I think it should probably be apparent by now that I have an affection for the Alien and Predator series. That affection extends (sort of) into other media, like comic books and novels, though those are far iffier than the core product. And because I’m also a video gamer, like many of my generation, it stands to reason that when an Aliens vs. Predator game comes out, I’m going to be interested.
As it happens, this is not the first time the Aliens and the Predators have tangled on game screens. They’ve had tussles in the arcades and on consoles going back years, and the creators of this year’s Aliens vs. Predator actually broke ground on the concept with their own game ten years ago.
Aliens vs. Predator is a first-person shooter, but the twist is that the player gets to take on the roles not just of the marines as featured in Aliens, but of Predators and the Aliens themselves. This makes for a very different series of gaming experiences, all funneled through a shared narrative.
The heart of the game is the human campaign, as it features more locations and major set-pieces than the others. The game arms you with a pistol and drops you right in the middle of an Alien infestation on a colony world not too dissimilar to LV-426 in Aliens. Eventually you’re given the chance to use a pulse rifle, a smartgun, a shotgun and the ubiquitous flame-unit, but ammunition for these other weapons is scarce, so most of the time it’ll just be you and your dinky pistol crawling around in dark places, relying on a terribly underpowered flashlight and a motion detector (also straight out of Aliens) to find the Aliens before they find you.
During the course of the human campaign you get to face off with a Queen Alien and even a Predator warrior. It’s all very tense, nail-biting stuff and provided you’re not looking for the constant run-and-gun action of a game like Halo, you will enjoy yourself.
Holy moley does this movie suck. I’m not even sure I have it in me to spend 500 words talking about much it sucks, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I owe Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem no less.
I said yesterday that Alien vs. Predator was a well-intentioned semi-failure of a film that never rose to its own potential. Despite that, I kind of like it and will probably watch it again. I’ve seen Requiem twice now and I can say without fear of contradiction that I will never watch it again. Only viewing the movie with the commentary of Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis on made the film tolerable the second time through. It’s just that bad.
The movie begins pretty much right where Paul W.S. Anderson’s left off. For those of you who’ve seen that film, you know that it ends with a chestburster emerging from the dead body of the lead Predator, displaying some of the traits of the Predator already. What happens then is actually pretty stupid, but then you can say that of most of Requiem. Anyway, somehow the chestburster gets aboard a Predator ship that’s headed back to Earth for reasons unknown. Following the rapid development cycle I complained about in the last film, the PredAlien matures to full size in the blink of an eye and kills everyone aboard the ship, forcing a crash landing in the mountains of Colorado. And did I mention that the ship is inexplicably loaded with facehuggers? Well it is.
What follows is a slow infestation of a small town by Aliens, led by the goofy-looking PredAlien. And when I say goofy-looking, I mean that. The PredAlien looks like someone’s Alien knock-off for a movie like Alien vs. Hunter and it never looks good under any lighting or at any point during the entire film.
At risk of giving away the whole ball of wax in the first paragraph of my review, I can say this: I’ve now seen Alien vs. Predator four times and I can safely say it’s not a good movie. It is, however, a better movie than I gave it credit for the first time I watched it, which is saying something.
It all started with Dark Horse Comics. Looking for a comic idea with crossover potential with another company (like Hulk versus Superman or something like that), they decided to mix two of their own licenses to create something excellent. See my review of the Aliens vs. Predator Omnibus, Vol. 1 for more on that. The idea was carried forward on the set of Predator 2, when an alien skull was placed among the trophies aboard the Predator ship at the climax of the picture. With the success of the Aliens vs. Predator comics, it would seem natural that Hollywood would take an interest.
What’s surprising is how long it took for 20th Century Fox to do a film take on the pairing. The ball started rolling with screenwriter Peter Briggs’ adaptation of the original Aliens vs. Predator miniseries. The screenplay was really quite good, but I think Fox wanted to go cheaper and thus began a process whereby more than 40 different filmmakers and screenwriters pitched their ideas. The winning bid was placed by writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson, who’d made Resident Evil, among other things.
Anderson’s idea put the action on contemporary Earth, not a distant space colony, and involved just a handful of Aliens, humans and Predators. It could all be done on a budget smaller than the one for Alien 3. Set in an underground pyramid in Antarctica (don’t ask), Alien vs. Predator promised and delivered Alien-on-Predator action.
Interestingly enough, the bulk of the movie is taken up by its human characters — including Sanaa Lathan, who’s our Ripley stand-in — and Lance Henriksen. An expedition is geared up to head under the ice to this mysterious pyramid and we spend probably half the film just getting to know the various people involved. These aren’t deep characterizations by any means, but they do demonstrate a willingness to give the human dimension a go before piling on the aliens and slime.
Twenty years is a long time to wait between sequels. With each passing summer season, the freshness of the concept wears off a little more until the property is just one of those things the studio owns and has no interest in doing anything with.
As a result, it’s something of a pleasant surprise when a movie like Predators comes along. Having just seen Predator 2, I’d re-witnessed firsthand what it means to have a lackluster sequel to a stunning original. The time passing by since Predator 2‘s release didn’t raise my expectations very much. If anything, this seemed like it could be one last, desperate bite at the apple. I haven’t even touched on the Aliens vs. Predator movies yet.
Predators calls back to the original in all the ways it counts. We don’t have a standard “rogue cop” storyline with Predator elements grafted on, but a return to the small-group dynamics of Alan “Dutch” Schaefer and his team. As the film begins, a group of disparate individuals — some with military training, some without — are literally dropped into a jungle with no idea of how they got there. If you’re wondering where alien abductees go, then wonder no further: they are taken away to a Predator hunting planet to be sport. Well, at least these are. The rest are just anal-probed and returned.
Predators doesn’t go for big names in its cast, largely for budgetary reasons, I would imagine. The biggest “star” of the bunch is Adrien Brody, who won an Academy Award and seems at first blush to be totally out of place among actors like Danny Trejo, who are better-used to action-oriented fare. Brody’s not the only recognizable face, though: Topher Grace and Laurence Fishburne also appear.