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Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a big fan of the original Alien, its follow-up Aliens, and the original Predator. However, I was not particularly enthralled by Paul W. S. Anderson’s stab at the franchise-crossing Alien vs. Predator, with its watered-down PG-13 violence and continuity busting storyline. I was pretty much unaware that a sequel was in the works until a few months before the release, but the promise of a return to the ‘R’ rated roots of both series and a fairly action-packed trailer gave me hope. Then I saw the film.

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem

Feature


The events of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (hereby referred to as AvP:R) follow-on from those in the previous film. The body of Scar (the hero predator from the last film) has been reclaimed by the rest of his clan and transported to their spaceship. What they don’t know is that Scar has been impregnated by an alien face-hugger, and it’s not long before a tiny little alien/predator hybrid (the ‘Predalien’) chest-bursts its way out of his corpse and slaughters the crew, forcing the ship to crash-land on Earth (Colorado to be exact).

Luckily the predators were able to send out a distress signal to their home-world just before they were eviscerated, calling on the help of a secret ninja-assassin predator (nicknamed ‘Wolf’ by the filmmakers, after the character in Pulp Fiction) to help clean up the mess. Meanwhile, a number of face-huggers escape from the crashed ship and start latching themselves onto all-and-sundry, and it’s not long before the sleepy little town has a serious bug problem.

What follows is roughly an hour-and-a-half of stupid humans getting in the way of the two warring alien species, complete with plenty of super-shaky camera-work  and a distinct absence of lighting. While there is some attempt at character development, it's all pretty basic stuff. The hero (a pizza delivery boy no less) pines for the hot girl, but just ends up getting his arse kicked by her stereotypical jock boyfriend. Said pizza boy's ex-con brother shows up looking suitably moody, but he's obviously not really a bad guy because he's friends with the (fairly inept) town sheriff. Oh, and there's a female soldier who returns from Iraq to find that she's somewhat 'alienated' (geddit?) from her young daughter.

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
The film's main failing is that there is really no plot beyond the basic concept of aliens fighting predators. It's as if no one realised that the creatures should be supporting characters, not given centre stage. If you look at the best films in each series, the monsters actually play a relatively minor role, appearing only briefly and to maximum effect. If they're constantly on-screen their impact is lessened. What made the earlier films great—particularly Alien and Aliens—was the strong human characterisation. We got to know and care about the people involved before they were ripped to pieces. In Alien you empathised with the crew of the Nostromo, and you couldn't help but root for Ripley, Newt and the marines in Aliens.

AvP:R features none of what made the earlier films great. The human characters are so thinly drawn that you don't sympathise with their plight enough to really care when they become alien chow, which pretty much leaves a bunch of mute beasties to carry the movie. This wouldn't be so bad if the end result was cohesive, but the the script is full of plot holes and seriously flawed logic. Anderson's original AvP might have been PG-13 tripe, but at least it had some semblance of a plot and at least one or two well-rounded characters (well, semicircular at any rate). It seems that the creators of this film thought that simply putting a load of creatures on screen and upping the gore quotient would be enough to satisfy the legions of alien and predator fans—they were sadly mistaken. It just makes me long for an adaptation of the original AvP screenplay that I read years ago.

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
Despite its UK '15' rating, AvP:R occasionally feels a lot 'nastier' than the films that came before it. This is probably because previously taboo victims are now considered fair game. Now I'm no prude, and it takes considerable amount of violence to shock me, but shots of aliens violently emerging from children and pregnant women felt misjudged to me. While this release was originally billed as featuring 'more action and terror' than the theatrical version, I couldn't spot anything different. I contacted Fox UK to make sure I hadn't been sent an early version of the disc (it does happen), but they informed me that the theatrical version is all we're getting on Blu-ray (at least until the inevitable 'double dip').

Video


AvP:R is presented at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and encoded at 1080p using the AVC codec. When I viewed the film theatrically (yes, I was the one) I found it very difficult to actually make out what was going on because of the perpetual darkness, and this Blu-ray release is no different. However, it's hard to criticise the transfer for doing what it's supposed to do, i.e. remaining faithful to the source material. Thankfully black levels are solid (although if you're watching on LCD they can be more like grey levels), but the oppressive darkness does make the reviewing task that much harder because some of the finer detail is lost (possibly to hide bargain-basement creature effects).

