Talking Movies [Crossover Crisis]: AVP: Alien vs. Predator: Extreme Edition

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Tuesday in April in an event I call “Crossover Crisis”.

Released: 7 March 2005
Originally Released: 12 August 2004
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
20th Century Fox
Budget: $60 to 70 million
Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Colin Salmon, Ewen Bremner, Ian Whyte, Tom Woodruff Jr., and Lance Henriksen

The Plot:
When sickly, wealthy industrialist Charles Weyland (Henriksen) discovers a pyramid buried off the coast of Antarctica, he coerces experienced guide Alexa “Lex” Woods (Lathan) to lead a team of scientists, mercenaries, and archaeologists in an expedition to investigate. However, they soon find themselves caught in the middle of a war between two viscous alien races as three Predators (Whyte) come looking to prove their worthy in battle against the ultimate prey, the ferocious Xenomorphs (Woodruff Jr.), whom they breed within the ancient structure.

The Background:
The concept of Aliens vs. Predator originated in the pages of Dark Horse Comics; founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics stood out from its competition by by primarily publishing creator-owned titles and achieved mainstream success with its licensed adaptations of horror and science-fiction films, such as the original meeting of these two icons in a three-issue short story, courtesy of writer Chris Warner, which was then followed by multiple follow-ups, action figures, and videogames. Although it appears that plans for a live-action adaptation can be traced back to the late-nineties, these were paused to focus on Alien Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997) and, despite director James Cameron and actor Sigourney Weaver openly criticising the idea of diluting both creatures with a crossover, with director Paul W. S. Anderson spearheading the production after pursuing the project for eight years and winning over the studio with his pitch. While the comic books were set in the future like the Alien films (Various, 1977 to present), AVP was set in the then-modern day, but Anderson strived to maintain continuity by setting the film in the wilderness of Antarctica. Anderson’s focus on continuity and paying homage to the existing franchise compelled him to bring star Lance Henriksen back to play an ancestor of the Bishop seen in previous films, though star Arnold Schwarzenegger was unable to make an appearance. Amalgamated Dynamics Incorporated (ADI), who had worked on the last two Alien films, created AVP’s special effects, which focused on practical suits as often as possible, which led to ADI re-using many of the suits and animatronics from the previous movies. Although Alien vs. Predator eventually grossed over $177 million at the box office, it was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews; while some found it to be an enjoyably dumb action/horror flick, others saw it as a boring film filled with one-dimensional characters and lacking in either franchise’s trademark gore. The box office was clearly enough to convince the studio to push forward with a sequel, however, and, prior to that film’s release, this “Extreme Edition” of AVP was released on home video and contained a few extended scenes for home audiences.

The Review:
In all honesty, AVP was off to a bad start in my book right away with its rating; while it’s possible to have violent, gory, and sweary 15-rated films, scary monsters and subject matter need to be factored into the equation, meaning AVP lacks not only the iconic soundtracks from its forefathers but also completely wastes its one f-bomb and denies us the signature “Ugly motherfucker” line. This method of playing things way too safe extends to the film’s setting, which, unlike the comic books and videogames, takes place on then-present-day Earth, a decision that works for the Predator narrative but somewhat conflicted with the Alien timeline as we know it back then. It tries to get around this by having the bulk of the plot take place in secluded Antarctica, but it just doesn’t work for me. I feel like the simplest solution would’ve been to set it in the future, perhaps between the second and third Alien film, and have it take place on a remote ice world; you replace Weyland’s mercenaries with renegade Colonial Marines, splice in a bit more of the malevolent designs of his corporation, and maybe throw in an android (Maxwell Stafford (Salmon) would be my pick) and you’d already be on a better path than shoehorning Xenomorphs onto Earth long before their existence was discovered. Instead, we get the briefest tease of a space-based film before a Weyland satellite picks up an unexplained heat flare at a whaling station way down South and then we’re meeting Weyland’s recruits for an expedition to investigate. Just when you feel you can accept the setting presented, AVP immediately throws a few idiotic decisions at you within the first five minutes; Lex is supposed to be this experienced Arctic explorer and yet she’s climbing up a mountain without any face coverings and she somehow failed to hear Stafford’s helicopter land above her. Later, she even rushes out in the dark, bitterly cold temperatures of the whaling station in little more than a body suit, surely inviting hypothermia despite the scattered fires, but these are the least of AVP’s problems.

Lex and Sebastian are stuck between an age-old conflict between two alien races.

