Alien vs. Predator

on August 13, 2004 by Ray Greene
"Alien vs. Predator" is not so much a sequel as it is a merger. The senior and first-billed partner, "Alien," is by far the more distinguished--a four-film franchise that has earned a cumulative total of almost $700 million in international theatrical release, and which features the work of distinguished directors like Ridley Scott, James Cameron and David Fincher. The "Predator" films are scarcely a franchise at all. There were only two "Predator" titles, and the second of these--which replaced star Arnold Schwarzenegger with Danny Glover and was set in an urban environment rather than the jungle of the original--was an out-and-out flop.

Still, both concepts have had long and profitable lives in ancillary markets. In the world of comics, a book titled "Alien vs. Predator" was released by Dark Horse way back in 1989. In computer gaming, several different variations on the theme of "Aliens vs. Predator" have appeared since 1993, including an extremely well-received 1998 title for the PC platform that was a big hit with its target audience of adolescent boys.

Computer games outgross movies these days, so it was virtually certain that an "Alien vs. Predator" film would eventually get made, and that its plot would feel more like a game than a movie when it did. Distributor 20th Century Fox barely pretended its new film "Alien vs. Predator" was anything more than a long-form commercial for the latest computer variation on the idea. The "AVP" game was often trailered in urban markets in the run-up to release, and Fox took the actually rather rare step of refusing to screen "AVP" for critics, as if secure in the knowledge that the game fanatics and fanboys would put this moderately expensive film over the top, irrespective of the relative positions of Ebert's and Roeper's thumbs.

vs. Predator Like many computer games, "Alien vs. Predator" is built around an elaborate entrapment strategy and set in an exotic and deadly locale. A sort of ziggurat of death is discovered under an arctic iceflow by industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, here playing the human progenitor of the robot Bishop from "Aliens" in one of "AVP's" few direct plot connections with the "Alien" and "Predator" franchises). Weyland recruits a ragtag team of scientists, adventurers and archeologists for an exploratory journey into the vast underground structure his satellites have located. Unfortunately, what Weyland and company take to be an artifact of pre-Aztec civilization was created a millennium ago by the hunter species from "Predator," to be used as a contained playground for stalking the ultimate prey: the vicious and rapidly propagating creatures from the "Alien" franchise.

The human characters in "AVP" are so underdeveloped they might as well be covered in exoskeletons--these are thin, derivative action clich├ęs, even by the standards of a genre where people are generally as complex as the tin ducks in a carnival shooting gallery. Writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson (pertinent credits: "Mortal Kombat" and "Resident Evil") makes the not entirely successful choice of eschewing horror and suspense scenes in favor of choppy, abruptly edited action sequences that are stylistically similar to the work of director Michael Bay. Though slow getting started, this is a highly impatient film once Aliens and Predators start to show up; as screenwriter, Anderson makes the assumption that his audience needs almost no explanation of either the "Predator" or "Alien" concepts, which makes his characters even more stick-figure-like, in that they don't seem very curious to comprehend their predicament until fairly late in the proceedings.

There are some knowing touches, including a TV screen showing Universal's 1943 classic "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman," the first cinematic face-off between two established franchise film monsters. Though obviously inspired by gaming concepts, "AVP's" underground pyramid, which shapeshifts every 10 minutes, is a neat staging idea, reminiscent of Vincenzo Natali's 1997 cult hit "Cube" in the way it uses space itself as a nemesis. But unlike last summer's "Freddy vs. Jason" and despite the "Whoever Wins We Lose" tagline in the promotions, "AVP" isn't very satisfying as a monster match-up, in that both the Aliens and the Predators are horde concepts rather than individualized creatures. Aliens kill Predators and Predators kill Aliens with relatively equal efficiency. While H. R. Giger's alternately vulval and phallic Alien designs are far more harrowing and versatile than the vaguely Rastafarian Predator critter effects, the creatures on both sides of this battle are basically interchangeable parts, and there is nothing really at stake when they clash with each other, and no clear "winner" of the clash when they do.

Ultimately, "Alien vs. Predator" is a film to reboot rather than review. The legions of game fans already sold on the concept will doubtless find it enjoyable, and "Alien vs. Predator" doesn't really aspire to please anyone else. Starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova and Lance Henriksen. Directed and written by Paul W. S. Anderson. Produced by John Davis, Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill. A Fox release. Sci-Fi/Horror. Rated PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime and gore. Running time: 110 min

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