Wednesday, December 26, 2007

REVIEW: Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem

Hey, Hollywood genre-producer guys? If you are considering making a movie in which two warring teams of otherworldly creatures stage their conflict down here on Earth and get it in your heads to focus chiefly on the "human story;" speaking as one of your CORE demographics, allow me to paraphrase Mssrs. Simon and Garfunkle and ask that you hear my words that I might teach you: Nobody who's going to see this movie GIVES A SHIT about the humans or their story. This kind of back-asswards overthinking already resulted in "Transformers," the worst movie of 2007, and now results in "AVP:R," an entirely worthy challenger for the title.

Oh, and directors "The Brothers Strause?" I appreciate your fine contributions to the industry as visual effects supervisors on some really wonderful movies. I also appreciate, more to the point, that you probably went to film school and know that framing practical-effects creatures in near-silhouette darkness makes for great production stills and lets you say your making a "classic"-style monster movie in interviews... but here's the thing: EVERYBODY already knows what the Aliens and Predators look like. This is the SEVENTH installment of the now-combined franchise. You're not being visually clever, your just making your movie SUCK MORE.

Here's how we got here: More than a decade ago, an art designer or two on "Predator 2" thought it'd be a fun background gag to include the skull of the title monsters from the "Alien" movies among the alien big-game hunter's trophy collection. The gag spawned a premise - "whoa, the Predator hunting the Alien? AWESOME!!!" - that begat a series of video games, comic books and fandom flights-of-fancy that made an actual FILM based on the idea innevitable as soon as the still-ongoing "Alien" series officially hit the wall; which happened in Part 4.

Enter well-meaning schlock-auteur Paul W.S. Anderson, who had won the hearts of genre fanboys with "Event Horizon" and lost it with "Resident Evil," to step up (and get "it" back) with "Alien Vs. Predator," a big blow-out B-movie epic which all-told was probably YARDS better than anyone should've reasonably expected: Tons of fun, tons of action, a plausible in-continuity reason to "officially" combine the plots of the two franchises and, most-importantly: Scene after scene of Aliens VERSUS Predators. Predators wailing on hordes of Aliens with high-tech hunting gear? Done. Predator infra-red vision to see who's carrying a Chestburster? Done. Predators and Aliens slamming eachother around in bad-ass hand-to-hand brawls? Done. Predator versus a full-charging rampaging Queen Alien? Even THAT was done! All that plus Lance Henriksen and a fun re-visitation of "Chariots of The Gods" for no extra charge.

So, in the immortal words of William Hurt in "A History of Violence".... "How do you fuck that up?"

The sequel opens immediately following the first film, as a Predator ship experiences a nasty Alien outbreak and crashes into a forest surrounding a rural American town. In response, a lone Predator makes tracks for Earth on a mission to eradicate the threat and cover up all evidence, bringing with him a helpful cache of weapons and a MORE helpful total disregard for how many humans he also has to slay in the course of his mission. A wrinkle is added in that the nominal "alpha male" of the rapidly-expanding Alien brood is "Predalien" - a hulking half-Predator/half-Alien bruiser borne of the Aliens' habit of assimilating the characteristics of the species they symbiotically "hatch" from. The small-town Americana under monster-infestation setting is obviously supposed to put us in the mood of "Gremlins" or "Monster Squad," but the execution almost-immediately reeks of lesser offerings like "Masters of The Universe" or "Pod People."

You'd think this kind of setup would be a golden opportunity for an action movie to completely cut loose: The premise explains itself visually in an instant (monster with dreadlocks has to kill all the monsters with big phallic heads) and your instantly dynamic-looking lead characters are all FX creations TOTALLY maleable to filmmaker control (latex rubber doesn't have a "bad skin day") who don't speak any recognizable language. In other words, a film with a perfectly plot-appropriate excuse for dialogue-free FX-spawned carnage. So, naturally, the first thing the film does is pile on the humans and the superfluous story points: Two deliquent brothers, two would-be girlfriends, a bunch of high-school bullies, some cops, etc. Getting the most attention are a little girl and her fresh-home-from-Iraq soldier mom, because it's a franchise tradition that while a Predator will do in a pinch, the only REAL natural enemy of the Alien is a butch mother-figure in a tank top.

The "R" in "AVP:R" officially means "Requiem," but it's REAL reason for being is as a direct advertisement that this sequel hits theatres with an appropriate R-rating, one of the major complaints against the original PG-13 film. These are R-rated characters, yes, so this is very appropriate... but all the gore in the world can't help when it's so poorly photographed and so damned dark all the time. The only scene that honestly seems to earn this designation comes when the Predalien and his fellows make a "snack run" to a hospital Maternity Ward. Gruesome stuff, to be sure, but at this point the film has already lost all but the most undiscerning viewer's interest. PG-13 or not, even the THEATRICAL CUT of the original movie had ten times the solid monster-vs-monster action of this sequel.