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
However, before any of you get the wrong idea and think this is a poor transfer, let me assure you that it's actually one of the better looking titles in my collection—it just takes a bit of getting used to. Not only is the image entirely free from film artefacts, I didn't really spot any particularly obvious digital nastiness. Colour rendition is strong (if highly stylised), and despite my previous comments about the darkness obscuring certain things, the image is actually surprisingly sharp and detailed throughout. All-in-all this is a pretty impressive effort and should definitely please fans and videophiles alike.

Audio


Like most people I still lack the necessary hardware to decode the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack found on the disc (and probably will for the foreseeable future), but the 1.5Mbps legacy DTS Core makes for an impressive aural experience all the same. While the score is largely forgettable when it's not 'borrowing' elements from the original movies, the sound effects set the tone rather well. The familiar alien and predator screeches, hisses and clicks are all present, as are the cool effects of the predator's various technical gizmos (such as his advanced vision modes and dual plasma-casters).

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
Once the action kicks in the gunfire comes thick, fast and from all directions as the humans desperately try to stay alive. Bass is also very powerful (sometimes too powerful) and caused its share of ornaments to shake. However, the track is not without subtlety. You'll often hear ominous noises coming from behind you, such as the clicking of the predator's mandibles or a scuttling face-hugger, but even simple things like the chirping of insects in the forest are impressive. While not particularly important in the context of the movie, dialogue is always clear and well-balanced in the mix. As with the visual elements of the disc, Fox has delivered where it counts, and all-in-all this is a great track.

Extras


First up is a commentary track by the Strause brothers and producer John Davis. I was pleasantly surprised by the track, which moves along at a brisk pace and offers up some interesting information. There's not a lot of dead air during the ninety-minute runtime and Davis serves well as moderator to the sometimes over-enthusiastic brothers. The second commentary track features effects maestros Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis and is by far the more technical of the two tracks. If you're into their work (and effects in general) then it will undoubtedly provide some useful information, and although there are numerous times where they run out of creatures to comment on they fill space with often-amusing banter.

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
The disc's only Bonus View (profile 1.1) feature comes in the guise of 'The Weyland-Yutani Archives', a sort of interactive dossier of all things alien and predator. The feature locked up my standalone BD player, but luckily I was able to view it using my HTPC. The archive is divided into sections that deal with different aspects of both species, such as physiology, behaviour and technology. These occasionally provide the opportunity to view video clips, but there's nothing that can't be found in the existing alien and predator films. Even so, it's a great little reference for dedicated fans and newcomers alike.

A series of eight standard-definition featurettes follow, the first of which is entitled 'Prepare for War: The Making of AVPR'. This is just your basic fifteen-minute promotional bit that features interviews with cast and crew alike, interspersed with clips from the movie and some behind-the-scenes footage. It actually manages to provides a reasonable level of depth, certainly more than most featurettes of this nature.

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
Next we have 'Fight to the Finish: The Making of AVPR'. Yes, a second making-of featurette, this time lasting a little under thirteen minutes. The featurette concentrates more on the technical aspects of the production, such as the storyboarding , editing, visual effects and sound recording processes. I was actually quite surprised to discover that they digitally remastered all of the sound effects from the original film, and even got the original predator voice actor in to reprise his role.

'AVPR: The Nightmare Returns: Creating the Aliens' runs for a little over seven minutes and deals with ADI's work on creating the acid-blooded meanies themselves. The main participants are visual effects artists Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, who discuss the subtle changes made to the alien costumes throughout the years and run through the various effects techniques used to make the face-huggers and warriors come to life.

'AVPR: Primitive Design: Creating the Predator' concentrates on the film's other big nasty and runs for just over ten minutes. As with the previous featurette, Woodruff and Gillis discuss the evolution of the creature over the course of the series, specifically the numerous redesigns carried out to the costume and the new armaments for the latest movie. Although it runs slightly longer than the alien featurette I didn't find it quite as entertaining, but it's sure to please fans of the mandibled menace.

