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Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (Blu-ray)
Fox Home Entertainment / 2007 / 94 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: April 15, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Thursday, April 03, 2008
I just don't understand the appeal of the "Vs." movie. Why take a couple of over-the-hill franchises and try to "reinvigorate" their mythology by making yet another crappy, unnecessary sequel? It's the most obvious and desperate kind of gimmick that Hollywood can come up with (which is saying a lot), and "high concept" moviemaking at its most cynical. Indeed, the evidence speaks for itself: 'Alien vs. Predator,' 'Freddy vs. Jason,' 'Boa vs. Python' -- I think it's time to call a permanent ban on any flick with the letters "v" and "s" in the title.
To be fair, while 2004's 'Alien vs. Predator' wasn't a very good movie, it had enough camp appeal that it's utter stupidity was half-enjoyable in a shoddy, drive-in flick kinda way, but the movie, despite being a surprise box office success (grossing $80 million domestically) was strangely neutered, with Fox insisting on a PG-13 rating. Given that the original 'ALIEN' and 'Predator' franchises were hard-R pictures, the decision to go soft on 'AvP' felt like a poor creative choice, and a bit of a gyp to long-time fans of both series.
So, now we have 'ALIENS vs. Predator: Requiem,' a sequel to a hybrid(!), and in a weird way a "gift" to fans who felt a bit slighted by the first 'AvP.' This time, Fox has rectified the ratings mistake on the first flick, giving the faithful as hard an "R" pic as you're going to see -- it's gleefully sadistic and over-the-top on the gore (even more on this Blu-ray, which is the "Extreme Unrated" version with even more violence). It's also even stupider, cruder, and -- impossible as it may seem -- more pointless than the original 'AvP.' However sincere the studio and filmmakers may have been in trying to give fans what they wanted, I don't think I've ever seen a movie that has even less reason to exist than this one.
There really isn't a story here, per se. In a bunch of prologue gobbledygook, it seems a rebellious predator crash lands a ship full of mutated "PredAlien" experiments, and they quickly infest a small mountain town. That's it. We're then blandly introduced to a half-dozen nondescript, utterly forgettable "characters" whose sole purpose is to be PredAlien food. The rest of the film is a relentless hodgepodge of half-baked character arcs, throwaway "mythology" nods to the 'ALIEN' and 'Predator' movie backstories (most of it ripped from the popular comic book spin-off series), and bone-crunching action scenes where the monsters wipe out everything in sight. About the only real mystery in the movie is who is going to be slaughtered, and in what order.
If originality and a sense of narrative purpose are completely lacking in 'AvP:R,' the one thing the movie does have going for it is that it's so damn mean-spirited. You know you're in for a treat when right in the opening scene, a kid gets muzzled by a face-hugger, and only a few moments later his stomach is exploding. Another highlight is a hospital scene involving, um, a childbirth that has to be seen to be believed. 'AvP:R' musters its only real sense of tension by virtue of the fact that anyone could die at anytime. And oddly, that the film so delights in rubbing our noses in human pain and suffering almost makes it lighthearted -- it's like an old EC Comics come to life, but with no actual theme or substance to disturb us. That makes it impossible to be offended by 'AvP:R,' so you just sit back and enjoy watching the lengths the filmmakers will go to in their shameless pursuit of tastelessness.
I would like to mention some of the actors in 'AvP:R' -- and I bet there are a few good ones here -- but quite frankly I can't remember any of them. The real stars of this show are the creatures. Though I think the CGI in the film is pretty bad, whenever a man-in-a-suit shows up the artistry is actually quite effective. Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis created the film's monster designs (they also handled the same chores on most of the previous 'ALIEN' and 'Predator' films), and if nothing in the film matches Stan Winston's amazing "Queen" creation from 'ALIENS,' the PredAliens come damn close. The use of practical magic and impressive physical effects combine to create an often seamless illusion, and these menacing beasts are absolutely the best part of 'AvP:R.'
