Monday, June 23, 2014


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*

Though I can get as jazzed as anyone by the crossovers of famous monsters, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR underwhelmed me both times that I watched it.

Though it borrows from the 1979 ALIEN's basic structure-- this time placing a bunch of hapless humans in a "haunted alien temple" rather than a "haunted spaceship"-- the script by director Paul W.S. Anderson, Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett feels more like a film in the Predator series. In so doing the film more or less follows the lead set by the 1989 Dark Horse "Alien vs. Predator" comic book, except that the comic kept the action in the far future of the ALIEN films.  This film is the first in the ALIEN franchise to take place in modern times.

The script conflicts with the seminal "Predator" concept, in which a race of hunter-aliens choose to stalk human beings using their skills and advanced technology. AVP, however, imagines that back in prehistoric times a group of Predators constructed a subterranean complex beneath the surface of an island in Antarctica. The island was in those days inhabited by human beings manipulated by the Predators into maintaining a cult of worship to the aliens, though the humans' main purpose was to serve as incubators for the Predators' real prey, the Aliens. I suppose absolute agreement is a chimera, though, and one could always claim that AVP takes place in an "alternate universe."

Though the sacrificial human culture has long vanished, the Predators apparently take it into their heads to revisit Earth in 2004 and start up another Alien-hunt.  From the depths of space the aliens re-activate the machines in their complex. This results in an energy-signature spotted via satellite. Fatally-ill billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) seizes upon this event, mounting an expedition to investigate the anomaly.  He's in a great hurry to do so, purportedly to keep other forces from descending on the anomaly, though no competing explorations are ever seen. He enlists a savvy young arctic guide named Alex Woods (Sanaa Lathan) to lead the expedition.  Alex, Weyland and their companions make their way down into the subterranean world, only to find themselves caught between the hunter and his prey.

The battles between the Predators and their Alien foes are vivid, but they're the only part of the film with any energy. Even compared to your average SYFY-monster-hunt, the characters are tedious and lacking in tenable motivation. Talented pro Henriksen has nothing to work with, and it's impossible to tell how good Sanaa Lathan might have been with a well-written role. But her Alex is even more underwritten than the cop-protagonist of PREDATOR 2-- and she's nowhere near the heroic heights of either Weaver's Ripley from the ALIEN franchise or Arnold's "Dutch" from the first-- and still best-- PREDATOR film.

The honor-oriented hunter-culture of the Predators is adequately realized here, and is the sole reason I give this film a "fair" rating.

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