The Theory of Chaos

Friday, February 08, 2008

MOVIE REVIEW - AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem

Full review behind the jump

AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem

: “The Brothers Strause” – Colin Strause & Greg Strause
: Screenplay by Shane Salerno, based on the Alien characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, and the Predator characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
: John Davis, Wyck Godfrey, David Giler & Walter Hill
: Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz, Johnny Lewis, Ariel Gade, Kristen Hager, Ian Whyte, Tom Woodruff, Jr.

Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary defines a “requiem” as a “mass for the dead”, or “a solemn chant (as a dirge) for the repose of the dead”. There’s no small amount of dead in
AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem, which is clearly competing for the award of Most Obtuse Title for Anyone Outside the Core Fanbase. But the movie doesn’t seem to care about honoring them, simply giving them company at an anything-but-dirge-like pace. It is not so much for the dead as indifferently with them, killing by the thousands and not feeling particularly much about it.

Of course, a big body count is to be expected when finally giving fans of the
Alien franchise what they’ve always fantasized about – a chance to see the acid-bleeding bug beasties set loose on Earth. Plus, you’ve got the wildcard of the Predators, those invisibility-wielding outer-space hunters who will only occasionally, and grudgingly, stop looking at individual humans as trophies. To top it off, as we glimpsed at the end of the first Alien vs. Predator grudge match, thanks to the Alien’s ability to adopt the traits of whatever host it gestates in, we now have a Predator-Alien hybrid (played by frequent Alien-suit wearer Tom Woodruff, Jr.) running loose. This was, logically, the only way left to create something with even more teeth.

This is sci-fi geek jambalaya, and ought not to have to try too hard to entertain within its own relatively-ridiculous idiom. I welcome these slime-dripping creatures with glad familiarity and comfortably-lowered expectations, since the days of filmmakers like Ridley Scott and James Cameron using them as anything more than pop-up monsters is clearly long past. All I ask is that you have enough new ideas to justify a new movie, and that you give me a few human characters to care about as something more than talking chum. Seeing this movie, I wonder if I might still be asking too much.

Here’s what I’m talking about: Two characters are having a grim conversation in a diner about a dead body that was found. The Sheriff (John Ortiz), giving his best that’s-gonna-give-me-nightmares look, chokes out this observation: “He was skinned alive!” Actually, no, we watched him get killed quite dead before he was skinned. But this is a script so incapable of resisting the gravity of cliché that screenwriter Shane Salerno can’t conceive of the word “skinned” not having “alive” come after it.

The story picks up from the previous movie, where the Predators, after the fiery destruction of their Antarctic hunting resort, bring back the body of one of their fallen, which unbeknownst to them has been “impregnated”. You’d think they’d have enough experience with these creatures and what they’re capable of to beknownst things like this by now. Anyway, the new Pred-Alien makes his primetime debut, crashing their ship outside a small town in Colorado – a state which, for Hollywood budgetary purposes, has been permanently relocated to Canada.

The dying Predators send a distress call to their home planet, and a single Predator (7’1” Ian Whyte) swings into action, which calls to mind the legend about how the ancient Spartans would answer calls for assistance by sending one soldier. He hits the ground and sets to work executing Aliens, and dissolving their bodies, along with any other evidence of the goings-on, with a little jar of glowing blue solvent. The Aliens are busily doing what they always do, which is to build hives and variously terrorize, melt, or infect anyone they find – one commendably disgusting new wrinkle shows them learning to use the wombs of pregnant women like we use a microwave oven for popcorn. Since each encounter with the Predator sees him thus more outnumbered, I imagined his wearied posture communicating the thought that he should have brought some friends, or at least a bigger jar.

The local human population is, typically, slow to recognize anything unusual is going on, even when people are showing up skinned-while-dead. So we spend a great deal of time meeting stereotyped characters we already know won’t live long, and who don’t really matter as people anyway, because all we’re really going to see them do is run and scream whilst firing guns. Occupying the heroic role of Handsomest Man in Town is recently-released convict Dallas (Rescue Me’s Steven Pasquale), and I don’t know if Dallas is his first name, last name, or maybe his only name, like “McLovin”.

The other Useful Grownup would be returning Army Officer Kelly O’Brien (24’s Reiko Aylesworth), whose daughter (Ariel Gade) must be protected so we can have a child screaming all the way through to the end. The odds on her mild husband Tim (Sam Trammell) are not so friendly, especially since we’ve got the Handsomest Man in Town around and all.

The second half of the movie indeed contains lots of running, and shooting, and screaming, and new Predator gadgets that slice, dice, and explode – the Predator homeworld must have its own Ron Popeil. The two monsters clash at least as often as Godzilla tussled with Gigan, and if that’s enough for your money, you’ll get what you were looking for. Co-directors Colin and Greg Strause are former visual effects supervisors, and you can sense their boredom with any performer not encased in at least 50 pounds of rubber and latex.

Even if they did care, I don’t think that, with this script, the passion could have been passed onto us, because AVPR presents its human participants with few opportunities to make any real choices. They can fight, praying that the Gods of Hollywood Narrative have deemed it necessary they survive, or die bleeding and whimpering. Who they are as people never legitimately affects the plot, and the fact that no characters in the future-set Alien franchise have any record of such a home-planet outbreak doesn’t bode well for anyone in this little Colorado town. Which is perhaps what qualifies this as a requiem – it is a pronouncement that humans effectively died out of this series a long time ago.


  • First it was Joss Whedon, with "Resurrection", turning the "Alien" universe into a lame joke, and wasting scores of Wincotts and Perlmans and other fine character actors in the process. Then Paul W.S. Anderson, the man who once made a ghoulishly effective space horror in "Event Horizon", churning out "AvP", which I found to be more mind-numbing and artless than "Caligula"(and I saw Guccione's three-hour anniversary cut). I couldn't bring myself to see this. The Space Jockey. The Alien Homeworld. The origins of Weyland-Yutani. All the material required for a new stand-alone "Alien" picture(sigh. Anyway. I just can't wait to see "Alien" in hi-def and once again be upset when Brett and Parker get taken out.

    By Anonymous Mike De Luca, at 10:03 AM  

  • These days I consider those outer-space smugglers in "Resurrection" to be Whedon's first-draft tryout for the alchemical triumph of tone and character that became "Firefly". I can forgive its existence on that basis, and on the underwater action sequence that ruled in so many ways.


    You get neither Space Jockey nor Alien Homeworld for this, just a cheap "Predator Homeworld" matte establishing shot that we're supposed to be excited about, and a device the Predator uses which superficially resembles the Space Jockey beacon; which fails to explain anything, since the Jockey was nothing like a Predator.

    And, yes, they dangle a Yutani in front of us in the final moments, but as with the previous episode, make total hash out of it.

    You're right - at least we have the classics.

    By Blogger Nick, at 4:15 PM  

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