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Alien vs. Predator (August 13/04)

Given that there have been far worse films to hit theaters this summer (ie Catwoman), it's curious that Fox opted not to show Alien vs. Predator to the press prior to its release date. While this isn't to say the movie is good exactly, it's certainly not the trainwreck everybody's been expecting.

There's no denying that the primary reason Alien vs. Predator ultimately doesn't work is its PG-13 rating (which actually translates to a PG here in Canada!) Now, you can't just take two of the most violent franchises in film history and tone them down drastically without some ramifications. The resulting movie is chock full of incoherent action sequences, accomplished using quick cuts and a lot of darkness. Yet it's hard not to feel a certain thrill when the two titular creatures duke it out, though such moments are surprisingly limited.

Set in 2004, Alien vs. Predator kicks off when billionaire industrialist Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen) initiates an expedition into Antarctica. Along with a team of scientists and assorted expendable characters, Weyland is hoping to uncover the ruins of a humongous man-made pyramid built hundreds of years ago. Coincidentally, a group of ragtag predators are descending on the same area in order to fulfill a rite-of-passage involving the hunting of aliens (presumably predators cannot become "men" until they've bagged a few aliens).

The film's been directed by Paul Anderson, who's become fairly notorious for his overcranked sense of style. He's essentially the British equivalent of Michael Bay, imbuing his movies with a glossy sheen that's pretty hard to miss. With Alien vs. Predator, Anderson's indulges in all his favorite visual tricks - from swooping camerawork to excessive use of slow-motion - with the majority of them landing with a thud. It often seems like he's trying to distract us from how silly the film's script really is (which he wrote, not surprisingly), though it doesn't quite work.

Anderson is clearly going for a vibe similar to that of the first Alien movie, spending a considerable amount of time establishing the characters and the situation they're in. Yet despite his best efforts, none of these people ever become anything more than horror movie clichés (the most we learn about one such character is that he's got two kids he really, really loves; hmm, wonder if he'll make it out alive?) Henriksen is clearly the best thing about the film, but that's primarily because he reminds us of the far superior Aliens. The movie's actual star, Sanaa Lathan, fares terribly - though it's unknown if she's actually a bad actress or is just suffering from the George Lucas Syndrome (ie Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels).

In spite of all that, the film essentially remains entertaining throughout - particularly in its final third, when the aliens and predators finally start receiving some decent screen time. Anderson's made the unusual decision of forcing the audience to take sides, though, turning the predators into honorable warriors and the aliens into bloodthirsty monsters. He extends this idea by having one of the predators actually work with a human character, an extremely campy plot twist that all but guarantees the film cult status in the years to come.

The most prevailing thought in my head after sitting through Alien vs. Predator was "it could've been worse," which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. Still, given the ridiculous rating and Anderson's reputation, it's a sentiment that's entirely true (though after so many years of waiting for this showdown, the film should've been much better).

out of

About the DVD: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment presents Alien vs. Predator with an expectedly spotless transfer, along with several intriguing bonus features. The disc includes two commentary tracks, three deleted scenes (an alternate opening is also included, and the feature can be played with or without it), a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie, and several promos (for the film and other Fox projects).