Now, for the second year in a row we are presented with a pairing of icons from the 80’s in a showdown that’s sure to blow audiences away. Last year we had the well made, but still flawed, Freddy vs. Jason, this year we have Alien vs. Predator. Last year was a battle of horror icons, while this year moves into the sci-fi/action realm. Both of these movies were entertaining, but I think the prior one was the more successful, having a better time integrating the histories of the two characters. This one tries, but fails to really connect. Like it has been described as some critics as more of a missed opportunity rather than an outright failure. I tend to agree with that sentiment.
This was a project that has been high on the geek wish list for many years. The question was, could this be brought to the screen in a way that would satisfy everyone? The answer to that is yes, the follow up is quite different. That being, will it? The short answer, no. I remember a time, not that long ago, when two luminaries of the science fiction world were in talks to collaborate on this project. Those two names were none other than James Cameron (Terminator, Aliens) and Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner). Cameron was going to write and Scott direct. To be honest, this may have just been a rumor, but I believe some very early talks took place. Then, shortly thereafter, Paul WS Anderson was announced as director, and there was collective sigh. I have enjoyed Anderson’s work, and have defended him in a variety of places, but for as much as I have enjoyed his movies, none have really crossed over into the realm of greatness. His movies all have a similar look to them, so much so that it is easy to tell when you are watching one, but all too often you would watch it and say, that was very similar to such and such a movie. So, I was a little disappointed when he was chosen for what should be a high profile film. Disappointment continued when I also read that he had promised to deliver a PG-13 movie. I haven’t been too happy with this trend towards PG-13 as opposed to R over the past few years, not that there is anything wrong with that rating, but that discussion is for another time. Anyway, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and hope for the best.
The trailers started to hit, as well as some images online. The Alien and Predator designs looked good, but that first trailer was awful. The clip was edited to some generic rock music and looked like a video game, I believe this version was only released online. A few days later, I saw the next trailer incarnation in a theater, this one was much better, but it still had a distinctly video game look to it. As the release day approached, it was announced that it would not be being screened for critics prior to release. This is generally reserved for films that even the studios don’t think will be any good, so they try to get it out for the box-office before word of mouth spreads. I decided I would give it a try anyway, being a fan both series already, it was destined to be interesting to see how it turned out.
The film revolves around the discovery of a pyramid beneath the Arctic ice. An aging business head puts together an expedition to check it out. Upon arriving they make their way to the structure and discover some strange goings on. Suddenly they are caught in the middle of a battle between these two creatures. That pretty much sums up the plot, what there is of it. Now to pick apart some of the goings on in the film. For better and for worse.
The human cast was one of the biggest faults with the film, and it was a combination of script and actors. The characters that were good did not get enough time to develop, and the ones that were not so good got all the screen time. But, either way you cut it, there was no heart to these characters, they seemed to just be tossed together with no consideration for chemistry. Basically, there is none. Without chemistry amongst your cast, it is hard to really anchor any emotion on it, there is no need for the audience to identify with the cast therefore they don’t care what happens to them. This leads to a serious lack of tension, there has to be a reason to care about the characters, without it, why make the movie?
The best member of the human cast was Lance Henriksen who played Charles Bishop Weyland, the head of the Weyland Corporation. It was a nice touch bridging the rest of the Alien films to this. For those who aren’t familiar with the previous films, Henriksen portrayed a character of a different nature named Bishop, go watch Aliens and Alien3 to find out more. He didn’t get enough screen time, but there are a few nice touches, especially when he goes face to face with a Predator. Another cast member of note is Ewen Bremner, most recently in Around the World in 80 Days and Rundown. He portrays a quirky scientist,named Graeme, who wants to do something that will impress his children, sadly he gets little time to really grow on us. Lastly there is Agathe De La Boulaye, who portrays Adele, a more military minded character, always within reach of a gun. She had a great look, and a persona reminiscent of Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez from Aliens. Again, there is so little screen time for her that we barely scratch the surface of potential. On a side note I would be remiss not to mention Colin Salmon, playing a character virtually identical to the one he played in another Anderson movie, Resident Evil, right down to his fate.
The characters who do get the most screen time are generally uninteresting. First there is Raoul Bova, playing archaeologist Sebastian. All we get is a dull guy trying to act tough, there is really nothing interesting about him, save for the great line “It’s all starting to make sense!” Possibly the biggest downfall is Sanaa Lathan, playing our hero Alexa. She is not a bad actress, but due to the confines of the script, she has nothing to work with giving us a lackluster hero. Without that hero to latch on to we don’t have that emotional center to the film.
