Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Rauol Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Tommy Flanagan
Early on in Alien Vs. Predator, we get a glimpse of what one of the recruits for the scientific expedition that sets the plot in motion is watching on TV -- the granddaddy of all monster-battle flicks, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Now, there was a movie born of a desire to get more mileage out of an already well-milked series, despite the franchise having since attained a faux classic status.
OK, got that? Now look at the cast of AvP -- hardly A-list actors, right? Oh, sure, there's a nod to the Alien franchise in casting Lance Henriksen, but face facts: Henriken is best known for lending dignity and presence to low-budget horror films like Pumpkinhead and the Stuart Gordon Pit and the Pendulum.
So what we have here is simply a largish-budget B-movie in the spirit of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, King Kong Vs. Godzilla (AvP's battling monsters, in fact, often recall the old men-in-rubber-suits look of the Toei-produced films of that era) and all such endeavours to squeeze another buck out of a wheezy premise. So why are so many people acting surprised and perturbed by the fact that AvP isn't exactly high art?
One person I spoke to had watched the artistically ambitious Alien Resurrection by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) just prior to AvP -- something akin to watching James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein and then expecting Meets the Wolf Man to measure up to it. And even at that, it's not like the pedigree in this sub-genre is astonishingly high. Ridley Scott's original Alien (1979), for all its cinematic horror merits, boasts essentially the same plot (and some of the same plot devices) as Edward L. Cahn's ultra-cheesy It! The Terror From Beyond Space with Ray "Crash" Corrigan in a badly tailored rubber monster suit. And the Predator movies never were anything other than inflated B-pictures with extra polish.
What I'm getting at is simply that AvP isn't some kind of ghastly betrayal of anything. It's just a rather silly exercise in schlock sci-fi horror that doesn't pretend to be anything else. I can't imagine what anyone was otherwise expecting from the director of Resident Evil and Mortal Kombat. And in a summer that's been rife with pseudo-important twaddle like Troy and The Day After Tomorrow, that's not such a bad thing. So on that level, I kind of enjoyed the nonsense -- some of which is even mildly creative.
The plot is purely functional, adhering slavishly to formula. For instance, within a minute of being introduced to Ewan Bremner's character, there's no doubt that he's slated for slaughter. However, the Antarctic location, with its lost remnant of civilization 2,000 feet under the ice, is a nice departure that suggests someone had been reading H.P. Lovecraft or A. Merritt (or, at the very least, had seen the '35 version of She). That AvP takes a dime-store approach to this is another matter, though one in keeping with the overall B-picture aura that hangs over the whole production.
Then, too, there's a kind of Hellraiser S&M creepiness to the chained-up Alien, but not enough to stretch the boundaries of the movie attaining that all-important teen-boy fan-base PG-13 rating. And the creepiness has to sit cheek-by-jowl with scenes of the Predator "characters" watching things from a spaceship on TV monitors -- with this carrying a possibly unintentional echo of the most infamous of bad-monster-clash flicks, Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster.
It's hard to take any of the shudder quotient very seriously, either. AvP definitely errs by trying -- without any basis in characterization -- to turn the character played by Sanaa Lathan (Brown Sugar) into a bad-ass clone of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. And there are moments of unintentional hilarity -- like leaving Lathan bruised, but not even shivering, in the middle of Antarctica wearing a T-shirt! But then, it's that kind of movie, and it ought to be judged as such.
I'm not at all sure that all the people who are laughing at Alien Vs. Predator's rampant foolishness aren't actually laughing with it, and just don't realize it.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke