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Dustin Putman

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Alien Vs. Predator (2004)
2 Stars

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Agathe De La Boulaye, Tommy Flanagan, Joseph Rye, Carsten Norgaard, Sam Troughton, Tom Woodruff Jr., Ian Whyte
2004 – 105 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, language, and slimy images).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 13, 2004.

Following in the footsteps of 2003's successful collaboration, "Freddy Vs. Jason," "Alien Vs. Predator" comes off as a less inspired, less original knockoff. It is also so watered-down in the horror and gore department that not once does it induce a single shiver or feeling of nervousness in the viewer. This may not be the motion picture writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson (2002's "Resident Evil") initially planned to make, but the finished product is clearly what studio 20th Century Fox asked for—a family-friendly, PG-13 rehash of the unanimously R-rated "Alien" and "Predator" series', built out of pure greed and a reckless disregard for what the fans see these kinds of movies for in the first place.

Intended as a loose sequel to the 1980s-set "Predator" films and an even looser prequel to the future-set "Alien" quadrilogy, the present-set "Alien Vs. Predator" wastes no time in setting up its premise. When a sudden rise in heat emanates from below Antarctica's surface, ultra-wealthy industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) enlists a team of specialized scientists and adventurers, including environmentalist and expert climber Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), to travel down to the controlled area for exploration purposes. What the team discovers is an ancient pyramid, one whose frequently moving chambers make it impossible to stick together. Even worse, they come to find themselves in the middle of a war between two species from space—Predators, who once ruled the Antarctic land, and Aliens, who have been used as reproducing pawns to help train the younger Predators.

Pity poor Paul W.S. Anderson, who can never seem to make the film he sets out to. 1997's "Event Horizon," a sort of "The Shining"-in-space flick, had its tense moments, but was burdened by reported studio-enforced cuts. 2002's "Resident Evil" was also severely chopped up, this time thanks to the inconsistent, pompous MPAA board. Now here comes "Alien Vs. Predator," which takes the general path of both series', but has been rendered impotent by the insane demands of a studio obsessed with the PG-13 rating. It is difficult to say whether the film would have been worthwhile even with the stomach-churning, blood-curdling material intact, but having it could have only helped. Audiences going to see "Alien Vs. Predator" want—no, expect—to be treated to violent, graphic death scenes and gore galore. What they will receive is an attractive but empty horror-lite version, suitable for pre-teens, that cuts away from the violence every time it is about to take place. The film offers no valid payoffs; it is akin to dedicating fifteen weeks to a reality series or ongoing television drama and then forgetting to watch the finale episode. Now imagine such a quandary occurring over and over again, and that is what the experience of watching "Alien Vs. Predator" is like.

The plot of "Alien Vs. Predator" is preposterous and its characters stock figures from the official handbook of one-dimensional cliches, but in an icky sci-fi thriller such problems can be easily overlooked if said film is genuinely effective from a visceral standpoint. PG-13 horror can achieve spine-tingling chills—look no further than 1999's "The Sixth Sense," 2001's "The Others," 2002's "Signs," and 2002's "The Ring." What is offensive about this same rating being given to "Alien Vs. Predator" is that director Anderson has been forced to compromise not only his vision, but squander the talents of his technical crew. The editing by Alexander Berner (2002's "Resident Evil") is a hack job, with so much footage cut out of the action sequences that they become murky and nearly incomprehensible. The scares are non-existent, their attempts more of the "false-jump" variety (none of which work) than from a building of tension. The deaths, as mentioned, are plentiful but mostly off-camera, making the picture a slasher film without the slashing. The movie is also a horror film without a true sense of requisite uneasiness.

Sanaa Lathan (2003's "Out of Time") makes for a sturdy, memorable successor to female heroine Ripley, played in all four "Alien" pictures by Sigourney Weaver, as the similar Alexa Woods. Lathan has little to work with, but she ably brings vulnerability, strength, and reality to her every scene. That is more than can be said for the rest of the terrible cast, particularly French male lead Raoul Bova (2003's "Under the Tuscan Sun"), who doesn't seem to understand what he is saying in English. The rest of the crew members are strictly of the chopping-block persuasion. Finally, sole "Alien" returnee Lance Henriksen (2000's "Scream 3") plays the original Bishop, whose descendants in the earlier entries were robotic replicas, but is underused.

"Alien Vs. Predator" isn't about acting, or screenwriting, or heartfelt drama. It is about the chase, and the horror of the situations, and the slimy creep factor of the alien species, but it fumbles the outcome. The film is blessed with some accomplished cinematography by David Johnson (2002's "Resident Evil"), a hybrid of moody gothic architecture and atmospheric Egyptian inspiration, and the particulars of the climax boast stylish showmanship while being appreciably unpredictable. Furthermore, Paul W.S. Anderson shows efficiency in his filmmaking style, as he has in the past; perhaps one day he will be able to make the movie he wants to without any interference from outside sources. As a genre pic, however, "Alien Vs. Predator" simply doesn't make the cut. After all, why watch an undercooked, virtually bloodless remake of all the other "Alien" and "Predator" flicks when they were done better and treated their audience with more respect? There is no reason to.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman