'In space....'

Film The following sentence is quite shocking. If you don't like surprises, look away now. Alien Vs. Predator isn't all that bad. It's not great either for reason we'll get to shortly, but if you're looking for something to fill an hour or so and the only alternative is Shark Tale you won't be wasting your money.

From a scripting point of view it has very good pacing. It begins slowly, developing a strong foreshadowing of the horrors to come -- to an extent the first half hour of the film are like a pre-match build up, giving some history of the venue then introducing the players and giving an inkling of that their tactics are going to be. Like many of Paul W.S. Anderson's previous films the characterization is fairly lean -- most of the grunts are interchangeable and only the industrialist and leader of the group are given anything close to a back-story. But such things would detract from what needs in the end to be stripped down ride. Too much talk in a film like this slows things down.

There is also some very exciting production design. Given the back-story for the two alien cultures, the area in which the main characters find themselves at time offers the kind of thrills that are really needed. There are moments that a character will go down a corridor and the camera will pan left or right to reveal something which signals the kind of horror we can expect to be leaping out at them. In a decidedly retro move the creature designs are very faithful to their original appearances on film. Alien Resurrection Aliens strayed just too far from Giger's designs to the point that they could have been from any series. Here we have the classic design, in all its gooey brilliance. Similar the Predators have hardly been updated -- but frankly hardly needed to which is a testament to the original design work from (whisper) 1987.

But for me, the real surprise is actress Sanaa Lathan who's performance as expedition leader Alexa Woods is what drives the film forward. Presumably because the assumption is that the real stars are the creatures, the chief human duties have been passed to this relative unknown and her work is extraordinary. It's a bit like the old fairy tale of an understudy in the theatre getting their chance when the real lead falls ill and given the opportunity commands the stage. Realistically, the film could have totally fallen apart if it weren't for the depth which Lathan brings -- there are times when she's our eyes and ears and if she'd just been a screamer we would not have cared a jot about the outcome. But there are times when the aliens are literally at each other's throats and we want to be knowing what's happening with her. It should unbalance the film, but actually it levels everything out, especially in the climax in which this added dimension draws us away from an expected battle between to special effects. She's the new Halle Berry, only good.

But as I said at the top the review, this isn't a perfect film. Because it makes the necessary assumption that anyone seeing this will have seen the previous collective six movies from both series, it doesn't spend a lot of time dealing with the mechanics of who either creatures are. There are moments which are total re-runs of previously filmed moments and although we know what's going to happen and this should add tension it would have been nice to add something extra to the biological mechanics of the thing. Also it's an incredibly dark film, to the extent that at times some of the fight scenes, particularly between the creatures are difficult to follow. It's a brave move to use a noir-like lighting plan in which only source lights appear to be in use but if you've got a dark grey Alien against a dark grey stone wall fighting a Predator who's armour is dark grey you need something to give the silhouettes clarity.

Given the most of the characters are ciphers it needs talents like Lathan to carry the work. Outside of her, although it's not an entirely charisma free zone, weird line readings abound -- every day phrases given much more emphasis than is really needed thank you contrasted with shock and awe moments reduced to the excitement of someone ordering tea. With the exception of Lance Henriksen (who growls his way through his part) and Ewen Bremner (because we've seen him before) the rest of the cast sort of all blend together -- not really their fault, they're not given that much to do. Raoul Bova in the best friend role is probably suitably rugged though.

I don't think I'm giving too much away if I say that predictably at the end of the film, sequel possibilities are set up. To a degree I wish that characters wouldn't be tied so much into franchises. I'd like to see the Alexa Woods investigating a totally different alien civilisation instead of inevitably returning for a second round with these two. Actually I think AvP:2 would be a fairly pointless exercise and probably pushing it. The only way this madness could possibly continue is in Alien V and Predator III and oddly enough on the basis of this it's the latter I'd be most interested in watching.

[Three final observations. Doesn't this film just have the plot of the Doctor Who story of Tomb of the Cybermen if the Daleks also showed up? Also you might think I was being a bit harsh earlier but imagine how good Sanaa Lathan would have been playing Storm in X-Men. With Halle Berry apparently uninterested in X-Men 3 I think we've found a really good replacement. And I wonder this might have been like if Paul Thomas Anderson had directed it and which songs he would have used.]

1 comment:

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