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Long-time fans of both the Alien and Predator films have been salivating at the idea of a movie featuring these two iconic screen creatures ever since the first Darkhorse Comics crossover and their brief glimpse of an Alien skull in Predator 2. Finally, after over fifteen years of development starts and stops, numerous screenplays, rumours, and directors attached, the wait is over with the Twentieth Century Fox film Alien vs. Predator. But is Paul W.S. Anderson’s film really the one that fans have been waiting all of these years for?

Alien vs. Predator
Set in the present day as a sequel to the Predator films and a prequel to the Alien films, a team of archaeologists and other scientists financed by Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) and led by Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) venture to a remote area of Antarctica in search of an ancient pyramid recently discovered by thermal imaging satellites to be buried deep beneath the snowy surface. Once there, they soon find that their arrival was made possible by no mere accident or chance occurrence—they have been lured to this desolate place by the Predators to act as hosts for breeding the most dangerous of prey, the acid blooded Alien species. But when things start to go very wrong with the hunt, the last remaining humans must quickly choose a side in the conflict that could decide mankind’s fate.

I consider myself quite a big fan of the Alien and Predator films alike. I’ve seen each of the films more times than I care to count and have purchased each of the six films on VHS, laserdisc and twice each on DVD with each new special edition version that has been made available. I even have one of the original, folded movie posters from the film Alien hanging nicely framed in my television room and yes, I too have been waiting for this film ever since picking up that first issue of the Darkhorse comic. For me to tell you that I was disappointed with this film would be a bit of an understatement, so I’ll just settle on saying that this is most definitely not the film that I have been waiting on for over fifteen years.

My biggest complaint of the film is that instead of the epic that the film should have been, what writer and director Paul W.S. Anderson has delivered is basically a remake of his own film Resident Evil with otherworldly beings replacing the undead. A small group of people, led by a tough as nails female lead, are trapped in an underground funhouse full of tricks being stalked by deadly creatures while searching for a way out and in the process try to contain a danger that could destroy civilization as we know it. Sound familiar to you? Even the computer graphics tracking the characters every move have been brought over from his previous film, not to mention Colin Salmon playing what boils down to the exact same part in both films. I honestly wouldn’t have minded the absence of originality in the screenplay had that rest of the film been an improvement on the film that it so blatantly was lifted from, but it isn’t. If Anderson’s Resident Evil was the equivalent of hitting a foul ball on the first pitch, Alien vs. Predator is a big, air cutting whiff for strike two. On top of aping his previously directed film, Anderson doesn’t offer up anything new in his screenplay that hasn’t been seen in any of the previous films in either franchise, and spoils the same opportunities provided to him by mixing these two alien species together that Darkhorse has been capitalizing on in their books for years.

Alien vs. Predator
Much of what feels lacking in the film in no small way can be attributed to making the movie teen friendly with the PG-13 rating slapped on it. While much has been made of this being the first film in this series to receive anything lower than an R rating from the MPAA, people have been complaining about the rating for the wrong reasons. The film has enough violence and gore to go around as it’s probably the hardest PG-13 rated film I have ever seen courtesy of most of the on screen violence occurring between the creatures themselves. I’m not totally against removing some human blood and guts to get a lower rating, but the problem is that the MPAA also looks at how frightening a film is, among other factors, when giving a picture its rating and that’s where Alien vs. Predator falls at the knees of its predecessors. Instead of a taut, suspenseful and horrifying film, we are left with a poorly edited and mundane action film that offers no edge of your seat moments or good scares and features de-clawed Aliens and neutered Predators.

As for other aspects of the film, there are a couple of bright spots. The actors do their best to work with the material, but it’s hard to care about characters whose names you won’t remember the day after watching the film and who get picked off so quickly in succession that you’re left wondering what exactly happened to them or where they went. But the flipside to this is that the movie doesn’t really pick up steam until most have them have been dealt with like the obvious fodder they are, so the quicker you say bye-bye to most of them the better the movie gets. The special effects work for the film from James Cameron cohort John Bruno and Alien franchise veterans Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. is pretty good when you can actually see the action that is taking place in the movie’s dark sets, but there aren’t any of the massive battles that I was hoping for other than the one, briefly seen, but admittedly very cool, flashback sequence. It was a bit of a letdown to find that all of the actual Alien versus Predator action is kept strictly to one-on-one affairs, and even more so when of those there are but a handful and the movie on a whole barely runs ninety minutes without end credits.

Alien vs. Predator
Anderson does throw in a few clever nods to the original films throughout the film that I enjoyed trying to spot out, and the climax of the film makes up for a lot of what the movie seemed to lack throughout, but clever nods do not a movie make and the climax is too short lived and late coming to make much of a difference. When all is said and done, Alien vs. Predator is a waste of a great setup and a big disappointment as there was a lot that could have been done with a story—even this one if it had been done right—and these creatures to deliver an exciting and terrifying film experience. I wouldn’t outright call the film an insult to the long-time fans of either series like many have cried out, but I gladly would have waited a little while longer for the film’s arrival if it meant that what was made more closely resembled in terms of quality its progenitors.