Everything is either shot in total darkness or total darkness with a silhouette-creating spotlight behind it, so we never get a good look at ANY of the title monsters or even the megahyped Predalien. Bad CGI, worse acting and a total lack of editorial coherence conspire to craft a film that isn't interesting to look at at any point of it's running time. It's an absolute dud, no two ways about it, and a truly depressing dissapointment.

FINAL RATING: 2/10

5 comments:

Nate said...

Here's how we got here: More than a decade ago, an art designer or two on "Predator 2" thought it'd be a fun background gag to include the skull of the title monsters from the "Alien" movies among the alien big-game hunter's trophy collection. The gag spawned a premise - "whoa, the Predator hunting the Alien? AWESOME!!!" - that begat a series of video games, comic books and fandom flights-of-fancy that made an actual FILM based on the idea innevitable as soon as the still-ongoing "Alien" series officially hit the wall; which happened in Part 4.

Ummm... Bob: WRONG!

The comic for AvP came out BEFORE Predator 2.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aliens_vs._Predator_%28comic_book%29
"According to the notes which accompany the first Aliens vs. Predator graphic novel, the original idea of combining Aliens with Predators was the result of a brain-storming session between the comic's authors (Chris Warner is specifically credited) in the late 1980s."

As a result of that comic book brain storming session, the makers of Pred2 put in the Alien Skull as a tribute (or "shout out") to the comic. The premise was spawned LONG before Pred 2, what the movie did, was move the premise into the general mindset.

Seriously Bob, I'm revoking your Geek card. (well, not your Video Game geek card - just your AvP universe geek card) How could you not like this movie? It had MORE predator and aliens in it then the ORIGINAL AvP comic (which the first script was based on). Although they could have added a bit more lighting.

The only scene that honestly seems to earn this designation comes when the Predalien and his fellows make a "snack run" to a hospital Maternity Ward.

Umm.... it wasn't a "snack run" Bob, it was a "rape run". Seriously, can you rework your own badly edited post there? ;-)

Bob said...

"Ummm... Bob: WRONG!

The comic for AvP came out BEFORE Predator 2."


Duely noted, my bad.

"How could you not like this movie?"

See above.

"It had MORE predator and aliens in it then the ORIGINAL AvP comic"

And? It doesn't have even as much as the first film, and what it does have is lame. The Aliens jump around in the background while a single Predator shoots plasma rockets at them. That's 90% of the monster-fighting action in this movie. We get a few badly-edited wrasslin' scenes and a poorly-lit fistfight with the underwhelming Predalien at the end, and that's it.

Nate said...

Good point, though I'm pretty sure it has both more raw time focusing on the baddies even though there were fewer predators this time than before, there were definitely more aliens. Although in movie 1, even those first 2 preds died pretty quick so we had 90% of the movie with... 1 predator.

I will echo that I did like the fight scenes in AvP 1 (especially at the end with the queen, the main reason I bought it) but on the flip side, this movie played like how the predator/alien dynamic would REALLY work (IMHO). Although the fight at the end was cool.

Can we both agree on hoping that the 3rd movie will find a happy median? ;-)

Nate said...

Oh btw, minor technicality I also stand corrected:
The comic was being worked on before Pred 2 but the actual release of it came after the movie aired. You know how those productions work such that sometimes the actual air dates don't match up see: ecks vs sever [however that's spelled].

T said...

I'd have to disagree with you on the amount of monster-fighting. This one definitely had more. In the original, we get the initial quick brawls which kill the other predators, the one really big fight scene where the hero predator kills three of them, a chase and a few small shootings, a big explosion and the fight with the queen. There are at least five big fight scenes between the predator and aliens in this one with new gags (and weapons) and lots of good physical fighting. Hell, the movie opens with them fighting.

And I'm not sure if they had the projector bulb turned down where you saw it, but I had no problem with being able to make out what's going on or seeing the predator. As for the aliens, we see them in about the same amount of light and detail as Cameron showed them. As the Sprouse brothers have noted in an interview explaining why the movie takes place at night, no matter how great the design and the quality of the suit, if you pump enough light on the aliens, they become actors in suits. Both Ridley Scott and James Cameron understood that as well.

And I definitely wouldn't rank this as low as Transformers. In that one the title characters themselves were awful. Here at least the aliens and predators are true to form. Plus, while the human characters are banal and boring here (with the exception of Reiko Aylesworth who is sadly given little to do and Robert Joy who manages to make his single profile shot interesting), at least they aren't as aggressively obnoxious as the humans in Transformers.