Despite these very minor pleasures, 'AvP:R' is still a worthless addition to both the 'ALIEN' and 'Predator' franchises. I'm a fan of both series (though the 'ALIEN' sequels rapidly descended in quality after the second), and it's pretty obvious that once the "vs." was added to the title, the properties were completely run into the ground. 'AvP' and 'AvP:R' are the bottom-feeders of movie sequels, chewing on the corpses of properties that should have been buried long ago. There is only slight geeky fascination left to be had in 'Requiem,' the equivalent of gawking at a cinematic car crash. I guess I still found myself staring, but I can promise you one thing -- I certainly won't get suckered in a third time.
Fox provides an 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode for 'ALIENS vs. Predator: Requiem' (framed at 2.40:1), with both the theatrical and unrated versions available from the start-up menu via seamless branching. Not only is the integration of the two cuts flawless, but the transfer is generally excellent -- easily one of the best I've seen lately from the studio.
The source is pristine, with a slick, detailed look that provides excellent pop. Blacks are inky and rich, and contrast is very well modulated without being too hot. Colors are vivid, clean, and not excessive, resulting in very appealing richness and deep orange fleshtones (aside from moments when the lighting becomes overtly stylized). Visible depth is reference-quality, with a wonderfully three-dimensional image that provides many demo-worthy moments.
Note that the transfer can be intentionally dark (particularly in the lair of the predators and other dank, subterranean locations). Yet even here I was generally satisfied, as shadow delineation holds, with only a bit of black crush obscuring the finest details. Overall the encode is also quite clean, with no obvious artifacts, except for instances of slight noise on wide solid patches of intense color. These minor nitpicks do keep me from giving 'AvP:R' a full five-star Video rating, but for most of its runtime, this presentation delivers plenty of bang for the buck.
'AvP:R' gets the DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit) treatment, and French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) options are also provided. When the film's action kicks in, it's a gangbusters soundtrack. When people actually talk to each other, go make some popcorn.
Let's face it -- the only reason to listen to a film like 'AvP:R' is to revel in bone-crunching mayhem. This one certainly delivers that. The power of the surrounds is enveloping and, at times, thrilling, with terrific presence to discrete effects and a wide, dispersive soundfield. The score is also strong in the mix, so the combined effect of all the elements is quite impressive. Add to that a wonderful heft to the entire frequency spectrum, with pummeling low bass and terrific clarity to the upper range.
Unfortunately, the soundtrack is dead boring in the talky character scenes -- thank God there aren't many of those. "Subtle" is not a word in the 'AvP' lexicon, so sustained atmosphere is lacking. The mix could have been stronger had the filmmakers applied at least a bit of creativity and imagination to the entire film, and not just the action bits. At least dialogue is surprisingly intelligible, and I never suffered volume balance issues, despite all the mayhem.
For a film as utterly inconsequential as this, its makers sure take it seriously, as proven my this extensive supplement package. (All of the video extras are in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video, and there are no subtitle options provided.)
- Audio Commentaries - The first is with directors Colin and Greg Strause, and producer John Davies. It's the kind of track that's enthusiastic, but won't sway anyone's opinion -- the movie still sucks. Adding fuel to the critical fire is the fact that the Brothers Strause actually discuss the casting and "acting," as if it mattered. Less laughable is their considerable knowledge of the comic book series, which influenced their script more than may be apparent. Davies, meanwhile, acts largely as a cheerleader, and helps in recounting the often arduous shoot in Canada.
A second commentary track features special effects supervisors Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics, the house behind the film's creature effects. A little of this type of discussion goes a long way for me, but this is a must-listen for effects fans. I was quite impressed with the man-in-a-rubber-suit tricks of 'AvP:R' over the CGI, and the pair go into quite generous detail regarding the conception, shooting, and post-production of the creature moments. Unfortunately, this track blands out by the end, with far too much dead air. No pun intended.
