Alien vs. Predator (2004): Film Review

EDITOR’S NOTE: With ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM now on screens, we offer a flasback review of 2004’s ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.
The long-anticipated movie monster match-up (which had been in development for decades) turns out to be a considerable disappointment, dumbing the ALIEN series down to the level of a videogame. Fortunately, the film is not a complete misfire on the level of mindless entertainment: the funny thing is, it’s exactly what you would expect it to be, as long as you don’t expect too much. Some reason is contrived to get some hapless humans stuck in between a rock and a hard place, and then lots of people die as the special effects team goes crazy depicting the battle between the two franchise stars.
The result is not too horrible, but it’s not nearly the exciting slugfest it could have been. At least writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson had the sense of humor to include a clip from FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN early on – proving he realizes that he is simply making contrived movie monster match-up that no one can take seriously. ALIEN series star Sigourney Weaver wisely took a pass, but Lance Henrikesen shows up as an “ancestor” of the android Bishop seen in ALIENS and ALIEN 3.
The scenario basically takes a videogame approach, placing a bunch of characters in a pyramid, where they move from room to room, encountering dangers and traps they must overcome if they are to survive and move on to the next room. Unfortunately, this pyramid is set on present day Earth, which seems a bit ridiculous. We’re supposed to believe the predators created it and populated it with aliens as a kind of training field for their young hunters, but it makes nonsense of the story of the original ALIEN, which was supposed to show humankind’s first encounter with the predatory beast.
The script also cheats a bit with the predators, who are supposed to attack only armed opponents. Here, they pretty much just clear out the whole place like exterminators routing vermin – which is about as much sympathy as the film generates for the victims. The cast is competent but undistinguished, but who can blame them when they’re basically playing grist for the meat grinder?
Anderson’s biggest mistake is that he unwisely opts for favoring the predators over the aliens, overlooking the obvious: The aliens, as frightening as they may be, are – in at least one sense – innocent: they act from instinct, doing what is in their nature to survive. Hating them – or calling them evil – would make as much sense as hating a tiger, a shark, or a T-Rex. In fact, there’s even a certain elegance and beauty to their predatory nature (although it’s definitely something one would prefer to admire at a distance).

The predators, on the other hand, truly are vile beings. They’re from a highly technological society, which means they’ve had plenty of time to evolve, and yet they still haven’t moved past the primitive notion that killing other forms of life is noble. Sure, they seem to have some kind of code that governs their hunt, but they don’t kill for food or to survive; they kill for trophies.
As if realizing this distinction between the two species, about a third of the way through ALIEN VS PREDATOR, the film has its one great moment. After several humans have been killed , a predator is closing in on a trio of potential victims, including the female lead. When all hope seems lost, the predator is suddenly impaled by an alien tail and hoisted helplessly into the air. You want to cheer as this ruthless killer suddenly finds the tables turned.
Alas, the film does not fulfill this early promise. The human characters conclude that the aliens are a far bigger threat, because they could overrun the entire Earth if they escape from the subterranean pyramid in the Antarctic, where the story is set. Adopting the dubious philosophy that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” our protagonist teams up with one of the predtors to kill the aliens, and we’re suposed to feel gratitude when the predator saves the heroine’s life.
Here’s the problem: This pyramid was built by the predators specifically for the hunt, and they use humans as hosts to breed aliens as their prey. In other words, the human-predator detente isn’t really a matter of two species teaming up to fight a common enemy; in fact, the terrible situation exists solely because the predators created it and lured the human expedition into it, killing almost all of them in the process.
It’s probably not a good thing when a feature film reminds you of the Three Stooges. It’s especially bad when the reminder is that the Three Stooges handled a similar idea with much more intelligence. Unfortunately, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR accomplishes this dubious achievement. In one of their many short subjects, Moe slams a cabinet door onto Larry’s head and holds it pressed tight. Larry howls in pain, “Help, help — get me out!” When Moe lets his victim go, Larry gratefully says, “Thanks. If it wasn’t for you, I would have never got out of there!”
The joke is pretty obvious: it’s ridiculous for Larry to express gratitude to Moe for releasing him from a situation that Moe caused in the first place. Yet for some reason, the makers of ALIEN VS PREDATOR have played out a similar scenario, and they don’t realize it’s a joke; they want viewers to take it seriously. We’re even actually supposed to sense some kind of bonding between the human and the predator. It’s a colossal miscalculation that undermines the movie. Our heroine not only teams up with this monster (we might forgive that as being necessary for survival under difficult circumstances); but she also seems to feel some sympathy for the predator, forgetting that it and its brethren are the ones morally responsible for getting her into this lethal mess in the first place. If the Three Stooges – not noted for their subtlety – could see the humor in this situation, why is it such a mystery to Hollywood?
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004). Written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. Cast: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Tommy Flanagan.