Lex is the best at what she does; she’s climbed everything and is highly recommended, so naturally Weyland seeks her out the lead his expedition. A hardened veteran of numerous climbs, Lex believes in being prepared; she’s far from intimidated or impressed by Weyland’s wealth or Stafford’s guns and balks at the idea of heading to the site without proper training or preparation. In fact, she chooses to abandon the expedition entirely when the two ignore her warnings and is only convinced to stay when archaeologist Professor Sebastian De Rosa (Bova) and chemical engineer Doctor Graeme Miller (Bremner) point out that they spend a better chance of surviving with her there and without her and, once they reach the site, she’s quick to enforce her rules to ensure their survival no mater how much it irks Stafford. There’s a subtle romantic tension between Lex and Sebastian, but thankfully it’s not dwelled upon all that much; a down on his luck digger who’s just about ran out of money for his excavations, he jumps at the chance to be a part of Weyland’s team and his expertise is invaluable first in recognising that the pyramid contains elements of Cambodian, Egyptian, and Aztec structures and, later, in translating the hieroglyphics contained within, though his warnings go unheeded by Weyland’s gung-ho mercenaries. Against his better judgement, Sebastian is left with no choice but to go along with Lex’s plan to side (or, at least, appease) the Predators since their true targets are the Xenomorphs infesting the pyramid; her entire character is built around survival, by any means necessary, while he’s more inclined towards braving the odds to find a way out. While I never for a second believed they had any chemistry, it was still a sad moment when Lex was forced to mercy kill him rather than let him suffer the agony of a Chestburster, but I can’t help but feel like this would’ve landed better if there’d been less disposable mercenaries and more time spent on developing their characters and interactions (and a better script…and a couple of better actors to boot…) Miller is primarily part of the group to be the somewhat awkward, likeable everyman who we will feel sorry for when he inevitably falls victim to the extraterrestrial menaces within the pyramid; you know he’s destined for a bad ending the moment he whips out pictures of his kids and, while he lasts a fair amount of time, this eventually comes to pass when he’s cocooned up for a Facehugger buffet.

Stafford and Weyland just about manage to stand out against a bunch of forgettable characters.

Still, at least he shows a bit of character, however cliché, which is a bit more than can be said about most of Weyland’s team; Adele Rousseau (Agathe de La Boulaye) seems like she’s channelling a bit of Private First Class Jenette Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) in her snarky, non-nonsense attitude but she never even gets the chance to put up a fight and is the first of the team to be imploded from within by a disappointingly bloodless Chestburster. Mark Verheiden (Tommy Flanagan) cuts an intimidating figure with his facial scar and surly demeanour and for a second it seems like him and Miller are going to be to odd couple pairing of the group but then he’s unceremoniously offed in a scene that apes the fate of Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt). Thankfully, Colin Salmon is on hand to lend some gravitas and presence to the proceedings; Stafford comes across as an arrogant, conceited mercenary who always believes that he’s right and that his weapons and training are more valuable than expert knowledge, but he’s sadly wasted here. It’s fun seeing his icy demeanour crack as the pyramid constantly shifts and changes around him; I also liked that he ends up giving Weyland some backchat after his obsession costs so many lives and that he met a suitably gruesome end, but I can always do with more Colin Salmon in my films and he was criminally underutilised here. That just leaves Charles Bishop Weyland himself; it’s always a blast seeing Lance Henriksen and he really lends a legitimacy to this farce of a film. Although incredibly wealthy, and powerful and influential enough to do almost anything, Weyland can see the end of his life coming and knows that his legacy will only be remembered as a businessman rather than anything tangible. Having witnessed her father die from his obsession with climbing and exploration, she recognises the condition in the deathly ill Weyland and cautions him about pursuing his fixation when he’s physically incapable of taking the strain; however, just as she earns his respect through her expertise, so too does he manage to convince her that he needs to explore the strange pyramid to feel like his life was actually worth something. His need to show that he’s not out of the fight just yet comes to bite him, however, when he angrily confronts the lead Predator (known as “Scar”) and ends up skewered after forcing the alien hunter to recognise him as a threat, thereby becoming one of only two actors to be killed by a Xenomorph, Predator, and a T-800.

With his comrades easily offed, Scar is left to achieve glory in the great hunt.

More than ever, the Predator is naturally a key character in the film; a novice hunter compared to the Predators we’ve seen before, Scar and his comrades – “Chopper” and “Celtic” (both also played by Whyte) – make landfall hoping to prove their mettle by hunting the ultimate prey. The pyramid is thousands of years old and the film very blatantly shows that the Predators were instrumental in the development of the human race; worshipped as Gods and using ancient humanity as slave workers and sacrificial victims to the Xenomorphs, the Predators are recast as being the inspiration for, at the very least, the Egyptian deities of lore. Scar and his comrades might be much bigger and sport shinier armaments but, without the ritual scar that one earns from a Xenomorph kill, they’re far less experienced than their predecessors. Indeed, these rookies don’t even come equipped with their signature shoulder blasters; these weapons are hidden within the pyramid and act as the trigger to set off the automated process that sees their captive Xenomorph Queen literally thawed out and laying eggs ready for the hunt. Still, that’s not to say that they’re completely useless; they sport all the same weaponry and technology as the “City Hunter” (Kevin Peter Hall), meaning they can bend light to appear invisible, have wrist-mounted blades, an extendable lance, an alternative version of the Smart Disc that appears more like a shuriken, and their razor-sharp net. As ever, they’re also afforded the benefits of their helmets, which allows them to see in a variety of spectrums and stalk their prey, but they’re woefully ineffectual against even a single Xenomorph; only Scar proves capable enough to earn his mark and even then he’s impregnated by a Facehugger with a ridiculous amount of ease and essentially a dead Predator walking for the rest of the film.

