To my mind, the concept of a "Vs." movie is the cinematic equivalent of a Mattel toy line. The motivation, of course, is guaranteed profitability -- but the narrative backflipping required to merge two disparate franchises into one coherent film tends to verge on the ludicrous. I suppose we can blame such celluloid silliness on the success of 'Freddy vs. Jason.' After New Line teamed up the cuddly horror icons for a hoot-fest smackdown, scaring up over $85 million domestically in the resulting bloodbath, other studios began scouring their vaults for any even remotely half-popular franchise they could wring for a few more bucks. And though the expected flood of other "Vs." flicks never quite materialized, Fox did jump into the fray with 'Alien vs. Predator,' which made 'Freddy vs. Jason' look like 'Lawrence of Arabia.'
The plot of 'Alien vs. Predator' is so ridiculous it is hard to write with a straight face. Seems that those pesky Predators are not newcomers to Earth -- since the beginning of time, they've been sending teenage hunters to our planet as part of a "coming-of-age" ritual. However, during one ancient battle, those facehugging Aliens fought back, and ever since, the two tribes have been bloodthirsty for a rematch. Flashforward to the 21st century, and industrialist billionaire Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen) uncovers what he thinks is an ancient pyramid buried beneath the surface of Antarctica. Sending in a crack archeological team led by Lex Woods (Sanaa Latham), the pillaging researchers soon uncover much more than they bargained for, and they find themselves unleashing the Predators and Aliens once again. Who will survive -- and what will be left of them?
Needlesstosay, the plot of 'Alien vs. Predator' is absolutely absurd. The merging of each franchise's backstories is hardly coherent, and does little to enliven the mythology of either. This is a gimmick movie, one designed to capitalize on fanboy fantasies of, "Wow, wouldn't it be cool to see the Predator kick an Alien's ass!?" Admittedly, on that level it succeeds at least fairly well. I went into this movie with such low expectations that it was almost impossible to be disappointed. Sure, the setup is all hokum -- do we really care one whit about any of the archeologists? -- but by the midway point, the Aliens have hatched, the Predators are lose, and the film's final 45 minutes turn into one long, viscerally exciting mutant monster show with plenty of human causalities.
'Alien vs. Predator' was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who mined similar sci-fi fright territory with such flicks as 'Event Horizon' and 'Resident Evil.' He manages to give the action a slick enough surface, with the production design of the pyramid sets looking kinda cool, and top-notch Alien and Predator effects as good if not better than anything seen before in either respective series. Unfortunately, it would seem he has yet to master the concepts of story and characterization. Because there are no real people here, only victims, and there is none of the emotional resonance that graced prior entries in both franchises, particularly the early ALIEN entries. And though Latham is likable and gutsy as Lex, her character is no Ripley. The plot of an expedition team investigating the Scary Dark Place is also so tired that all we can do is sit around and wait for each nameless actor to get his or her gruesome comeuppance. At least in 'Freddy vs. Jason,' such low-rent charms were perfectly in keeping with the slasher genre ethos, and the target audience couldn't expect more. But both the ALIEN and Predator films are cut from a superior cloth, so ultimately each franchise deserved a little bit better than this one-note, ultimately rote hoot movie. In short, 'Alien vs. Predator' has no heart, just guts.
Courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment, 'Alien vs. Predator' hits Blu-ray on a BD-50, allotting plenty of space for first-rate picture and sound, and plenty of extras. This 1080p/MPEG-2 transfer, however, while really quite good, is still a tad bit below reference quality.
As I remember from seeing 'Alien vs. Predator' in the theater (yes, I really did pay $12.50 for a ticket), it is a rather dark and cold film. This transfer appears to accurately reflect that, with slightly desaturated colors and frequent use of steel blue filtering to add a further arctic-like feel. Only the color red has any vibrancy to it, especially during the sequences inside the lair of the Predators and, of course, all that blood. On the plus side, hues are nice and solid, never bleeding (pardon the pun) or appearing too noisy. Contrast, though, is hit or miss. I noticed frequent scenes that appeared to lack pop in the high-range, and some inconsistencies in the source material. For example, a scene early on between Sanaa Latham and her new team standing on the deck of a ship suffers from noticeable wavering. There is also graininess to the image, which is fine, though it can fluctuate enough in density to be distracting. Noise also sometimes rears its ugly head, such as a shot of radio telescopes during the film's opening, which are alive with flecked dots. There is also softness at times, especially in the drab arctic daylight exteriors. However, for the most part, dark interiors (which is most of the second half of the film) and some bright early scenes look quite detailed and dimensional. So 'Alien vs. Predator' still looks very good overall despite a few drawbacks, and rates a four-star transfer.