Video
Alien vs. Predator is presented on DVD with an anamorphic transfer at the film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The resulting transfer is very good, with a mostly sharp and detailed picture that is largely free of defects such as compression artefacts and edge enhancement. Some images come across as a bit blurry from time to time, but for the most part there isn’t anything about the video transfer that should detract from the enjoyment of the film. Overall this is a near reference quality video transfer for the film on DVD.

The cinematography and lighting by David Johnson is a decent effort for the most part with some nice, interesting camera shots, but due to the nature of the film and minimal lighting used everything is very dark and it is difficult to see what is happening at times; the fact that the vast majority of the film is sparsely lit and the picture suffers little to no grain is a true testament to this transfer’s quality. While the cinematography has its moments, the editing of the film on the other hand is adequate at best with quick, jarring cuts during many of the action sequences and scenes that seem to have been stopped just short of their originally intended finish, presumably to afford the film a PG-13 rather than R rating.

Alien vs. Predator
Audio
Fox Home Video has present the DVD of Alien vs. Predator with the choices of Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, DTS 5.1 in English and Dolby Digital 2.0 in French and Spanish, along with optional English and Spanish subtitles. Both of the English 5.1 channels are excellent with clear dialogue and an immersive sound field that makes good use of both the surround and LFE channels. The 5.1 DTS track, however, offers a wider frequency range and a deeper, richer sound than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, especially in reference to the LFE channel. If you have a choice in the matter, the DTS track is definitely the audio track of choice on this DVD and the one to go with while watching the movie.

The score by Harald Kloser is, much like the film itself, fairly forgettable action movie material, especially when held in comparison to the music from the series’ earlier efforts from the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Elliot Goldenthal and Alan Silvestri. It does an adequate job of following the action, but there isn’t really a memorable theme to be found and it doesn’t add any tension to the proceedings enough to be called an effective score.

Extras
Fox Home Video has provided the DVD of Alien vs. Predator with a few decent special features that include two commentary tracks, a production featurette, deleted scenes and some DVD-ROM content that you’ll actually want to take a look at for once.

Alien vs. Predator
The first commentary track on the disc features writer and director Paul W. S. Anderson and stars Sanna Lathan and Lance Henriksen. The stars and their director seem to have a good rapport and the commentary is light, entertaining and informative. The second commentary track includes a more technical commentary from the creature designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. from Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. and visual effects supervisor John Bruno. This second track is where the real meat and potatoes of the information behind the film are found with every special effect dissected and revealed while making for an interesting listen.

The second major special feature on the disc the entitled simply ‘AVP Promo’, but don’t let in innocuous title fool you. The feature is actually a fairly decent twenty-three minute featurette on the making of the film that covers all aspects of the picture from its inception to production and features blurbs from producer John Davis and director Paul W.S. Anderson as well as the special effects crew and stars of the film. Although a longer, more in depth featurette would have been preferable, the piece offers a good deal of information and a look at some great pre-production artwork for the film and side-by-side comparisons between the unfinished props and costumes and the finished products that appear on screen.

Rounding out the rest of the special features accessible from your standalone DVD player are a couple of deleted and extended scenes that don’t really offer a whole lot and were wisely cut from the film as well as the option to view the film with an extended, alternate beginning that doesn’t really add anything to the film itself either. Also included is a cover gallery for the Darkhorse Comics series, out of place commercials for Fox Sports and Super Bowl XXXIX and the Fox animated series American Dad, and the usual ‘Inside Look’ featurette from Fox Home Video which features the trailer for the upcoming film Mr. and Mrs. Smith starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and a featurette on the just released Elektra starring Jennifer Garner.

The DVD-ROM content on the disc isn’t your typical, boring web links only type of fluff, but it does require the installation of the HotLlama Media Player and for those interested in the Darkhorse Comics series it is worth the time to install the program and take a look. The Macromedia Flash content includes the entire first issue of ‘Alien vs. Predator’, a look at what goes on in bringing the series to the printed page and a sneak peek at the upcoming graphic novel ‘Thrill of The Hunt’. Also included are the usual web links, including ones for Darkhorse Comics and The Official AVP website as well as the homepage for Twentieth Century Fox.

Alien vs. Predator
Overall
Alien vs. Predator isn’t a film that I would necessarily call bad, but like Paul W.S. Anderson’s earlier Resident Evil it’s too mundane and underwhelming to call good either. Considering the legacy that this film has inherited, I was expecting much more than what I got from this pedestrian effort and found the end result disappointing more than anything. Fox Home Video’s DVD offers a near reference quality video transfer and an excellent audio presentation to go along with extras that include two decent commentary tracks, a good, but too short for my tastes, making-of featurette and DVD-ROM content that is actually worth taking a look at on your PC. But even though the disc is a solid effort, I still find it hard to recommend a purchase of the DVD to anyone outside of the film’s own die-hard fans, who may not necessarily be every fan of the previous films, but those looking for some quick and mindless entertainment could do worse…just not by much.


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