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
'Crossbreed: The Predalien' runs for a little over eight minutes and focusses on the creation of the hybrid creature (dubbed 'Chet' after the douche bag from Weird Science). In it we learn that early drafts of the script saw the predalien die in the crash that brought the aliens to Earth, before its role was expanded considerably to that of the predator's nemesis. Gillis, Woodruff and Strause (Greg) discuss the various design challenges and iterations, making for a reasonably interesting featurette (even if the creature itself looks a little goofy).

'Building the Predator Homeworld' is another short little featurette that details the creation of the predator, well, homeworld. As it turns out, this was a bit of a last-minute addition to the script and necessitated some rather quick thinking by the visual effects wizards. The featurette provides a glimpse of the techniques used to bring the sequence to life, and the end result is pretty impressive given the somewhat extreme time constraints.

'AVPR: The Science of the Xenomorph' comes next and runs for just over eleven minutes. It examines the life-cycle and physiology of the aliens in a rather unique fashion, with participation from a number of scientists and artists who discuss the aliens as if they were real, theorising about their biological systems (acidic blood etc.) while citing known examples of creatures found on Earth with which they share certain characteristics (secondary jaws, for example). I enjoyed this novel approach, and as far as I know this is a region B exclusive feature (yay for us).

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
'AVPR: The Science of the Hunter' does for the predators what the previous featurette did for the aliens (and runs for a similar length of time). Our scientists and artists are back to talk about the implacable dreadlocked hunters, with more focus on their technological achievements, such as interstellar travel and advanced weaponry. Their biological elements are briefly touched upon, but once again this predator featurette failed to entertain as much as its alien counterpart. With that said, it's still quite interesting. Again, this featurette appears to be exclusive to region B.

A series of deleted scenes come next, each of which is presented in full 1080p. They run for around twenty minutes and consist largely of extensions to existing scenes. It seems likely that many of them were due to find their way into the promised extended cut of the film, but as the UK didn't end up with that release we have to make do with watching them in isolation. Most of the scenes simply offer additional gore, particularly during the 'stomach-bursting' scenes (which are already grisly enough), but there are a few moments of additional exposition. The best of these are extended versions of the opening sequence and Wolf's investigation of the downed spaceship. However, the twenty-minute runtime is somewhat misleading, as most of the extensions are simply padded with footage found in the theatrical cut.

Still galleries come next, of which there are seven in total. They cover all aspects of production, from the design of the aliens and predators, to on-set photos and cast and crew shots. These are followed by the film's theatrical trailer (curiously there's only one, even though the menu implies there are more) and trailers for Hitman and I, Robot. Finally, the disc also includes a message about D-Box motion control and a link to the Fox website.

 Aliens vs Predator: Requiem

Overall


This is my first experience of a Blu-ray release from a major studio that differs significantly from the equivalent disc in another territory. I had hoped that the dawn of HD would put an end to this infuriating practise and that we would see identical releases worldwide. According to a statement from Fox UK, the reason for the absence of the extended cut is 'time constraints on production'. I find this slightly confusing, given that the release date of the UK disc is behind that of the US disc. I can only assume the decision to include the newest form of encryption (MKBv7, as opposed to MKBv4 on the US disc) played its part. I can see no other reason for it, unless Fox simply cannot manage their release calendar. What makes it that much harder to swallow is that, unlike DVD, those used to importing 'unrated' cuts from the US won't be able to unless they have a 'region A' player or a home cinema PC with the necessary software to bypass the region lock. If that isn't asking people to find ways to copy your movies, I don't know what is.

With that moan out of the way I am left with a bit of a dilemma. The film itself isn't particularly memorable, but the Blu-ray is actually pretty good. I guess my review isn't going to dissuade fans on the grounds of artistic merit, so I have to recommend the disc to those who liked the movie. The solid AV coupled with some interesting bonus material elevates it above most of Fox's Blu-ray output, which so far has largely consisted of bare-bones releases. While I'm personally having a hard time getting over the fact that the UK (and Europe it would seem) has been shafted when it comes to the extended cut, I must at least acknowledge the fact that this disc represents a step in the right direction for the studio. In summary, if you're after an impressive disc to show off the capabilities of the format this is worth a look, but the film itself is only for the hardcore 'must own everything' fans.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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