All sound and fury, signifying nothing? That old saying came to mind watching 'Alien vs. Predator,' which is a film with quite odd sound design. Incredibly loud and ferocious, it also has very long passage of eerie silence. Such incongruity makes for an interesting audio challenge, which this DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 surround track largely meets.
As we're still waiting for hardware that can fully decode an DTS-HD mix, I had to listen to the 1.5mbps DTS "core" of the track for this review, but it still sounded quite good. In all honesty, I found the first half of the film to be sonically boring. The music swells up nicely and dialogue was rock solid, but there was little in the way of surround action. Even minor ambience was pretty dull, with little sustained atmosphere. But once the Predators and Aliens arrive, things really come alive. The entire second half of the film deep inside the pyramid is often an aural delight. Discrete sounds are nicely localized with pinpoint precision. Isolated effects, such as a flare being lit, or the snarl of an Alien, sound absolutely real. Deep bass is also a treat, with some nice humming low tones that give the quieter "stalking" passages a creepy feel. While the score is ultimately sparse, the booming final scenes really fill up the 360-degree soundstage nicely. Its lackluster first half notwithstanding, 'Alien vs. Predator' sounds pretty kick-ass.
Unfortunately, despite the use of a BD-50, 'Alien vs. Predator' is not really that packed with extras. To be sure, there are enough bullet points on the back of the box, yet upon closer inspection all of the supplements here are strictly audio-only. Gone are all the video-based extras on the two-disc standard-def DVD release of the film, including its multiple featurettes, deleted scenes and still galleries.
Note, however, that Fox has included both the Unrated and PG-13 Theatrical versions of 'Alien vs. Predator.' In what I believe is a first for both Blu-ray and HD DVD, the cuts are presented via seamless branching, so you can select either version right from the main menu for uninterrupted playback. Fox has even included the Unrated footage (about two minutes worth in all) as stand-alone supplemental material accessible on the Theatrical cut submenu, so you can check out the six additional scenes on their own. As far as quality goes, it is excellent -- the integrated footage is completely transparent with the theatrical version, and there are no "hiccups" or stalls as the disc branches off during playback of the Unrated cut.
Version control aside, the only two self-contained extras held over from past releases are the screen-specific audio commentaries. Track one features director Paul W.S. Anderson and actors Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Latham. Anderson is surprisingly self-effacing, even self-critical. He is no egotist, pointing out moments that he feels are failures, as well as sharing the usual production anecdotes about what was CGI and what was practical, where doubles were used in certain shots, etc. Henriksen chimes in on occasion, with his most interesting comments being his memories of the early ALIEN flicks. Latham is a complete disappointment, throwing in a quip or two here or there, but apparently bored out of her mind for the rest of the track.
The second commentary is with visual effects supervisor John Bruno and creature effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. These Oscar winners are usually interesting, although quite technical. Their work on 'Alien vs. Predator' is indeed outstanding, and if nothing here quite rivals Stan Winston's Alien Queen in 'ALIENS,' it is still fascinating stuff to dissect. Sure, this all gets a bit dry after a while, but still a good listen for makeup fans, with the trio spending most of the discussion commenting on what was full-size, CGI, or a miniature, and what advancements and upgrades were made to the creature designs from earlier installments in the franchises.
Last but not least is the film's theatrical trailer, along with spots for three other upcoming Fox Blu-ray titles, including 'Planet of the Apes' and 'Phone Booth.' All are presented in full 1080p video and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio.
'Alien vs. Predator' is exactly what its title suggests -- a knock-down, bloody effects-fest about monsters, not people. However insipid it may be, it's still fun for what it is. This Blu-ray release is solid -- I liked the transfer and soundtrack, though the extras are actually rather thin considering this is a BD-50 dual-layer disc. Still, it delivers enough home theater pizzazz to at least rate as a rental for fans.