A film review by Craig J. Koban

 

ALIENS VS. PREDATOR jj

2004, PG-13, 90 mins.

 

Sanaan Lathan: Alexa Woods / Raoul Bova: Sebastian De Rosa / Lance Henrickson: Charles Bishop Weyland / Ewen Bremmer: Graeme Miller / Colin Salmon: Maxwell Satford

Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

 

First there was KRAMER VS. KRAMER.  Then came the aptly titled FREDDY VS. JASON.  Whatís next, you ask?  How about the long awaited ALIEN VS PREDATOR.  This is the single best ďversusĒ film of recent memory.  Nay, scratch that last comment.  ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is clearly the best film I have seen that involves man-hunting Predators fighting salivating Aliens. 

Okay, letís be bit more serious here. I am not altogether sure what audience members (and critics, for that matter) are expecting from this.  For such simply descriptive title, the film superficially delivers.  Yes, we see lots of cool Predators battle lots of despicable Aliens.  So, on those primal and obvious levels, the film is fun.  Of course, itís also relentlessly stupid at its core, populated by characters that are as wooden and lifeless as a two-by-four occupying a plot that is essentially meaningless and inane at its foundations. 

This film is a real paradox.  It's dumb and witless, yet it does provide us with what we kind of expect.  It's essentially critic proof, and those expecting life-affirming characters revealing some sort of hidden truths about themselves and the world are missing the point of this film.  ALIEN VS. PREDATOR may be a cash cow of a film, one that is ostensibly a single-premise gimmick that reveals itself as one of the many in a long list of disposable entertainments that donít illicit much thought days after you watch it.   Yet, it does deliver on what fanboys have desired ever since they saw an Alien skull aboard the Predator ship in PREDATOR 2.  The film is a narrative and character deadzone, but it is filmed with polish and sophistication, and the visuals and action are first rate.  Oxymorons aside, itís kind of a good-bad film. 

Okay, the film sure takes its sweet time to deliver us the equally sweet battles between the Aliens and Predators.  The first 30 minutes or so are enormously slow and ponderous, and introduces us to silly characters that all have the collective lifespan of about 50 or so minutes. They are not fully realized characters, but rather targets for the ever-vigilante eyes of the extraterrestrials that preoccupy the film.  You arenít going to find a character of the calibre or raw charisma of Sigourney Weaver or Arnold Schwarzenegger in this film.  Rather, the characters are a mix-bagged of clichťs that are largely expendable.  The only true pleasure in watching them is to try to discern who will be picked off first because, quite frankly, their dialogue so hopelessly terrible and bland that the grunts, growls, and hisses of the antagonists sparkle with more intelligence.   

Thorough discussion of the filmís plot would seem redundant, as itís only a crutch by which the main battle scenes sit upon.  Nevertheless, itís my job as critic to keep you up to speed.  The film details an Antarctic archaeological expedition put together by an enigmatic man named Charles Bishop Weyland (played by the always resourceful Lance Hendrickson, the Bishop is a clear throwback and reference to his character in ALIENS).  Joining him on his trek is a series of bad actors that make highly digestible alien food, not to mention great targets for the Predator's swords, lasers, and spears.  They are all completely useless in the sense that they are not really fully realized personalities more than they are helpless victims in the impeding alien war. 

A few of them are somewhat noteworthy.  Alexa Woods (Sanna Lathan) is kind of molded as the Ripley from the first Alien film, but she just does not have the fiery determination and toughness to make an effective protagonist.  You believe that Ripley had the tenacity and guts to make it out of her situation alive; with Woods itís an absolute miracle.  There is also Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova) and Graeme Miller (Ewan Bremmer), the latter who is one of the more annoying characters in the film who tries to play his part with intelligence and wit and comes across in desperate need of either an acting lesson or workable dialogue.  He is one of the more unintentional funny characters in the film, and often serves the purpose of stating the absolute obvious.  When the party arrives at what clearly is a sarcophagus, he tells the party (and us), ďThis is an ancient sarcophagus.Ē  Equally pain inducing is when he sees one of the Predators mark a body when he kills an opponent, where Bremmer again informs us, ďItís marking his body as a form of a ritual.Ē  Gee, ya figure!? 

