A lot of “Alien vs. Predator” reviews brought up the “Freddy vs. Jason” comparison, which, sadly, is an apt parallel, if you think about it. While both the “Alien” and “Predator” series were like slasher films in the sense that the plots dealt with the cast getting picked off one by one, the former still brought with it great characters and intriguing plot twists, especially in the first three entries (I’m happy to pretend “Alien Resurrection” never happened). There was more for viewers to sink their teeth into than cardboard characters running around screaming and getting killed.
Unfortunately, that’s just what “Alien vs. Predator” serves up. A great idea has been reduced to nothing but bland characters spouting on-the-nose, clichéd dialogue while we watch them get picked off one by one. I was astounded when producer John Davis said in the featurette on this DVD that he heard 45 pitches for this film but didn’t turn on the green light until director Paul W.S. Anderson stepped into his office. What happened to the drafts written by Pete Briggs about ten years ago? The first one is probably still floating around the Internet, and I know he wrote subsequent drafts, until the mediocre box office returns of “Alien 3” and “Predator 2” put the project into limbo. One of them had to be better than this drek, to say nothing of all those other efforts.
The film starts with an idea that I thought was pretty cool: Set in the present day, it introduces us to the Weyland Corporation, run by billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland, who’s played by Lance Henricksen (the same guy who played Bishop and Bishop II in the “Alien” films). However, rather than offer additional insight into the company, which was the real bad guy of the “Alien” series, “AvP” simply presents us with an uber-wealthy industrialist whose satellite picks up evidence of an underground temple in Antarctica. We get little insight into what makes him tick, other than his drive to assemble a team that will be the first one to the find and thus enable him to stake a claim on something he figures will add to his coffers. There’s no mention of the Yutani that will eventually help form Weyland-Yutani Corp., which I assume happens through a merger.
The temple is in the vicinity of a whaling station. Why it’s in Antarctica is beyond me, but that’s just the first of many things in the film that don’t make much sense. The only idea that I really like is having “AvP” serve as a prequel to the other films, especially the “Alien” series. After that, it’s all downhill.
As the story starts skidding toward its clunky resolution, we’re introduced to a series of experts that Weyland hires for his expedition to the temple. All character development is disposed of early on, as guide Alexa Woods suffers doubt about the trip before having her confidence restored by … something. I’m not sure what, actually. A couple other members of the expedition try to talk her into staying, but the conversation is interrupted before she can voice her decision. It’s one of many scenes in the film truncated for no reason other than a lack of ability to satisfactorily resolve it.
You can probably piece together the rest of the story from here, if you saw any of the trailers or commercials for the film. We learn that the temple was actually built by humans who worshipped the Predators as gods (despite the fact that Antarctica was never inhabitable, at least while homo sapiens has walked the Earth). As part of the Predator rite of passage, young warriors would use the temple to hunt down Aliens spawned with humans used as sacrifices for the facehuggers.
To produce the eggs that hatch the facehuggers, an Alien Queen remains in stasis in the temple, thawed out every 100 years when the Predators show up for their big hunt. Weyland’s team, of course, stumbles into the middle of the showdown, although why the Predators would initiate the hunt without humans to serve as incubators for Aliens is beyond me. The idea that the reactivation of the temple would serve as a lure for humans seems silly. Why not relocate the temple to a spot with more humans around? Or simply give up on that spot and go find another planet? Obviously there must be more than three Predators coming of age every 100 years.
Part of the expeditionary group becomes sacrificial material, of course, leading to the big fight that the others wind up in the middle of. While the Aliens remain true to the instincts established in previous movies, the Predators go against theirs for no reason other than to simplify the plot by pitting two groups against one rather than a three-way free-for-all. The bit with the Predators just wanting their guns smells way too much like the plot point with the raptors happy to get their eggs back in “Jurassic Park III,” another stinkeroo that further declined another movie franchise.
Of course, the end of the film has to feature a big fight against the Alien Queen, which is freed early on by Alien warriors who slash her, causing her acid blood to cut her shackles away. Why didn’t they think of doing that during a previous hunt? That’s the least of this movie’s problems, however, as logic and the laws of physics both go out the window for a climax that’s just plain silly. The final shot is a set-up for “Pred-Alien vs. Predator,” I guess.
The extras in this single-disc DVD are just as meager as the film, but be warned: rumor has it that Fox will put out a two-disc Special Edition sometime in 2005. If you’re a fan, you may want to hold off on this release, unless you’re a die-hard completist, in which case maybe you need another hobby.
Commentaries, once only the domain of laserdiscs and even then reserved for special films, are a dime a dozen in the DVD world these days, and this release offers two of them. The first, with director Anderson and actors Henricksen and Sanaa Lathan (Alexa Woods), is amusing to listen to simply because everyone gushes over how wonderful the movie is, even when you know they probably recorded it after all those negative reviews came out. Anderson points out all the nods to the “Alien” films, such as the drinking bird from the Nostromo, and notes little bits of trivia, such as the fact that the Morse code heard at the beginning of the movie says “Whoever wins, we lose.” Of course, no one asks him why a satellite would transmit Morse code, nor why it would transmit the tag line from the movie, as opposed to something more pertinent, such as “I just found something really f*****g weird below the ice here.” Oh, and the satellite at the beginning resembles an Alien Queen head at first. Ooooh…
The second gabfest, a technical track with visual effects guys John Bruno, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, is the usual “That’s CGI, that’s not, that’s part CGI and part live-action, that…” stuff that dominates the technical commentaries which seem to be required for all effects-heavy films. Personally, I like seeing the “How’d they do that?” moments in the making-of documentaries, but hearing how they did each and every shot gets tedious. Those who aspire to careers in the field will probably enjoy it, though, as will those who geek out over this stuff. To each his own.
Speaking of documentaries, the DVD menu lists an “AvP Promo” that’s actually a 23-minute making-of. It seems to borrow from the documentaries in the “Alien Quadrilogy” set in its use of the music from the original “Alien” and the way it breaks the narrative into chunks, such as “The Plot” and “Characters.” Of course, if the movie was good, this would be a nice, if too-brief, look at it. Instead, I found myself watching everyone chat up the film, mostly while making it, as if it’s the second coming of “Aliens” or something. I thought it was interesting that John Davis was the only producer who sat down for the cameras. Maybe David Giler and Walter Hill didn’t want to admit that both the “Alien” and “Predator” franchises have been driven into the ground at this point?
And maybe the Special Edition Fox has planned for later this year will chart the tortuous route this film took to the screen, which actually started with a spec written by Briggs. I would have liked to hear about the other stories pitched, especially considering that original “Alien” writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett have Story By credits on this film, so obviously they took a few cracks at it. That would be worth a rental, just to hear all the sordid details.
Rounding out the extras on this disc are three extensions of existing scenes, none of which added anything to my understanding of the story, as well as annoying promos for Fox Sports and the new TV cartoon “American Dad.” You can also check out a gallery of “Alien vs. Predator” comic book covers and those of you with DVD-ROM access—once again, us Mac users are shut out—can read the first “Alien vs. Predator” comic book series from Dark Horse Comics (they should have adapted that story instead) and check out a preview of an upcoming “AvP” graphic novel.