, most recently, Freddy vs. Jason. It’s a long tradition. It’s not a tradition generally associated with quality or entertainment value, however, but while “Alien vs. Predator” doesn’t exactly kick off the race for Oscar, it’s considerably more fun than most of these death matches.
Certainly more fun than its own studio gave it credit for being. 20th Century Fox elected not to screen the film for critics in advance of its release, a move widely viewed as the marketing equivalent of a wrongdoer turning himself in to police, providing a signed, notarized confession and then offering guided tours of the crime scene. Ordinarily it’s the public relations kiss of death. The question is what was Fox so worried about?
The fact is this is a perfectly serviceable combination of horror and camp that even features the occasional flipped convention, effective comic moment and twist of plot. The fine young actress Sanaa (Brown Sugar) Lathan stars as an ice-climber and guide who’s called upon to lead an expedition to the Antarctic when the head of a huge conglomerate picks up mysterious heat readings deep below the surface on his company’s satellites.
Aging action film vet Lance Henriksen (who appeared in two Alien installments) gives a borderline poignant performance in the role. Sophisticated computer technology makes it possible for his people to detect the existence of an ancient pyramid buried 2000 feet under the ice and he’s determined to unearth it. Where movie formula would normally dictate that his character’s a greedy bastard whose actions trigger some sort of apocalyptic reaction, the script by writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (“Event Horizon”) takes a different tack.
Instead, Henriksen’s a billionaire who knows he’s dying and wants to make a contribution to mankind before he goes. Authorities he’s consulted have reason to believe the edifice may be the oldest on the planet and he just wants to secure it in the name of science. I don’t know about you but I can’t remember the last time the head of a powerful corporation wasn’t automatically one of the bad guys.
Another twist: Given its title, you wouldn’t think there’d be any question about exactly who the bad guys in this picture are. But you’d be wrong. A most unlikely alliance is formed.
When Lathan and the rest of the crew arrive at the site, they expect to begin a week of high tech digging. To their surprise, though, a perfect 30 degree tunnel leading directly to the pyramid has appeared overnight. The viewer is a little less surprised because, moments earlier, we watched as a spaceship piloted by Predators sailed earthward and blasted a high powered energy beam toward the spot.
The humans make their way down to the structure with no hint that a legion of giant dreadlocked freakazoids are approaching from above and a nest of waking Aliens lurks below. Needless to say, some-well, quite a few-OK, almost all of the crew are caught in the crossfire as the two extraterrestrial enemies wage the latest round in a war which, we learn, has been refought once every hundred years more or less since the dawn of time.
One of the real treats when it comes to motion pictures inspired by a fervent artistic desire on the part of studios to eek one last buck from formerly lucrative franchises is the premise provided for the meeting of two characters or species with no rational reason for ever meeting. Anderson’s is a doozy but I won’t spoil the surprise. It was greeted by some of the biggest laughs I’ve heard since Anchorman. Savor it. It’s part of the fun.
And for a big dumb production about a movie monster smackdown, “Alien vs. Predator” is a surprisingly good time. It’s entirely possible this will be the last time these creatures appear on screen. If that’s the case, they went out with a bang and, more significantly, with a certain degree of over the top, tongue in cheek style.