by Marc Kandel
Speaking as an educated cinema reviewer and sci-fi buff, I can report with full confidence that “Alien vs. Predator,” the Director’s Cut, does indeed meet its goal of displaying said Alien vs. said Predator- in fact even goes so far as to show multiple representatives of each species knocking the glowing, stringy, sizzling crap out of each other. So is it a classic worthy of its predecessors?No. Not even remotely close, no. It barely claws its way to the muddy steppes of “Alien: Resurrection.” This movie will not leave the deep, heart pounding echoes or thought provoking impressions that the first two/three Alien pictures or two Predator pictures (and yes, this reviewer believes there is gold to be mined in "Predator II") left indelibly marked in its stunned, unsuspecting, gratified audience members. Because frankly, outside of a few well placed alien stingers/razor nets, claw to claw combat and impressive set designs, we don’t learn nuthin’. What we could learn is left behind to get to the next chase scene or mile-away telegraphed scare moment. Now a few readers and fellow critics might say, “What the hell are we supposed to learn from an action flick? Why should this pic be even remotely intellectual or emotionally resonant on any level if we paid admission to basically see rubber-suited stunt men rasslin’?”
"Hisss…Krkrkrkkr…Hisss… Kkrkrkrk…I just wrote better dialogue for this pic."
Well that’s very simple. It’s called history, and history defines the classic from the temporal. This film is the latest brick on a construction of classics (one series more so than the other; the Alien family’s original, complex contributions to the genre do tend to trump the more conventional aspects of the exciting, visceral, but hardly original Predator clan), and that should mean something- it should build on what has come before, delivering every bit of excitement, terror, and innovation that its predecessors brought to the table. These earlier films either introduced concepts or revolutionized concepts that had come before, and in doing so created movies that people remember, enjoy, and continue to watch over and over to this day.
The makers of “AvP” (yeah, I don’t want to use these asinine studio abbreviations either but it does save some keystrokes) could have accomplished this goal- they really could have- but instead chose the expedient, if not the easy path. In all fairness, I want it known that there is a measure of quality present- truly engaging visuals (the carvings in the Predator temple are complex, magnificent, and could have told the story better than some of the stilted monologues), some able performers if not performances, and some juicy ideas- all scattered throughout a rushed, overall mediocre product. Its just depressing- the tools were all there, and there are scant moments where you can see them almost utilized- but instead of carving a piece of art to behold and be treasured, something that stays with us, we get a MacDonald’s Happy Meal toy, absently played with for lack of something to do and then discarded on the ride home.
We have filmmakers eager to capitalize on nostalgia and sci-fi pop culture, grabbing attention and filling seats. Once that’s accomplished, why spend any time letting the audience make connections with characters or give them a truly heart-pounding thrill when there is tamed bloodletting and expensive pyrotechnics to be gotten to? After all, we now have the ability to compress the character elements to a few expositionary lines scribbled out by our crack Hollywood action writers who, I’m pleased to report, have watched at least 4 or 5 formula horror and action movies in their lifetimes (or just the last 5-10 years) and have applied those lessons here. Oh what the hell, let’s review a couple, yes just two easy lessons, just for shits and giggles:
Lesson 1: Quick and loud is the new black. Suspense, Buildup and Character Development are yesterday’s news, as fashionable as parachute pants or flannel shirts with the sleeves ripped off. We wanna see bang-bang and squishy-squishy and we want to see it NOW. How could those old-fogey movies like “Alien” wasted so much time bringing us into their main characters lives, letting us know their hopes, their loves, their quirks, their weaknesses and potential? Why did we sit through that whole stupid male bonding/communal moments and march through the jungle/facility in “Predator/Aliens” when we could just have the Predator/Aliens zip on down and begin with the stabby-stabby? And why in God’s name would you want your audience to feel the thick, quiet, stalking dread of a situation inexorably spiraling out of control when you can just throw em’ right in a strobe lit, high volume meat grinder and not worry about tension or the disquieting, uncomfortable atmosphere of stepping into an unknown, dangerous situation? Which brings us to Lesson 2:
Lesson 2: In a film bereft of the elements discussed in Lesson 1, the audience, a high percentage more intelligent than given credit most often times, and indeed most of the stupid ones, will inevitably fall back on their knowledge of what has come before and pretty much be 10, perhaps even 20 steps ahead of your film- they will know who dies, who lives, what blows up, what one needs to do to get out of a situation, what one shouldn’t do to get into a situation in the first place, in other words, the film will have played through in their heads far in advance of the climax or even the first act, as nothing new is being offered and there is no reason to do anything but let the bright, scattered images bounce no farther than the retina until the lights come up, with no impression having been left behind. Now you can circumvent this at the very least not by trudging down the route of cheap BOO! tactics others have tacked on to their shoddy non-horror films ad-nauseum, but hey, despite this rampant practice folks haven’t stopped buying tickets to crap like this yet, have they? So who cares?
