AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

   Since times long forgotten, things have been better when combined - peanut butter and jelly, ham and turkey, sunny days and beaches - and movies, comics, and games have even been known to launch titles that crossover between them. Sometimes, we find out that even when we add two great things together, they come out less spectacular then we originally thought. Alien vs Predator has been around for quite some time (since 1989) and has notably done quite well in many of its comic, video game, and novel forms when Paul W.S. Anderson got the idea that it should in fact be time to combine these two great things (now having spanned to successful series of movies singularly) into one wonderful sandwich of awesome.

   Things didn't quite go as he had planned, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. In a situation such as this, where there is so much history present from other media forms available, the effort should be put forth to look at this from multiple perspectives - that as a movie on its own two legs, and also as an item that is part of it's long standing history. You see, these two things can be mutually exclusive, and some people may just be looking to watch an entertaining movie while knowing nothing of the previous materials, while others might be approaching it because  they are fans of the material from which it spawns. For that reason, we are going to start this off from a purely movie standpoint - that of someone who knows nothing of the previous movies, comics, games, or writings that have entertained and thrilled so many a science fiction lover. 

  The movie starts off in 1904 at a Whaling Station in the deep secluded Antarctic. It's night time, and such a barren icy tundra can be quite the scary place, and as we see a hurried, frightened man enter into one of the many buildings as though being chased by the devil itself it becomes apparent that the chilly atmosphere might not be the only reason to be scared. Something shimmers across are screen, blades appear from out of the air where the shimmer is, and we are treated to an infrared view of the man on floor desperate for his life, and right before we fade to a new scene we see a strange creature break from the red darkness over the mans shoulder.  

   We now know what we need to know of this movie: There are two things distinctly not human here, and the human race is nothing more to them than a side note - a cattle in the crossfire. This is an important part, as for any newcomers to the series, we can now identify the titular creatures of the film: a frighteningly fast shadow dwelling alien, and an invisible predator that seems to hunt humans. The plot from their stays incredibly simple and direct, but doesn't actually get explained in depth until later in the film (which if anyone watching is paying enough attention, between the symbolism and basic ancient culture explanations one can figure it out long before it is stated bluntly). It seems, at times, as though the plot might try and do something of a twist in it, but it never truthfully does - for the action portion of the movie this is good, as the simpler the plot the more easy it is to enjoy the action, but from an adventure aspect one would hope it would have a bit more depth to it.  Anyways, years later (2004) a satellite owned by the Weyland corporation searching for mineral deposits finds as it passes over Antarctica (the same area seen in the 1904 section) a large heat source under the ice. Weyland (the owner of the Weyland Corp.) gathers a large crew of archeologists and researchers and takes them out to investigate this find - where things promptly and relatively quickly get very weird and dangerous for them.

   We have a wide cast of characters here, although a good portion of them seem to be filler characters - someone who maybe we learn the name of through conversation but who never really comes off as a major character. It's necessary in a movie of this type, and it does help to make the starting portions of the movie feel much more lively with such a large cast (even if we do not know most of them), but it is also sad on some levels as in one case it's one of these filler characters who has the best line in the entire movie - upon being asked as to why they are bringing a gun along on the expedition they are on, she responds "Same principle as a condom. I'd rather have one and not need it, then need it and not have one."  Other characters we immediately get the feel we are supposed to like (a character who keeps taking pictures so he can show his two sons how he wasn't such a boring dad) which in turn makes most of us also get the feeling that before the movie is done something bad will happen to him. It's a matter of stereotypical characters really - we have the strong female lead (Alexa Woods played by Sanaa Lathan), the owner of a corporation looking to make a final good mark on history (Charles Weyland played by Lance Henriksen), the likeable archeologist who is the go-to for explanations (Sebastian de Rosa played by Raoul Bova), the "I hope nothing bad happens to this guy" side character (Graeme Miller played by Ewen Bremner), and so on and so forth. Developmentally, we have a few meaningful conversations between Alexa and Weyland, and a couple of character "builders" between Alexa and Sebastian or Miller, but outside of that you shouldn't really go into this one expecting a large character-based movie here.

   Of course, the titular anti-heroes are characters too, albeit with no spoken lines (outside of growls and hisses), and outside of the "hero" Predator character (I'll refer to him as Fabio) we don't receive a whole lot in terms of gestures or posture inferences either. The xenomorphs (the black alien creatures of Alien  fame) are an interesting split of CG and suits wherein most any full-body shots of the xenomorphs is done in CG, while a lot of the close-ups or direct character interactions (non full-body) are done with suits. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, as the CG element does allow the aliens to move in a much more fluid manner, however it falls short with the quite noticeable difference between the two. The graphics are by no means bad (there have been a lot of B-movies with far worse), but it serves as a disconnect when they are so easily picked out as being computer generated (sometimes in the middle of the same scene as the suit versions). Occasionally, it would appear that some of the set pieces are visibly green-screened in at least partial amounts as well - nothing movie breaking for most, but not exactly hard to pick out either.

