Wednesday, December 26, 2012

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

When (Cinematic) Worlds Collide

- Aliens (1986) director James Cameron described the AVP (Alien vs. Predator) franchise perfectly. One the one hand, Cameron said Alien vs. Predator (2004) is just like "Frankenstein Meets Werewolf." Cameron is absolutely 100% right! A franchise stemming from two originally unconnected films (Alien (1979) and Predator (1987) - fully materializing after a 5th Alien sequel fell through), a comic book series and video game, Aliens vs. Predator was created superficially by Universal Studios. With dollar signs in their eyes, the studio execs hoped that AVP would rake in the dough from the young demographic with its promise of action and gore. However, Cameron continued by saying "then I saw Alien vs. Predator and it was actually pretty good!" Cameron hits it right on the mark again! Despite what one might assume (I surely did), Alien vs. Predator ends up not as bad as it is supposed to be.

The story (developed by original Alien writing team Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett) takes place in 2004 (the earliest setting for an Alien-related film) when an archeological phenomenon in Antarctica gets the attention of the Weyland Corp., Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Hendriksen) assembles a team, led by Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), to investigate the discovery. What the team soon discovers however is that they are trapped in the middle of an ancient battle between two alien races.

Paul W.S. Anderson's 1997 film Event Horizon is often compared to Ridley Scott's Alien so Anderson was an ideal choice to helm a crossover between the Alien and Predator worlds. His direction, while not particularly impressive, does not exactly disappoint. AVP is not without its obvious problems. Most of the characters are pretty flat, acting out the most predictable plot points and squeezing in a stupid one-liner before either killing aliens or getting killed themselves. Although a lot of very noticeable flaws exist in the film, the photography and special effects are quite enjoyable. Perhaps a little too in-love with the slow-motion technique, Anderson generally assembles a pretty good-looking and exciting picture out of AVP. So the viewer is left with a mixed bag: the characters and script are a bit dodgy but look of the movie is kind of a hit. I would say that the special effects and look of the film alone make AVP at least not awful and at best marginally worthwhile.

The film sees both sides of the quality spectrum with its poor script but enjoyable visuals. The cast coasts in the center of this spectrum, being serviceable at best. Sanaa Lathan does a genuinely good job working around the generally poor dialogue and weak castmates she was forced to work with, creating a believable character out of the adventuring Alexa Woods. Lance Henderiksen (who co-starred in both Aliens and Alien 3 (1991)) is also fairly impressive as Weyland Corp. head Charles Bishop Weyland largely thanks to his naturally commanding screen presence. The film is full of recognizable supporting faces: Tommy Flanagan (Gladiator (2000)), Ewen Bremner (Black Hawk Down (2001)) and Colin Salmon (The World Is Not Enough (1999)). Unfortunately, Lathan and Hendriksen give the only two performances that are worth any kind of praise.

But what I found particularly enjoyable about AVP was how the film depicts the interaction with the predators, (xenomorph) aliens and humans. Perhaps an odd couple on original consideration, the predators and xenomorph aliens are a good match for one another. Both aliens were actually (at least partially) developed by special effects artist Stan Winston and there is a clear match between the phallic facial features of the alien and the vaginal features of the predator. The film attempts to give a backstory that intertwines the three races throughout history (to be slightly borrowed from by Ridley Scott's Alien prequel Prometheus (2012)) some of which works and some of which does not. Part of the story that does not work is not the fault of Anderson for the whole of AVP, it just ends up clashing with what Ridley Scott decided to develope for his Alien prequel Prometheus. I would argue that Scott's vision for the series ends up the more interesting of the two but AVP can only be faulted so much.

However, the best aspect of the film is that we see much more character out of the predators than what has been portrayed on film in the past, which makes AVP a much more important film for the Predator series. In the great original Predator, the predator was a mysterious hunter but the race was unfortunately not further explored in the mediocre sequel. However, in AVP the predators are shown to have a culture and moral code which gives depth to the series. Naturally, the exact opposite occurs for the Alien creatures. Unlike how the film appreciates the culture and honor of the predator aliens, the xenomorph aliens are presented as little more than animals. While this depiction of the alien creatures is partly accurate in the series, it also goes against a lot that is seen in the previous Alien series which hints at a clear alien intelligence.

I feared the worst as I began my journey into the back allies of the Alien series known as the Alien vs. Predator franchise but the 2004 Paul W.S. Anderson film was surprisingly entertaining. One could suggest that perhaps my expectations were so low that nothing could have been bad enough to disappoint. To that I say - OH YEAH? Well, maybe *your* standards are just too high?! Certainly not as interesting, stylish or impressive as other films in either the Alien or Predator series, AVP does manage to entertain as a bloody blow'em'up sci-fi flick.

Unfortunately, the AVP sequel could not match strides.

CBC Rating: 6/10

No comments: