14 years we’ve been waiting for this film. 14 years since Stephen Hopkins thought it’d be a bit of a giggle to include an Alien skull in Predator 2. That one clip spawned comic books, novels, videogames, scripts, rumours — a whole industry dedicated to the idea of the Alien and the Predator facing off and having a bit of a barney. 14 years. And what do we get to show for it, finally, 14 years on? We get a derivative rip-off of The Thing and Jurassic Park. Come in, Paul Anderson, your time is up.
I’ll begin with a quick summary of the plot, which may contain spoilers if you’re particularly dim and can’t see all the events in the film happening from a mile away. A satellite spots a sudden burst of heat out in Antarctica, and so wealthy Charles Weylan collects together a team of witless, charmless nobodies — the best in their fields! — to join him in finding out what’s what. They discover an abandoned 1904 whaling station, beneath which lies an underground pyramid. The orbiting Predators, presumably attracted by the same sudden heat source, helpfully provide a tunnel down into the ruins. Meanwhile, a frozen queen Alien is being woken deep below, and laying eggs. All three parties get stuck inside the pyramid, and then, you know, there are some fights, and then it basically ends.
The film has a hurried beginning, a rush to get to the action. The Alien franchise has presented modern-day MTV film-makers with a bit of a problem in pacing, insofar that there’s a certain gestation period that the Alien requires. In the original Alien, the foetal parasite takes maybe a day or so to grow to chest-bursting size, followed by another few hours to grow to the beautiful and terrifying H.R. Giger creation. In Aliens Vs. Predator (AvP), Paul Anderson trims the entire egg-to-adult process down to about, ooh, 10 minutes, tops. If Ridley Scott’s Alien is poetry, then Paul Anderson’s AvP is a limerick.
There once was a man from Nantucket
So, we tick off the boxes — Alien eggs, check, Face Hugger, check, Chest-Burster, check, come on, come on — and await the point of the film, which is to see a Predator and an Alien have a fight. We ask for so little!
Little is what we get. Anderson chooses to ignore the fine pedigree provided for him by Scott, Cameron, and — yes — Fincher, so the Aliens lack any hint of intelligence, choosing to hunt the Predators by playing “What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?” with them. The Predators are heavily reminiscent of John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, lacking the heavy grace that original Predator Kevin Hall brought to the role, particularly noticeable in the “We’re going to miss the bus!” moment as they realise that the pyramid is about to shut them outside. But, they do fight, which is why we’re here. You may have seen the clip of one of these fights on the interweb — a Predator grabbing an Alien by the tail and swinging it around. If you have, then congratulations! You’ve seen the best bit of the film already, and needn’t bother seeing the rest.
And what of the humans? Well, the aforementioned group of forgettables are dispatched of over the space of about 20 minutes, mostly by walking straight into waiting Aliens — a sort of mobile buffet, if you will — leaving only Alexa Woods, who is neither an Ellen Ripley nor a Dutch Schaeffer — she’s not even a Mike Harrigan. I can see what Anderson was trying to achieve — a cast of relative unknowns, just as in the original Alien, but he forgot that while the original group were unknown, they were still all very good actors. He also has them killed off far too quickly and anonymously, but it would have stretched plausibility to have any of them survive for long; where Scott had deep-space miners, Cameron had a collection of foot soldiers to work with, and Fincher had murderers and rapists, there’s just no muscle in AvP — it’s a team of journalists and archaeologists, so somewhat akin to pitting Tony Robinson against Anne Widdecombe.
The Alien Queen does feature heavily during the climax of the film; suffice to say that it’s a damp squib compared to Cameron’s now-classic face-off between said Queen and Ripley. Anderson chooses, bizarrely, to pay homage to the ‘T-Rex chasing the truck’ scene from Jurassic Park.
In terms of continuity with the parent franchises, this film is set after Predator 2, but before Alien. It is at least aware of its heritage, and is peppered with references; for instance, the character of Charles Weyland is the co-founder of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation — known in the Alien films as ‘The Company’ — and is played by the dependable Lance Henriksen, who also played the android ‘Bishop’ in Aliens and Alien 3. There are too many references to list here, but the IMDB AvP trivia page is worth reading if you’re into this sort of thing. Sadly, all these references achieve is to remind the watcher how weak the film is compared to those that came before.
I don’t know. I just find it incredible that someone can take such a wealth of source material and get it all so wrong — AvP is up there alongside Batman & Robin and almost every episode of Enterprise. We’re so far removed now from Scott and Cameron’s works that, far from rejuvenating the Alien and Predator films, I can see AvP sounding their death knell.