Enough about them, I know what you really want to know about, the real stars. Do the Aliens and Predators match up to their previous incarnations? Well, yes and no. The Predators probably fare the better of the two. The Aliens, well there isn’t a lot you can do with them, so long as they are cunning creatures with a knack for killing, that’s all that is really necessary. The Predators, on the other hand, are a little more complex. These creatures are intelligent, have a high level of technology and like to hunt. To that end, they also want worthy prey, hence this pyramid.
To understand some of the basic thought process that goes into a film like this, you need to have a convincing way to combine the two. The idea has been around ever since Predator 2, when an Alien skull was glimpsed in the Predator’s trophy room. The idea was developed in a long string of Dark Horse comics. The Predator’s would seed a planet with Alien eggs and wait for them to gestate, and then go down for the hunt, which for the younger ones is a right of passage. That is given to us here, the history given for the purpose of the pyramid, all the way to the Predator’s taking of trophies. I cannot go into too much detail for fear of spoiling these interesting plot points to those who haven;t yet seen the movie.
The fights between the creatures are great, violent affairs where the Predators have to use all their tricks to be able to survive. Of course they are armed to the teeth with a variety of weapons, shoulder mounted cannons, a variety of knives, wrist mounted blades, an extendable staff, a large glave, and nets that can be fired entrapping their target. Sounds like more than enough to deal with those pesky Aliens, but they have the numbers, plus acid blood, and of course a monstrous Queen, which sort of evens up the odds.
One thing that I liked was the way they kept the Queen Alien frozen under the ice, preserved for when they needed her to start laying eggs. Once the trap was set for the victims, the Queen was moved into position where she thawed out and began laying the face-hugger eggs. Problems arise when you start thinking about how many she can lay, and how many people were there. Combine that with how fast the Aliens go from bursting from the host to being full-grown. At times it seemed as if they would have had to spring forth full grown. Plus we never see just how many people are there, but there must have been a lot, there seemed like a veritable army of Predators.
A point that I thought was funny was when they opened the sarcophagus, revealing the Predator’s blasters. Apparently, they don’t recognize them as being metal, much less technology. They refer to them as artifacts and wonder what they are. Some scientists they are. Springing forth from that is how they talk to each other. Supposedly they are all highly educated scientists and whatnot, but they talk to each other as if they were in grade school. I understand the idea of having to talk in a way that the audience will be able to get enough to understand, but too often we get dialogue that is insulting to the intelligence of the viewers.
One of my favorite aspects of the film was also one of the corniest of execution. It was established in the comic books, and also makes a nice extension to what a Predator is understood to be. It is the way that a Predator will adopt a human once they have proven themselves in battle, in this case, our hero, Alex. There is a bit of silliness with the Alien shield and such, but for some reason it does work.
There are a few more things I would like to get out before wrapping up. I know, sometimes I can be long winded and rambling,but hey, that’s why you love me. I hope.
The movie is hampered by it’s rating. By there nature both Alien and Predator movies are violent, often bloody affairs. When you have a movie restricted to a PG-13 rating, there are a lot of things you can’t do. There is very small amount of blood, most deaths occur off camera. Sometimes less does not equal more. These movies have always had certain elements that were over the top, the more action involved, the more blood involved. Look at Aliens, a rather violent bloody, R-rated film, also Predator, a rather violent affair as well. This movie needed more blood, it came across as being “sanitized for your viewing pleasure.” This movie really needed to be an over the top epic of great proportions. Sadly it ended up as a chopped up family film. One thing I will give it credit for is that the Aliens did get pretty gooey, which is a good thing, but sadly not enough.
The film had that Paul Anderson look. If you’ve seen any of his movies, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They all have that look, which I guess is a plus, a director always wants his work to stand out. But that isn’t always a good thing, especially if your films all seem to look like video games. I keep hoping that he will come out with something totally original, or at least seem original. All we get are entertaining action flicks that are ultimately forgettable. Maybe next time.
The bottomline is that as someone just looking to be entertained, this will certainly fill the bill. As someone hoping for something more, it is just another on the list of frustrating films this year. Films that have some really good ideas but then either drop them or don’t take them as far as they should have, movies like Van Helsing and Chronicles of Riddick. So much wasted potential. Like I mentioned earlier: more like a wasted opportunity than an outright failure.