AVP:R – worst film of the year?

Lucius Gore of has endured ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM, and he is not happy, calling it “easily the worst movie of 2007” and a “sacrilege” perpetrated against the 1979 ALIEN. He also advises that AVP:R should be used “in film classes as an example of what can go wrong with a movie.” Read the whole (brief) post here.
UPDATE: The review at Horror Movie a Day is equally angry:

A requiem is another word for funeral, and this film has surely killed whatever goodwill that either the Alien or Predator franchises have ever earned.

Making the original [ALIENS VS PREDATOR] (which wasn’t all that great but I didn’t hate it as much as many folks did) look positively brilliant in comparison, this has to be the one of the dumbest fucking movies I have seen all year. And since just 2 days before I watched a movie that told us that Mt. Rushmore was carved for the sole purpose of hiding a clue that would lead to a lost city of gold that could have been used to restart the Civil War, that’s really saying something.

Undead (2003) – Horror Film Review

Zombies are big business these day, or at least Hollywood hopes so, with RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION opening later this month. So we thought we would take this opportunity to shine the light on a lesser known – but quite entertaining zombie opus – a fun-filled combo of gore and John Woo-style action that is more farce than fear. UNDEAD is an amusingly outrageous Australian variation on the familiar zombie theme, played mostly for laughs but with enough exciting action and horrible makeup effects to qualify as a tongue-in-cheek horror film rather than an outright spoof. It’s not as funny as it means to be, and some of the character conflict is annoying rather than dramatic, but the stunts and sight gags make it worth sitting through the weaker moments.
The film begins with an apparently ordinary day in a small Australian town. The local beauty queen (Felicity Mason), fed up with her life there, is on her way out, when circumstances intervene: a meteor lands downtown, poking a hole through one of the hapless inhabitants. (That the abrupt incongruity of this disruption of dull normality draws chuckles instead of screams is our first hint that we’re not in for a straight-out fright fest.) Then, as in SHAUN OF THE DEAD, the meteor turns people into zombies, whose bite then turns their victims into even more zombies. (To be fair, UNDEAD was released in its native land in 2003, a year before SHAUN.) A gravel-voiced, gun-wielding man (Mungo McKay) comes to the rescue, but in the end it is our beauty queen who rises to the occasion and proves herself to be the true survivor. Along the way, our characters find that their town has been completely surrounded by vast, unscalable wall, completely isolating them from the rest of the world; there is a mysterious rain that causes some unknown changes into the people it touches, after which they a levitated above the town, where they hang suspended in a coma; and just to top things off, some aliens show up….
Obviously, this is not just another low-budget Romero knock-off. The acknowledged intention of the writing-directing team of Michael and Peter Spierig was to craft a film in the manner of Peter Jackson’s early, outrageous gorefests, BAD TASTE and BRAINDEAD (a.k.a. DEAD/ALIVE), two films that pushed carnage well past the limits set by George Romero in DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), but which adopted a hyper-kinetic cartoon aesthetic more in keeping with Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD II. Into this mix, the Spierig Brothers add a healthy doze of John Woo-style action antics: having the hero dive in slow motion while firing guns, two-handed, at the advancing zombies; or, in a wonderfully over-the-top moment, performing a 180-degree leap into the air, embedding his spurs into the top of a door frame, and firing while suspended upside down. With action like this, the film clearly is not interested in believability; it’s a movie-movie that works as a showcase for bravura excesses of action and gore that are meant to yield laughs more than screams.
Yet, somehow, it manages to avoid losing all credibility. The result is both frightening and funny — a combination of humor and horror somewhat similar to SHAUN OF THE DEAD, although the script and characterizations for UNDEAD are, frankly, not quite up to the caliber of that film. Mason is fine as our heroine, but McKay’s gravel-voice Clint Eastwood impersonation yields a one-note performance that feels fake. The rest of the cast strive to delineate their characters, but they are undermined by a script that forces them to play narrowly defined caricatures (e.g. the over-bearing, authoritative police officer and his insecure junior partner).
In particular, the film stumbles in its attempts to build dramatic tension among the supporting cast. Early on, when the characters are forced to take shelter in an underground lock-up, they begin pointlessly yelling at each other, instead of trying to figure out what they need to do. The effect is forced: it’s the script telling them to tear into each other, without really justifying their reactions, and the performers fall into the trap of trying to goose-up the weak writing by throwing themselves into it full-bore. Fortunately, these missteps are balanced by the nicely-staged action, which elevate the film a level above the usual low-budget zombie-spoof. There is also some well-done prosthetics, including the de rigueur gore expected in this sort of film.
On top of that, there are numerous, impressive computer-generated special effects that provide a larger sense of scale (such as when a small airplane weaves in and out of the levitating bodies floating over town). In the end, UNDEAD is not as sophisticated as the Romero DEAD films, nor as sinister as 28 DAYS LATER, nor as witty and clever as SHAUN OF THE DEAD, but it does not intend to be. The aesthetic here is “cult film” all the way, and on that level the Spierig Brothers succeed, creating mindless movie entertainment that works at least as well as Hollywood popcorn movies like RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE and ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. UNDEAD is the ultimate, ultra-cool, gun-smoking, brain-splattering zombie-action-comedy-gore-flick.
UNDEAD (2003). Written and directed by Michael & Peter Spierig. Cast: Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dick Hunter, Emma Randall

