Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Alien vs. Predator (Extended Cut)
...And then the movie begins, and all hope is lost. Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) is ice picking her way up a remote frozen mountain when she gets a phone call. My first reaction was, "You get reception there? Who is your carrier?" The caller is Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon), and he has a job offer for Alexa. As she struggles to get to the top of the mountain, Alexa politely refuses the job because she is days away from civilization. Just then, she reaches the top and Stafford is already there, with a helicopter. Right there is the first inkling of how dumb this movie will be. What, you can't wait two minutes for her to get to the top of the ice mountain, you have to call her immediately, Mr. Stafford? And maybe you shouldn't startle someone on the edge of a cliff covered in ice. Just a thought. Jerk. And wouldn't she have been somewhat aware of a helicopter landing near her? It's not like she was going to be distracted by the noises of traffic surrounding her. Whatever.
Stafford works for billionaire Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen), who has assembled a diverse team of experts to investigate something unusual. Alexa is the survival guide, Sebastian (Raoul Bova) is an expert in ancient Egyptians and hieroglyphs, and Graeme (Ewen Bremner) is a mineralogist. There are some drilling experts and some mercenary soldiers (Tommy Flanagan, Agathe de La Boulaye, and a few others) in the group, as well. The day before, a heat signature was picked up by one of Weyland's satellites that covers Antarctica; from the satellite images, he has determined that the heat comes from a vast pyramid structure several hundred yards beneath the ice on an island just off the coast of the frozen continent. Obviously, rich guy wants more toys, so the expedition intends to find the heated object and claim it for himself, humanity, and his multinational communications company. And, thanks to the expert knowledge of Sebastian, we now know that this pyramid has aspects of all known pyramids --- Egyptian, Peruvian, etc. --- so this could be the world's very first pyramid. Because an educated archaeologist is willing to make ridiculous claims like that after glancing at some extrapolated images. Are we sure this isn't based on a true story?
What is taking so long for us to get to the title subject matter? Aliens? Predators? Either would be awesome right about now. Well, the stupid humans enter the pyramid, only to find that it is all a trap; once they have entered, the pyramid changes the shape of its interior rooms every ten minutes (or whenever it is convenient for the plot). Why? Well, we can discuss that later. The point is that some humans get stuck in a room where they are incapacitated long enough to be impregnated with baby Aliens in their chest. Then Predators show up and kill all the Aliens as part of their training to become bigger, better Predators. So, there you have it: Aliens vs. Predators. And both against humans.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is the fact that the basic plot mechanism behind it is based on a scientific theory. Granted, it's not a widely accepted theory, but it's not something that writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson just pulled out of his butt, either. The idea is loosely based on Erich von Däniken's book, Chariots of the Gods?, which postulates that ancient pyramids and religions were brought to the Earth by extraterrestrials, who were seen as gods by the primitive humans. Personally, I find such sloppy pseduo-archaeology offensive to my intelligence, but it's not a bad idea for science fiction. The movie tweaks it a little bit by making the pyramids a training ground for fledgling Predators as they fought the universe's ultimate prey, Aliens. It's more complicated that I like in my action movie plots, and it will require a human to learn all this and be in awe, but it's not fundamentally terrible. Besides, it sets up my favorite line in the whole film; at one point, Sebastian says "This is starting to make sense." That cracks me up every time, because it must have taken that actor at least a dozen takes to say that with a straight face.
How do you screw up an idea like Aliens being hunted by Predators? By focusing on the humans. I'm sorry, Alexa and Sebastian (the film's only vaguely sympathetic characters), but I don't care if you live or die --- as long as your death is awesome, it's all good in my opinion. "But we need a point of view character that is experiencing these scary monsters for the first time, like the audience." No, we don't. There were six other movies with these creatures; I think the movie-going public is pretty well-acquainted with these things. But that is just a conceptual misstep. It hurts the movie, yes, but you can still make a decent action flick with this basic story.
But then again, the specifics of the story are ridiculous. Where to begin...? If the Predators use Earth as a training ground, why haven't we seen them fighting Aliens on pyramids in the past (let's be generous) 100 years? The flashback clips show the Predators fighting on some pyramids in what appeared to be Central America, which was heavily populated in pyramid-building times, so it's not like they were relegated to the Antarctic. And even if they were, why do they need to lure humans there? Why not kidnap them? When all you're looking for is a warm body to incubate Alien babies, you don't need to be picky. Let's just say that the reason humans have not witnessed Predators fighting Aliens in modern times is because they've been doing it under the tundra; why would they even have a pyramid there? They weren't shy about building pyramids all around the globe. Why are they bashful now? And if humans are just walking nurseries for the Aliens, why do the Predators kill some of the humans before they even enter the pyramid? I don't really care how stupid the core premise of an action movie is, but at least try to be consistent.
Man, analyzing this movie just ticks me off. While this could have been a genuinely cool movie, it chose to be a dumb action movie. Okay, I can live with that. If you're going to gauge this flick by horror movie standards, there are over a dozen kills in this movie, not counting Predators or Aliens. That's not a bad body count. The final Predator has some pretty sweet kills, too, so at least one of the bad-ass hunters got a chance to be bad-ass. And hollowing out an Alien skull to use as a shield? That was awesome. And how about the Predator spaceship? The front of it was shaped like their masks. I nearly spit all over myself when I first saw that. It's like Jason Voorhies driving around Crystal Lake in a van with a giant hockey mask on the grill. Actually, it's better than that --- it's like the Predators are ghetto fabulous winners of "Pimp My Spaceship."
But by focusing on the insignificant humans, who are (by the story's own admission) just cannon fodder, this movie truly fails. Do you want to see a Rambo movie, told from the point of view of one of the three hundred henchmen Stallone blows the hell out of? Of course not. Unless it was a two minute short film, in which case, it could be pretty funny. The same principle applies here. I am more than okay with some brainless Alien and Predator kills; this movie has a couple that were pretty good, but the PG-13 rating definitely limits the quality of the its senseless violence. And by taking the point of view away from the Predators (because, really, I don't think you can tell a story from an Alien POV), the filmmakers guaranteed that this movie would suck. On the bright side, this movie did fulfill its promise of having Aliens and Predators fight each other. So, let's review: ridiculous story, acting so inconsequential that I haven't even mentioned it until now, underwhelming action, and the wrong approach to a can't miss idea. Yep. That's a bad movie. Even if it does, technically, live up to its title.