Well, the party of targets... er, I mean scientists,  goes over a thousand feet below the surface of the artic and uncovers what appears to be an ancient pyramid that looks thousands of years old.  Itís so old and archaic, yet it contains hieroglyphics that are quite conveniently translated by one of the scientists.  In one scene that stretches believability to the max, he reads one of them on the wall that details the entire origins of the Predator/Alien war.  I guess the Predators have come to Earth thousands of years in the past, taught humans many things like building pyramids and other non-sense, but also managed to use humans as breeding chambers for the Aliens so the Predators can engage in a war with them, or something like that.  Of course, when it appears that the Predators are about to lose this war in the past (its told in a flashback) they set off one of those pesky doomsday bombs that obliterates everything. 

Funny, the pyramid managed to stay erect, especially after a thousand feet of ice and snow later covered it.  Equally amazing is the prospect of not finding any artifacts, like bones of the Aliens and Predators, but I digress.   Anyway, the Predators show up and will kick the tar out of anything that gets in their way in pursuit of their ancient grudge match versus the Aliens.  Of course, the stupid humans have set off an ancient machine that harvests and breeds the face huggers, which we all remember that will lead to the birthing of those infamous Aliens that are all teeth, saliva, and acid.  Make no mistake about it -  all hell does in fact break loose. 

The story and its characters are fairly dreadful.  Part of the silly pleasure in a film like this is to try to determine who will be picked off first and by what Alien entity.  The deaths that do occur are gruesome, but not enough to warrant the R rating I guess (the film got a PG-13, but its a pretty hard PG-13).  This is not a film of big reveals, interesting characters, or well-grounded storylines.  Instead, itís a 90-minute action film that, more or less, is about showing us lots of fights between the two extraterrestrials.  On those levels, the film is not technically a letdown.

The film was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who also is  responsible for making some of the biggest stinkers of the last few years (most notably, SOLDIER and EVENT HORIZON).  Yes, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is by no means a good film, but Anderson has a good eye for visual detail and also maintains an understanding of the right use of good, balanced special effects techniques.  This film was surprising in the sense that it does not engage in CGI overkill, rather it uses lots of makeup, costumes, and other slight of hand tricks.  Sure, there is CGI used in the film (especially in one great moment where thousands of Aliens storm up the pyramid to fight the Predators), but it's pretty well integrated into the main action.  Anderson makes great use of some fine special effects, and some of the fight scenes in the film are quite well handled.  The action does not generate the same type of visceral scares and thrills that the previous films of James Cameron and Ridley Scott provided, but thereís no denying that Anderson frames them with precision and a fair amount of big, goofy flare.  ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is a great looking bad film. 

Maybe the one BIG problem with this film is how relentlessly serious it takes the proceedings.  The film seems so engrossed by its own grandeur that it forgot that it really should have been a B-movie throwback.  A radical change of tone would have made the film much more fun and digestible, especially when it comes to moments of sheer lunacy that have to be seen to be believed.  One of my favourites involves a human survivor ďteaming upĒ with one of the Predators to face off against the Queen Alien.  I am not really sure why the Predator, an established alien that cares little for humans, would warm up to an earthly companion. 

Another laugh-infested moment occurs when the same Predator and human board a hydraulic lift and get rocketed up a tunnel thousands of feet to avoid being destroyed by an explosive blast.  Sweet Lord, but when is Hollywood going to get it straight and realize that it's physically impossible to escape the speed of a explosive gush of fire.  Gawd!   Another thing Iíll never understand is how the Aliens manage to travel to different planets?  They are such malevolent creatures that seem to have no real intelligence, how in the world did they develop interstellar travel?  Maybe if the film was a bit more more whimsical, then these ideas would have been easier to take. 

I just donít know where to go with this film.  Itís completely innocuous and terrible on a story level, but it nevertheless delivers on its promises of a lot of high-octane action scenes involving the pairing of every fanboy's dream.  The film is dull, lifeless, and lethargic, and is nothing like the tense and taut previous films in the series.  No, this is not a character study or even a worthy sequel to the Alien or Predator franchises, but I am not too sure that this film is trying to be more than the glorified video game it is.  Itís not a film of creepy terror or smart personas, but rather a flimsy and ill-conceived narrative that frames together a series of battle scenes that are fairly well-handled.  The film does not play great, but it sure looks fantastic. 

I think that diehard fans of the series will not come out of this film praising it as a new classic entry.  Parts of it are guilty fun; even more parts are criminally awful.  In short, the film does not hide from what it is -  a cornball sci-fi film that lacks real substance,  but it does supply us with what we want.  If you want lots of scenes of Predators impaling, trapping, and killing several humans and Aliens and many moments of Aliens hissing, salivating, and bursting out of chest cavities to battle their other alien adversaries, then this is your film.  All other viewers... stay the hell clear. 

By the way, the Predators win.  Was there any doubt in the world?

 

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