Science-Fiction Goes Belly Up
The first installment of the Alien vs. Predator franchise boasts unimaginative writing and direction from Paul W.S. Anderson. In the Antarctic, a group of explorers are lured into an underground pyramid structure when “a heat bloom” signature is discovered by satellite. Wealthy businessman Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen, also in James Cameron’s Aliens) wants to reach it first so he can claim the find as the first Egyptian, Aztec and Colombian pyramid ever built. Inevitably, this journey of discovery leads to some nasty stuff involving aliens and even more aliens waging war on each other, with the unfortunate humans caught in the middle.
There’s a little bit of one-on-one alien/predator fighting in this offering but nowhere near enough. However, anyone familiar with the works of Ridley Scott, James Cameron and John McTiernan will quickly find what they are looking for here. That means action -- provided you don’t mind waiting for it. Roughly 40 minutes go by before the inevitable first blood encounter between the aliens and predators. As for the action itself, the choreography more closely resembles a standard video game than anything innovative. No surprises there.
Despite a fascinating central idea about pyramids and an age-old conflict waged every one hundred years or so, the script quickly degenerates into needless philosophical utterances as well as some unwarranted sentimentality. For instance, when Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan, from Blade) tells Weyland the story of her father’s demise, you might just literally cringe in your seat at how corny the dialogue can be.
The weakest aspect of the picture has to be the pacing. Editor Alexander Berner favours incessant montages that don’t relate to each other. Film editing needs to be a seamless art. Berner merely focuses on the little details with no sense of the bigger picture. Therefore, his contribution to the film as a whole lacks a certain perceptive quality.
Cinematographer David Johnson (Othello) comes up with the odd memorable shot. One image showing a diminishing perspective (with chiaroscuro lighting) works quite nicely. However, that is where the niceness ends for Alien vs. Predator. Composer Harald Kloser’s work is functional, even though it very much bears the signature of a below average Jerry Goldsmith score on auto-pilot.
The visual effects come across as no more ambitious than the scripted words on Anderson’s laptop computer. Also, the sight of gooey alien resin might just put you off your popcorn. Are you going to get your money’s worth here? Judging by the box office success of Alien vs. Predator, both domestically and internationally, there is clearly an audience for this sort of thing. Yet, with no originality, good dialogue or clear intended purpose, the film ends up as a major disappointment for me.
(Released by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and rated “PG-13” for violence, language, horror images, slime and gore.)