Alien vs. Predator (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Alien vs. Predator Poster

Alien Vs. Predator is a gimmick - an all-too-blatant attempt to lure fanboys away from their computer games and into theaters. It's not likely that the movie will be of great interest to anyone else, except perhaps as a curiosity. As an attempt to revive two flagging franchises, the film succeeds in reminding us of how far they have fallen. Sure, the Aliens in Alien Vs. Predator look just like their Aliens counterparts, but gone is the creepy terror they once produced. And, compared to the hunter of Predator, the creatures in this movie turn out to be pushovers.

As promised by the title, the movie does indeed feature battles between Aliens and Predators, although you have to wait until the final 30 minutes to get to that point. And, by then, due in large part to poor direction and non-existent character development, you may be asleep. Helmsman Paul W. S. Anderson (not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson - this is the Resident Evil/Event Horizon guy) has no grasp of why the first two Alien movies and the original Predator were successful - atmosphere and pacing. Alien Vs. Predator has neither. It drags interminably, and a lot of the scenes are too murky to see anything. Anderson tries to copy some of the things done by Ridley Scott, John McTiernan, and James Cameron, but his second-rate imitations do little more than emphasize the chasm that exists between him and his more accomplished predecessors.

Alien Vs. Predator throws us into the Antarctic with an archeological expedition put together by Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, sort-of reprising the character he portrayed in Aliens and Alien 3). Most of the people on this team are just faceless Alien-fodder, but there are three that stand-out. The first is Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), who is the film's attempt to replicate Sigourney Weaver. The second is Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova), who is recognizable because he survives longer than almost anyone else. And the third is Graeme Miller (Ewan Bremner), whose accent singles him out. Anyway, this group gets stuck in a pyramid deep beneath the surface. After wandering around in the dark for a while, they start encountering things that go bump in the night. It turns out they have wandered into a killing war between three Predators and their Alien quarry - not a good place to be if you want to have a life expectancy of greater than 10 minutes.

The movie offers little in the way of interesting revelations, other than a couple of nods to established Alien and Predator continuity. The highlights of the production, at least for its core audience, are the battle scenes. Unfortunately, they're disappointing. Instead of being on a grand scale, they're usually one-on-one struggles, and they typically don't last very long. Plus, the camera work and editing are so shoddy that it's sometimes impossible to figure out what's going on. And, since our "rooting interest" is supposed to lie with the plastic, one-dimensional humans, we're forced to see them get involved when we would rather just watch the two ugly extraterrestrial species go at it. The ending isn't any less credible than the rest of the film, but the "surprise" coda is so silly and expected that it has no shock value whatsoever.

Ever since Universal tried to milk a few more dollars from their struggling '30s monster movies by bringing together the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster, Hollywood has embraced these kind of combination endeavors. (Although the most ludicrous of these, King Kong Vs. Godzilla, was made in Japan.) Alien Vs. Predator is in the tradition of those movies, except that it lacks the camp value. This is a dull, plodding, ultra-serious feature that has a lot more in common with a video game than a motion picture. And, for those who consider themselves to be true fans of the Alien movies (and, to a lesser extent, the Predator ones), this will be a depressing experience. It's as if their favorite bad guys have been replaced by shadowy imitations.

The film is critic-proof and it will find an audience, but it's hard to imagine even the film's target demographic (teenage boys) being overly enthusiastic about the product. It's disposable entertainment of the worst kind, and its first-weekend popularity will be a testimony to how low our standards of suitable movie-making have fallen. Alien Vs. Predator has no characters and no story. But it has name recognition, and, in today's market, that's often more important. Plus, it's rated PG-13 (although one can quibble with that - there's quite a bit of blood and gore to be found, making one wonder exactly where the dividing line between PG-13 and R is). Time will tell whether this is the last time the Aliens and Predators grace the screen, but, based on what's in evidence here, if they return again to tussle, I'll find something better to do with my time.

Alien vs. Predator (United States, 2004)

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewan Bremner, Colin Salmon, Tommy Flanagan, Joseph Rye
Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cinematography: David Johnson
Music: Harald Kloser
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2004-08-13
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1