So remember, even if you ain’t got time to bleed, in the Video Vault no-one can hear you scream…
And so we delve into the dubious crossover arena – Whoever wins – Steven Neish loses…
What do the words ‘A Paul W. S. Anderson film’ mean to you?
Call me easily pleased but I’ve always enjoyed the director’s Resident Evil franchise. While this dubious declaration might suggest I enjoyed his Alien vs. Predator movie, I must first acknowledge that the Paul W. S. Anderson directed first and fourth instalments of Resident Evil are the two I had the hardest time enjoying. Also a videogame adaptation, AvP shares more than just its source material with the Milla Jovovich vehicle, it also shares many of Anderson’s directorial strengths and weaknesses.
Ever since the alien skull was first teased at the end of Predator 2, a small part of me has been awaiting this movie with bated breath. Trapped in development hell for years, Anderson finally brought it to cinemas – complete with a number of story elements straight from the 1989 comic that started it all. Arriving in 2004, Alien vs. Predator pits alien against Alien for the first time on the big screen.
The movie runs on the premise that Predators (or Predatoids as Anderson dubs them) have been visiting Earth for centuries; using a frozen Alien queen, a labyrinthine pyramid – straight out of The Mummy – and sacrificial human subjects to train fledgeling hunters. When his interests are sparked by anomalous heat signals, Charles Bishop Weyland puts together an expedition to an abandoned whaling station that just happens to share an Antarctic island with said extra-terrestrial hotspot.
Accompanying Weyland (a game Lance Henriksen reprises his role of Bishop, retrofitting character quirks from his android legacy) on his expedition are mountain climbing (A)lex Wood, snap-happy Graeme Miller and archaeologist Sebastian De Rosa. Separated from their comrades by some clockwork wall reconfigurement, the team are caught in the middle of a ritualistic skirmish – one made possible by some incongruous tampering with established continuity that sees the xenemorph gestation period shrink from days to mere minutes.
To show that I’m serious about giving this crossover a fair hearing I am willing to look past the infantile script, excellerated incubation periods and even the bumbling Scottish ‘comic’ relief. For all its flaws, I still paid to see Alien vs. Predator and I did not leave the cinema completely unentertained.
Tied into the Alien mythology through the involvement of Henriksen, and expanding both franchises with a mid feature flashback that is genuinely impressive, Alien vs. Predator does have its share of redeeming features. Among the positives are a few very nice franchise touches. The cryogenically frozen alien queen for example, and her subsequent surface level T-Rex attack – straight out of Jurassic Park, momentarily have the pulse pounding and the jaw dropped.
Furthermore, Miller’s short term victory against one face hugger – only for the camera to pull away and reveal a room-full – adds a nice touch of intentional humour to a film so plagued by laughter of the unattentional variety. Even the Predator’s tried and tested method of killing facehuggers – a small moment, I grant you – just adds an extra dimension to film which, as its sequel proved, could have been so throw-away.
What is so infuriating about Alien v. Predator is that it is just so…so…child friendly. For a franchise steeped in sexual symbolism and the male fear of pregnancy – and another so tied to gruesome trophy hunting – this crossover is distinctly lacking in adult content. Faced with aliens, imminent death and an incomprehensible Rubik’s pyramaid, it is jarring that nobody swears and nobody really bleeds – red that is. While this one limitation – and this one limitation alone – will be rectified in the sequel, we are left with a film that utilises subtlety in all of the wrong places – the creatures are desensitised to viewers through their overuse while the word ‘bitch’ stands awkwardly as the films worst language.
Also jarring is the poorly implemented mix of CGI and puppery. While either could have done a perfectly acceptable job, some of the computer generated scenes actually prove feature highlights, the rampant fluctuations from animatronics to special effects draw too much attention. When animated the aliens looks sleek and fast, proving that they can still be scary creations even when not steeped in darkness; when the xenemorphs are clearly just men in suits, however, any threat is lost and with no stakes the fight sequences hold little interest for audiences.
Ultimately, the film – which is undoubtedly a neutered and inferior addition to the two franchises that came before – manages to wriggle its way out of obsolescence with some nice additions to the extant mythology and a sense of fun and cool that keeps bums on seats while the men in suits thump each other onscreen. For what it is – a comic-book/video-game wouldn’t-it-be-cool adaptation – however, Alien vs. Predator certainly gets the job done. While too shallow for an Alien film and too watered-down for a Predator film, Alien vs. Predator is nevertheless the best AvP film you are ever likely to see.
So, what do the words ‘A Paul W. S. Anderson film’ mean to you? To me, the declaration promises a videogame adaptation that squanders exemplary source material in favour of cheap thrills and the biggest demographic; that critics and fans will uniformly deride it; and that at some point in the narrative there will be a holographic underground pyramid.
Like Resident Evil, however, Aliens vs. Predator somehow overcomes its many flaws to grant it watchability and a welcome place on my list of guilty pleasures.