   Interestingly enough, those set pieces are really the best character in the film. Although the desolate wastes of Antarctica seems a bit bland of a setting for an action adventure film, the pyramid itself is amazing (after the action picks up). The configuration of this pyramid changes through-out the movie, closing some passageways and opening others, all the while having little detail decorations that really help it come alive (such as the alien life-cycle imagery or the predator head wall reliefs).  Nearer to the end of the film, we are even treated to a hive area, complete with alien-looking textures and resin (something admittedly not explained at all in this movie) that really adds to the classic Alien  atmosphere of the section. Things are covered with dust, cobwebs, crumbling stones and skeletons of long past sacrifices, and the unused and abandoned state of everything in the whaling station frozen in ice and covered in snow. The movie is dark where it needs to be - both in the underground pyramid and the whaling stations - without being so dark that it's hard to enjoy the details and atmosphere of the film.

   False scares and moments of humor spread themselves through the movie, lending itself to the creepy atmosphere of the surroundings and yet the excited, almost playful feeling one imagines the research crew to feel as they travel through this adventure. As well done and welcome as those parts are, however, we don't get to the action of considerable note until well into the movie, and even then they are mostly short lived when they do crop up. It feels as though some of the action may have seemed slow at least in part to the predator costumes, as they looked to be quite bulky on screen, and hard to really move in. On the other hand, although things seem to be slowed down due to the bulk, they also play up the scale a bit by using the bulk and size to the advantage of the limited fights, giving them a more impact-full feel where each hit seems a real bruiser (even if the creatures fighting shrug the blows off like they've had worse). The pacing works, but at the same time I do feel that if someone comes into this flick looking for high-octane action, they have a good chance of loosing interest before they can reach the action scenes in the latter part of the movie.

   By the end of the film, it's a relatively enjoyable experience - it's nothing earth shattering, and its nothing horrid either.  It has some cheap thrills - both on the scare and action side of things - and a few standout moments or lines, but nothing I would seriously recommend a person to go out an buy for full price without at least renting it first.

   Now, this is where things get hairy - as a standalone film, its not terrible, but how can it stand up with years of back material? Well, quite frankly it doesn't stand up any better than a person who just had the air gut-punched out of their lungs. If you are a serious fan of the source material, and you can suspend all your knowledge going into this movie, there's a good chance you will actually hate  this movie. 

   Lets focus on the previous movies first shall we? If there is one thing we learned from the first two Predator  movies, it's that they love  really hot places to hunt. Of course, the first thing I think of when I think hot is the frozen tundras of Antarctica right? We also start to notice discrepancies in the actual costumes themselves - The original predators seem much more gaunt in comparison, much more agile and less clunky., and the face beneath the mask incredibly different (the new ones can't even close the mandibles fully). Gear is a bit different as well - which is in a way exciting, as we now have three different masks that make each predator readily distinguishable from the others. On the Alien  side of things, eggs look a bit smaller, and the xenomorph itself seems a bit more shiny (maybe just a side effect of the cg?). During the first chestburster scene, it also seems much more stiff (exploding forth to life in a manner that makes it look entirely bundled up).

   Now, that's not really too bad, but how does it fair up against novels and comics? Well, the xenomorphs don't fare all too bad here, behaving much as they would in any other source (very much a hive-mind, propagate the species feel/action). The predators on the other hand are a mixed bag. They have been known to seed worlds with the xenomorph to hunt them, although usually they drop off the eggs, not build entire temples with complex mechanisms to make sure they can come back and hunt again. It is also usually frowned upon for an unblooded (a predator yet to earn his right of passage amongst the predators by getting its kill) to engage in combat with humans. The fact that the predators where on their right of passage is actually pretty sound to the fluff although some of the intricacies there where also a bit off.

   Now, these are things that can be overlooked (unless you are a heavy fanboy-grade fan). The fact that two of the three predators in this flick go down within 10 minutes of each other as soon as the action breaks is a bit annoying when you consider how rough and tumble these beasties are supposed to be, and it can also be a bit annoying when you realize that being the main thing a predator likes to hunt, most of its equipment is designed to withstand the xenomorphs acid blood makes aspects of the movie dumb as well. Overall, the only real complaints that should stick is the sub-threatening feel of the predators (two get killed by the same single xenomorph so close together), and the fact that location just feels so very off (did we have to use Earth in 2004?). A script was circulated online that was a bit more faithful to the actual comics/novels of the same name (although the major change there was the planet was changed from a desert to a jungle world) that easily could have been adapted to a movie (I read it, and can honestly say in my opinion it was much more exciting than what we got here). Even so, as polar opposite (har har har) as this movie would seem, they both feature a female lead, at least one predator who isn't a joke, and a predator hunt that gets out of hand - it just makes more sense when its not in an ancient pyramid inside an iceberg that predates all existing movies (so, a woman lives through all of this, goes back to civilization and never ever speaks a word of it again right? Cause not a single soul in the future seems to know anything about these things considering the Alien quadrilogy).


Alien Vs. Predator
Starring Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon