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‘Alien vs Predator’ (2004): Review

Alien-vs-Predator avp 2004

Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson || Produced by: John Davis, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill

Screenplay by: Paul W.S. Anderson || Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon

Music by: Harald Kloser || Cinematography : David Johnson || Editing by: Alexander Berner || Country: United States, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Canada, Germany || Language: English

Running Time: 101 minutes

Paul W. S. Anderson’s controversial crossover flick between the famous Alien and Predator franchises is a project that has long held my attention for reasons both good and bad; I have referenced it many times on this site, with most of those allusions being negative. However, some of my opinions of several of the Alien-Predator (AP) sequels, including Anderson’s Alien vs Predator (AVP), have changed since I first started this blog, and I feel these latest opinions will remain concrete given my maturation as an amateur film-analyst over the past year or so. I believe I was too harsh and elitist in many of my judgments regarding some of the more “looked down upon” AP-titles released after the “original three” Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), and Predator (1987) — specifically Stephen Hopkins’ Predator 2 (1990), David Fincher’s Alien 3 (1992), and Anderson’s AVP.

avp 2004 hunter q

Hunters teach the hunted, but the ultimate prey won’t go down without a fight.

Paul Sounds-like-a-much-better-director’s-name Anderson is not one of my favorite filmmakers. However, with regards to his much discussed and widely disparaged crossover picture, I feel that both critics and fans alike have been too harsh and, quite frankly, missed the point of the film. I believe that his work on AVP deserves some credit.

What I’m saying is that I kinda like AVP. Here’s why:

Many of the artistic-design choices and the production values of the film are quite good. I believe the inspirations taken from the original 1989 comic book (edited and illustrated by Chris Warner), such as the use of Aliens by the Predators for sport hunting, and the original ideas inserted by Anderson, such as the pyramid-setting, are creative and expand upon the source material — far more so than anything in either Alien Resurrection (1997) or the much better received Predators (2010).

I don’t understand fan’s obsessive hatred for these ideas, or why so many aspects of the film’s setting were so poorly received. The implementation of the pyramid and the alien-hunting “rites of passage” for adolescent predators make sense; I think their execution in the story was well done. Setting the narrative on isolated Bouvetyoa Island is smart and keeps with series’ tradition; it does nothing to contradict continuity of the later films, it maintains tension in the narrative, and the set-designs of the pyramid are of high quality and are visually interesting.

avp montage ix

The titular Predators come well equipped, well armed, and with bad intentions. But so do the Aliens.

I also approve of the Predator and Alien designs. To me, the aliens look much improved from their goofy, bullet-dodging counterparts in Resurrection, and are the best presentations of the xenomorph on film since 1986. The expansions in the Predator arms and armor are slick and more extensive than the additions in Rodriguez’s Predators. Further shoutouts go to the filmmakers’ use of practical FX, including miniatures, animatronics, and creature suits, as well as their minimal, effective use of CGI.

The action scenes are well done despite the inevitable campy premise of having two monsters fight each other. Anderson’s use of slow-motion and the exciting score, combined with varying amounts of practical and computer FX, make this clash of monsters visceral and forceful.

If fans and critics should be complaining about anything in Anderson’s crossover beast-match, it’s the characterizations and, to a lesser extent, the dialogue. Where AVP struggles and where I think harsh criticism is justified is in the cardboard characters the screenplay touts about as the people we’re supposed care about in this sci-fi adventure. Compared to the casts in AliensPredator, and even AlienAVP comes up way short. There is no likable, everyman Hicks, no wise-cracking Hudson, no tough-as-nails tomboy Vasquez, and no charismatic commandos a la Predator’s gang of heroes. Even Scott’s picture, which stuck to slasher conventions established by Psycho (1960) of vanilla characters with no defined protagonist, outreaches AVP in terms of memorable personalities. AVP’s saving grace in this department is that its cast, particularly lead Sanaa Lathan and Lance Henrikson (yes, that one), have enough acting chops to slog through the mediocre to bad dialogue and make the conversational parts watchable.

In my opinion, the characterizations and dialogue in Rodriguez’s masturbatory fanboy project are as poor as in Anderson’s creation, and we still have the comical sumo-wrestling of famous sci-fi monsters (remember the Predator vs Predator matchup near the end?), but AVP wins by a landslide in terms of action filmmaking. I fail to understand the rabid praise of a film that tries so little and plays it so safe versus the incessant flogging of a film that at least tries (and succeeds more, if you ask me) to do something different. There is more successful creativity in Alien vs Predator than there ever was in Predators, and so many of the things fans found offensive in AVP, such as puny humans defeating far superior alien baddies (e.g. The comical thrust-parry samurai fight; Adrien “Big Nose” Brody beating up a Super Predator), dumb lines, and dumb characters are present in both films. And yet Predators is somehow the much awaited “redeemer” of the franchise.

avp 2004 montage iv

LEFT: The lead subadult Predator, Celtic, prepares to take on its first alien prey. Right Top: But Celtic falls to the lead alien drone, Grid. Right Bottom: The remaining Predator takes on the Alien Queen with new recruit, Sanaa Lathan.

I still don’t like Paul W. S. Anderson as a director and don’t approve of the overwhelming majority of his filmography, yet that doesn’t mean the guy can’t make a decent film once in a while. I think AVP is one of those films. I understand why many people don’t love it, yet I still to this day fail to comprehend why legions of fans loathe it.

—————————————————-

SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Alien vs Predator looks good and sounds good, thanks to a plethora of digital and practical FX and high production values. The action is more than competent, and the story is paced well.

—> However… the film struggles with its characterizations and dialogue. Sanaa Lathan is a decent heroine, but she’s not given much to work with, as is her supporting cast. The PG-13 rating is a head-scratcher .

—> ON THE FENCE: This one’s a guilty pleasure for me, I’ll admit. Few people outside the Alien-Predator fanbase will be able to take it seriously, and most AP diehards will dismiss it as offensive. That being said, I still don’t feel too guilty about enjoying it.

? They’re not heroes, they’re douchebags!

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About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

Discussion

20 thoughts on “‘Alien vs Predator’ (2004): Review

  1. This is a guilty pleasure film for me. I know its not good but I will easily watch the whole thing if it happens to be on tv 😀

    Posted by Tim The Film Guy | November 11, 2013, 8:34 pm
  2. For me Predator 1 & 2 (and aliens of course) were the only ones I think are worth watching. The idea behind this flick was ok and you might get interested in the beginning for the build up, but it turns out into a cheap gore and sci fi fest at the end.

    So as much as I can go on and on about Predator 1&2 (and also aliens), AVP is just not as good as those.

    And I definatly don’t want to add much about the sequel (AVP2), which was such a crappy crapfest that was filmed so dark you couldn’t even see what was going on…but perhaps it was better this way who knows.

    Posted by Dries | April 27, 2014, 11:17 am
    • I’m totally with you there on AVPR—I don’t really think anyone disagrees that Requiem was a terrible movie. That’s a pretty universal consensus as far as I’m concerned. However I think that the first AVP is a perfectly acceptable campy, “dumb but fun” movie for the reasons I described above. I think it’s one of the few underwhelming sequels post Alien 3 that actually tried and took risks with the source material. As a I said, I still don’t care much for PWS Anderson’s filmography as a whole, particularly the crappy RE films, and I think the script for AVP feels really rushed especially in its second half, but I still have never understood so many Alien-Predator diehard’s vehement hatred of the film.

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | April 27, 2014, 3:53 pm
  3. well yeah it’s not that bad as AVPRE, so it’s not that I hated it, but it’s not the same like Predator 2 for example. Predator 2 was also not the same as the first, but it still has some unique things to offer, for example the way they turned LA into a sin city sort of thing. AVP felt more commercialised in the way that they used the franchise to build very cliched scenes and used predators and aliens to get that…it was a more easier cash in if you can call it like that.

    I just missed the subtleness in AVP compared to the previous films. It was all action and gore (and a bit suspense in the beginning).

    Agreed, some scenes are enjoyable, and it’s the first time aliens and predators meet so that’s ok. But in the end I feel like they wanted to milk this franchise too much for their own good…

    Posted by Dries | April 29, 2014, 1:32 pm
  4. I’ve always said: As a Predator movie, this is great. As an Alien movie, it sucks.
    That’s just because I think what’s best about the first 2 Alien films is that they are about something underneath the horror and action. They’re more intellectual.
    Predator was always just a fun and simple action movie, and I think AVP hits the right beats that a Predator movie should. So I still kind of view AVP as a true Predator movie, but this Alien creature doesn’t share the same continuity as its real series. Kinda like how the Batman we see with Superman now is not the Batman we have in the Dark Knight trilogy.

    I read your review on the second one and agree with you there too. That movie just flat out sucks hahaha

    Posted by The Film Editorial | April 3, 2016, 6:46 pm
    • That’s not an illogical assessment of the movie; all of the Predator films produced (including the original) were relatively straightforward action affairs with some clever sci-fi/suspense twists to them. I would argue the first three Alien films are more character driven and thematically dense. They’re art films in B-movie-done-A dressup, or perhaps vice versa.

      Not to mention that the Aliens are essentially the antagonists of this 2004 film, while the Predators morph into the heroes by the end of it.

      To me, AvP has always been the perfect shlockfest, a mindless popcorn-fusion of two of my favorite cinematic IP’s, with just enough production value and endearing camp to make the ride worth it. It’s too nonsensical and self-aware to be worthy of fanboy hate, IMO, and yet it’s far too competently made to be listed on one of those so-bad-it’s-good midnight cult films like The Room (2004), Troll 2 (1990), or Samurai Cop (1991).

      Kinda sorta like Batman v Superman, in a way… lol. It’s hard to argue any film with the word “versus” in its title isn’t at least a little bit of a circus tent freakshow. I say embrace the bizarre 😀

      Posted by The Celtic Predator | April 4, 2016, 12:24 am

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