- Production Featurettes (SD, 28 minutes) - There are two here, all culled from the same batch of filmmaker interviews and laced with plenty of above-average making-of material. "Preparing for War: Development and Production" (16 minutes) is exactly what its title suggests. We get good background on the quick gestation of the project, the tough shoot (it's all water and darkness), and an intro to the conceptualization of the titular creatures. Cast comments are limited to the "Holy shit, I'm in an 'ALIEN' movie!" variety. "Fight to the Finish: Post-Production" (12 minutes) is actually more interesting, documenting how the Strause Brothers rushed to get the film to theaters while trimming the goriest bits to achieve an R-rating. There is also a look at some early CGI concepts and how they were fine-tuned for the final cut.
- Effects Featurettes (SD, 24 minutes) - This time there's three, and again they are all assembled from the same EPK material. "The Nightmare Returns: Creating The Aliens" (8 minutes) is a cool look at the early modeling and sculpting of the aliens and face-huggers, and how they updated the look from the original designs by H.R. Giger. "Crossbreed: Creating The PredAlien" (also 8 minutes) dissects the film's ace-in-the-hole, the mutated crossbreed that is, admittedly, pretty wicked. Finally, "Building The Predator Homeworld" (7 minutes) looks at the use of models, miniatures, and CGI to create the base of the predators. As with all of these featurettes, there's a nice mix of interviews, on-set footage, and concept illustrations.
- Still Galleries (HD) - For those who still haven't had their fill of creature designs, there are seven galleries here, with well over a hundred stills. Navigation makes good use of the format's color-coded remote buttons, so you can swish through a gallery with ease and view any image in a larger view. The seven galleries include "Designing the Alien," "Designing The Predator" and "Designing The PredAlien," plus four "On the Set" collections: "The Rooftop," "The Sewer," "The Hive," and "Cast And Crew."
- Added Footage Marker - If you're curious about the differences between the theatrical and unrated versions on the disc, flick on this feature. As the unrated cut progresses, an icon will pop up whenever footage appears that's not in the theatrical release. If nothing else, this feature illustrates just how little substance there is (outside of quick gore shots) in the "extreme" version.
- Digital Copy (SD) - A second DVD disc included in the set provides a downloadable digital copy of the movie. Just pop the disc in your PC, and the transfer to your computer (or other portable video device, such as an iPhone) is a snap. (Note that the digital copy is standard-def resolution only.)
- Theatrical Trailers - Fox includes two trailers for 'AvP:R,' plus HD spots for the original 'Alien vs. Predator,' 'Behind Enemy Lines,' 'Planet of the Apes (2001),' 'The Transporter,' 'Hitman,' and the current theatrical release 'Jumper.'
Exploiting the "Bonus View" (aka Profile 1.1) picture-in-picture capabilities of the Blu-ray format, Fox has included one quite extensive and intriguing exclusive extra.
- Weyland-Yutani Archives (HD) - Not a picture-in-picture commentary as you might expect, the "Weyland-Yutani Archives" is actually a graphic-based dossier on all things 'AvP.' If at first a bit complicated to peruse, it quickly becomes easy to browse these comprehensive text files on the extensive mythology of the ALIEN and Predator species. You can click through the spiffy interface and learn about both creature's races, including their background, hunting methods, weakness etc. The Bonus View integration comes in the form of a "Pictorial Evidence" section that provides montages of video clips from the movies in both franchises. There's no new video content here, per se, but more detail-oriented fans will probably enjoy hunting through these archives.
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'ALIENS vs. Predator: Requiem' is an entirely inconsequential film, and a nominal addition to both the 'ALIEN' and 'Predator' franchises. It only exists to show off some cool creatures tearing apart a lot of people -- although that may be enough for fans of "Vs." flicks like this one. This Blu-ray delivers quite well on the video and audio fronts, and the supplements are about as good as one could expect for a film that's not really about anything. If you just want to watch an utterly stupid (if good-looking) B-movie, then by all means, enjoy 'AvP:R.' It also makes for a fine demo disc, too.
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