In all fairness, any of the sci-fi-oriented out there, young or old will certainly appreciate, even relish the inhumanoid fight scenes, undimmed by PG-13 sensibilities thanks to gushing neon green or snot yellow creature blood spatter being more acceptable than social-maladjustment inducing red- you know, for you kiddies out there that have never had a blood test or bumped your knee, and God-forbid, would go batshit with a rifle at school if your tender, virgin sensibilities were assaulted by a completely exaggerated work of fiction- and a poor one at that. By the by, if there are actual kids answering to this description out there, could you do me a favor and figure out a way to make yourselves the predominant percentage of youth on the subway lines I take to work, and see milling around shopping plazas, cuz the useless, slack-jawed, thug-lummoxes that pass for teens I see stumbling around these days make a poor case for cinematic censorship or ratings systems- the damage is apparently already done. The funny thing is, the predecessor films made fighting the various creatures such a harrowing, nigh futile experience with such grisly consequences, no matter what weaponry or cunning characters had to rely on, that I did not want to be put in or recreate these situations in any way shape or form. Of course not being a retard with shitty parents that can’t help me distinguish right from wrong also helps.
Anyway, for the most part the battles are smartly shot up close and personal with performers in suits, CGI only making its appearance for moments when thousands of extras in alien suits would get too expensive or nobody feels like being thrown through a brick wall- at the very least the filmmakers should be applauded for keeping CGI to a minimum.
As a result, there is weight and presence to the creatures, and the fights are all the better and more captivating for it. But the fights are really all there are. Having no one to care about, be they human, predator or xenomorph, and having the plot so rushed, save for some of the ancient history on the relationship of the Predators and the Aliens which is truly fascinating and workable within the continuity of both films, there is not enough to give the film the push it needs to achieve greatness. Now for the folks who paid their admission to see the “versus” part, maybe that’s enough. But in the tired world of “Freddy vs. Jason, “Underworld vs. Van Helsing”, Ecks vs. Sever” and the absent yet terrifying threat of a potential “Superman vs. Batman,” well, I expect and want more from the venerable institutions of the Alien and Predator mythos.
Humans make appearances pretty much to provide for Xenomorph breeding stock so that there is an ample 3 to 1 Alien/Predator ratio. They are treated as cattle and that’s about all the characterization they get, lured to a Predator temple out in the Arctic wastes to provide face-hugger fodder and warm-ups for a traditional Predator hunt. They make all the right stupid moves, all the correct counterintuitive mistakes, wave guns with all the arrogant machismo, ignore all the blatant warnings and pout and glare suspiciously at anyone who suggests that this is not a good place to be, things should not be touched, and wouldn’t it be better if we all retired to the ship and had some cocoa? Christ, you would think these characters had seen one Indiana Jones movie, or even the frigging “Mummy” films- DO NOT TOUCH OR REMOVE ARTIFACTS IN TEMPLES. But this is a pseudo-horror movie, so of course stupidity must occur to further the plot.
I would have had these people rethink their actions and turn to leave only finding themselves herded in by the Predator contingent. That way I could not fault them for idiocy. This would have also made the team-up which occurs later in the film an even stranger grey area- with no clear path of right or wrong, just a matter of doing what needs to be done to survive (which is touched on, but… its all just so damn rushed. Better yet, I would have thrown out this cobbled together script and done the original plot from the comic book miniseries that provided some of the inspirations for this film- I have no idea what they could have possibly found wrong or flawed with that original plot. Oh well, wish in one hand, shit in the other...
Our main heroine, Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) ain’t no Ripley to be sure, but she’s certainly not terrible- Unfortunately she isn’t given all that much time to really let us really get to know her- our only real knowledge coming from stilted dialogue while meeting the rest of the expedition party and a quick moment at the beginning of the film showing us that she is an expert on ice climbing in the Arctic. Lance Henrikson shows up to collect a paycheck and let us know that there is a connection, however tenuous and uninteresting to the continuity of the Alien series (I would have paid Ian Holm a stipend to show up as his robotics expert to really cement it and maybe even the Gary Busey character from “Predator II” or even Dutch’s General pal from “Predator” on a conference call to cement that universe firmly- Busey would do it- “Predator II” was set in the “near” future, and he needs the work since his MTV reality show tanked). Lance then pretty much spends his 20 minutes in the film coughing and looking around in wonder until the obligatory hack and slash begins- ** Spoilers abound through the next bit of this rant**. The other characters fill their slots- ruthless Yes Man, scrawny, likeable intellectual that won’t possibly survive, handsome swarthy scholar that won’t possibly survive, pouty mercenaries, hot chick merc with contempt for any man who looks at her for more than two seconds, etc, etc, and they all die. Surprise surprise. Yawn.
The brilliance of the former Alien and Predator movies was that not only did we have time to see the catastrophe unfold, but we were given time to really get our pulse and adrenaline up for the inevitable confrontations, and only after we were introduced and connected to each and every character, even if it was through just one well-written line or ensemble moment- here the confrontations just happen- no suspense, no wait, the Predators land and kill everyone topside, everyone exploring the Predator temple either gets turned into an Alien breeding body or runs from both species- eventually a compromise is made between two of the species which is a really interesting idea but mostly unexplored, and then a character is basically left to the frozen wastes at the end of the film- I know she’s a survival expert, but Christ, she’s in the fucking Arctic with no supplies to speak of. Predator Muthafuckas can’t even give a bitch a lift?
“AvP” is what it is: Great production values, fun creature battles, and all the depth of a Toho Godzilla movie. And that was the point, right? Well… I guess so. It’s just a little sad. I remember a time when these formidable entities were more than just fodder for gimmicky cash cow movies.If the Director’s Cut left me this unsatisfied, I can only imagine the frustration of a fan seeing the theatrical version (not that you missed much, I can tell you). I have nothing funny to add- it’s too much of letdown.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10370&reviewer=358
originally posted: 05/17/05 16:05:35