Petersen to direct Grays

The official website for author Whitley Streiber has announced that Wolfgang Petersen (THE NEVERENDING STORY, OUTBREAK) has been selected to direct Sony’s film version of Streiber’s novel The Grays. Currently available as a mass-market paperback, the book represents an attempt by the author to combine the two major streams his career has followed. Streiber first gained attention with his revisionist werewolf and vampire novels, Wolfen (1978) and The Hunger(1983), both of which were turned into movies. After an alien abduction experience, Streiber shifted to writing non-fiction, starting with Communion, an account of his close encounter. This, too, became a film, starring Christopher Walken in the Streiber role. The Grays uses the popular conception of aliens (as seen in other accounts of real-life aliens and on THE X-FILES ad infinitum) as the basis for a science fiction tale about benevolent aliens among us, who are paving the way for the rest of their brethren to reach Earth ans pass on their advanced knowledge.

John Carpenter's The Thing This Way Comes

I suppose that, in this day of home video entertainment – DVD, digital downloading, iPods, iPhones (what – haven’t they found a way to beam movies directly into your brain yet?) – that there may be at best limited value in extolling the virtues of the revival house experience, yet I will soldier on, within the confines of this column (i.e. Hollywood Gothique), using retrospective screenings as an excuse to discuss classic horror, science-fiction, and fantasy films when they show up on the big screen in Tinsle Town. Continue reading “John Carpenter's The Thing This Way Comes”

