NOW PLAYING: Alien vs. Predator

Posted: Monday, August 16, 2004

I suppose a critic has to maintain a bit of decorum, of taste. When writing a review, one should maintain an aloof posture, judging each film on its merits, being never swayed by the winds of hype or expectation. A true film connoisseur would never, for example, pester his wife with random gleeful announcements that, "AVP starts Friday! Yes!" And, above all, a real critic would never, ever give such a movie any more than the slightest praise, using his forum instead to launch withering attacks on the sorry state of nothing-new-under-the-sun Hollywood. That's the way a real critic would behave, causing me to come to the conclusion that I am not a real critic.

I very much enjoyed this movie. Alien vs. Predator, with it's silly let's-cram-as-many-disposable-characters-as-we-can-into-one-long-video-game plot, isn't going to win any Oscars by a longshot. But as a monster movie, and more importantly, an extension of two very popular and successful monster series, AVP really delivers. The plot, sketchy as it is, centers on a large and varied research team summoned to a remote part of Antarctica in the fall of 2004. It seems an ancient pyramid with an amalgam of worldwide cultural characteristics has been discovered 2000 feet below the surface. Thinking they may have discovered evidence of the first civilization, our intrepid investigators enter into what is, unbeknownst to them, actually an eons old proving ground for that most fearsome species of hunter from outer space, the Predators. And if that weren't bad enough, a captured Alien queen is on hand to provide the subjects of the hunt, the extremely feral beasties of the Alien series. It's Alien vs. Predator and we're caught in the middle. ( I think I stole that from the poster, actually.)

As to the question of originality, I think this an overbelaboured point. Yes, the filmmakers are basically just capitalizing on two popular and lucrative series in order to make some easy cash, but if they do it in an entertaining way, what the heck? When you think about it, it seems like just about every story you can tell has been told already, so most movies today are either homages or rip-offs anyway. And it's not a new phenomenon either. Just look back to the fifties. Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Dracula Meets the Mummy, it's all the same. These are creature features, for goodness sake, and at least it does a far better job of telling it's story than last year's entry into the genre, Freddy vs. Jason which basically amounted to a long game of Rock-'Em-Sock-'Em-Robots with two undead demons stabbing each other over and over again. Boring. In AVP, the filmmakers have made an effort to stay true to the original elements that made these characters so cool, all the the while doing so without taking themselves too seriously. It's not readily apparent which species is going to win this conflict, but you don't stop caring either. I was impressed with the little touches, details that keep this film from being simply exploitative, but tie it into each series as well. The man behind this doomed expedition is Charles Bishop Weyland, a pioneer in robotics and whose descendants show up in the last three Alien films, all played by the same actor, the deadly serious and craggy Lance Heinrickson. The Predator, as well, has an interesting back story that inextricably links that species with our own.

I guess what really attracted me, and the many, many others who saw this film over the weekend, is the cool factor, pure and simple. This movie is like a guy's action movie fantasy. I mean, we're already comparing everything in our lives anyway: my dog is tougher than your dog, my car is faster than your car, my yard is greener than your yard, etc. We're totally primed for this "throw 'em in a jar and shake it up!" concept. Yeah, it's got problems: semi-ridiculous dialogue, marginal acting, and plot holes the size of barn doors. But what it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in the one department that got us to the theater in the first place: Alien/Predator fights. They're great! What can I say, I'm a geek. I'm a sucker for a gimmick and if they can do it well and make it entertaining (listen up Van Helsing), I'll be the first in line. Now, for a real blockbuster, let's try Spiderman vs. Alien vs. Predator. ... vs. Michael Moore! Now who wouldn't pay to see that? Grade: B

Alien vs. Predator is rated PG-13 for violence, language, gore, and, for some reason, slime. It's interesting to note that all the previous entries into each of these series were rated R, but our old friend marketing rears it's ugly head once again.



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