The Mysterians (1957) – Film & DVD Review

[NOTE: THE MYSTERIANS (1957) has been available on DVD for several years, but today sees it re-packaged with two other titles (VARAN and MATANGO) as part of the “Toho Triple Feature” box set. With that in mind, we offer this review of the original DVD.]
This attempt by Toho Studios to create an alien-invasion science-fiction adventure is only partially successful. The film lacks the grandeur of 1953’s lavish WAR OF THE WORLDS or even the moody tension of Ray Harryhausen’s low-budget 1954 effort EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS. Instead, we get a colorful, reasonably energetic thriller, with some sincere but slightly preachy speeches about the nations of the world learning to put aside its H-bomb arsenal and band together for the common good. (Made during the Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the film’s message no doubt played with much more gravity at the time.) Continue reading “The Mysterians (1957) – Film & DVD Review”

The Invasion (2007) – Science Fiction Film Review

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 2007With three previous screen adaptations, Jack Finney’s venerable novel INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS would seem to have exhausted its cinematic potential – especially when the third version, 1993’s BODY SNATCHERS, turned out to be a disappointment – yet THE INVASION shows there is still potential life in the old pod people premise (even if that potential ultiamtely remains unrealized). This is not a great film – it fails to match the 1978 remake, let alone the classic 1956 original – but it updates the story in interesting ways. This is not an embalmed classic being dusted off for yet another viewing but a new, valid interpretation, relevant to the current social political situation. Unfortunately, engaging ideas are not enough to carry a film that fails to live up to its own aspirations, undermined by misguided attempts to enliven the action with car wrecks and explosions. Continue reading “The Invasion (2007) – Science Fiction Film Review”

Invasion of The Body Snatchers – Retrospective Book Review

Jack Finney’s nifty 1954 novel has four screen adaptations to its credit (including the acknowledged 1956 classic), but the original text still stands as a fine work in its own right, worthy of being read by fans of the films and by genre enthusiasts in general. Numerous incidents have never made the transition from page to screen; more important, Finney’s writing brings the story alive in a way that no screen adaptation can ever capture.
The story is set in the 1970s but feels more appropriates to the era in which the novel was actually published. Miles Bennell is a small town doctor who patients begin to believe their family and friends are impostors, even though they act – laugh, talk, and smile – exactly like the originals. Miles suspects they are suffering from some kind of delusion and refers them to the local psychiatrist, but gradually he learns that Mill Valley – a small town above San Francisco – has been invaded by pods from outer space. These pods grow into duplicates of any organic matter in close proximity; when the original falls asleep, the pod steals its memories and takes its place, destroying its predecessor. Miles and his girlfriend Becky fight to expose the menace, but the conspiracy is too big for them. Fortunately, the pods give up and leave anyway; Miles theorizes that he and Becky were not alone: other people in other places fought, too, and the pods eventually decided to abandon the inhospitable planet Earth in favor of easier pickings. Continue reading “Invasion of The Body Snatchers – Retrospective Book Review”

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Science Fiction Film Review

poster art for the 1956 INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERSThe original 1956 film version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS is widely regarded as a classic, one of the great science fiction films of all time, and with good reason: it’s a powerful black-and-white portrait of individuals losing their humanity as they are taken over and replaced by emotionless duplicates (commonly called “pod people” because they emerge from pods grown from seeds from outer space). And yet, throughout most of its existence, this film has been a mixed bag, one that raises interesting questions about how we judge films: do we value them according to what’s actually up on screen, or do we employ some more nebulous system, a combination of rose-colored memories and the author’s intentions (whether fully realized or not).
The movie works in large part because, despite the science-fiction label, it has few visible genre elements. Instead, director Don Siegel films the events as if he were making a film noir thriller, concentrating on the characters’ increasingly frantic reactions to the gradually escalating conspiracy, which eventually engulfs them like an unstoppable nightmare. Continue reading “Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Science Fiction Film Review”

Transformers obliterates Asian box office

TRANSFORMERS has earned $5.2-million during five weeks in Malaysian theatres, surpassing SPIDER-MAN 3 to earn the all time box office crown for that territory. The Michael Bay action flick also surpassed both HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX and THE SIMPSONS MOVIE to take the #1 position.
That’s not the only achievement in Asian markets. TRANSFORMERS is also now the biggest non-sequel in Singapore, with $4.6-million to date.