Lex and Scar team up against a hoard of Aliens led by their enraged Queen.

With all of her comrades dead, Lex is left no choice but to force a team up with Scar, something he’s understandably disinterested in. not only is there an obvious language barrier between the two, there’s also a cultural one; the Predator clearly sees her (and all humans) as little more than cannon fodder and he’s ready to kill her before she impresses him by killing a Xenomorph. Thus, in easily one of the cheesiest scenes in the film, franchise, and all of cinema, Scar cobbles together a weapon and shield for her and the two literally run off into the pyramid to fight their way out. As is often the case in these types of movies, one of the two monsters are cast as being more recognisably “evil” and, in this case, it’s the Xenomorphs. Vicious, brutal, and animalistic in nature, the Xenomorphs are little more than a swarm of near-mindless locusts intent only on killing, feeding, and defending their Queen. Since the Predators are more recognisably humanoid, and obviously have a twisted code of honour of sorts, it makes sense for them to be the more heroic of the two, but Scar is more of an anti-hero and his partnership with Lex is one of convenience more than anything. Also, it can’t be forgotten that the film makes it very explicitly clear that the Predators bred the Xenomorphs using humans and that the film’s entire events happen because they returned to embark on their great hunt, meaning that they’re just as destructive and dangerous as the more voracious Xenomorphs. Although largely interchangeable and disposable, one Xenomorph manages to stay out from the pack after being scarred by the Predator’s net; “Grid” crops up as a recurring threat throughout the film, but is naturally supplanted by the fearsome Alien Queen once she breaks free from her shackles and goes on a rampage for the film’s bombastic finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I’m not really sure that this “Extreme Edition” really makes the best use of its rare second chance to improve upon the theatrical release; this version of the film adds a very brief opening sequence showing a cloaked Predator chasing down some poor fool at the whaling station in 1904 but that really doesn’t add a whole hell of a lot to the film. We know the whaling station’s been abandoned, it’s said in the script, and the fact that a fuckin’ Predator pyramid is hidden beneath it kind of heavily implies that the creatures slaughtered whoever was there a hundred-plus years ago so it basically adds nothing except the short thrill of hearing that iconic Predator gurgle within the first two minutes. There’s a little bit ore time spent with some of the characters at the start of the film, none of which really amounts to all that much; we already know Sebastian is struggling for financing and that Verheiden is an asshole, though I did like the clarification that Sebastian was planning to decline and return to his dig with Weyland’s money). The main addition beyond the useless opening is some extra gore courtesy of some CGI blood; it’s not enough to salvage the film or bring it on par with its predecessors, but it helps to add a bit of colour to the proceedings and at least pretend to be an Alien/Predator film. The issue is, however, that there are fundamental missteps with the entire film from a script and concept level; AVP betrays its gory roots in favour of trying to capture a wider audience, reducing both franchises to a mindless action/monster film full of one-dimensional and forgettable characters. Try as she might, Lex is no Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Sanaa Lathan fails to impress as a tough leading lady. Of course, it doesn’t help that characters are constantly just saying the obvious simply to spell out what’s happening and to have something to say; subtlety was never Paul W.S. Anderson’s strong suit but he abandons it entirely for endless diatribes about the nature of the pyramid and its monstrous inhabitants just in case the kids watching can’t keep track of what’s happening.

When the two monsters actually go at it, it’s a pretty impressive and brutal physical affair.

AVP is a strange contradiction; on the one hand, the film is awash with CGI and green screen, shots, with the Predators’ cloaking effects and shoulder cannon being the most egregious, but, on the other hand, it employs traditional practical effects and composite shots. The result is that, for much of the film, the two creatures are brought to life using men in suits; specifically, the Xenomorphs recall (or are perhaps ripped straight from) Alien Resurrection and the Xenomorph Queen is a bigger and more complex animatronic than the original, though I can’t say that I’m a fan of the woeful redesign of the Predator’s face, which somehow looks even worse than the 1987 original thanks to a misguided attempt to make Scar appear more sympathetic. Other missteps can be found when the Predators slaughter the drilling team on the surface; this scene plays out like a rushed and toothless rendition of its predecessors, made all the more obvious by the bodies being strewn up but not skinned. When the two monsters do finally do battle, however, the film largely delivers; the scuffles we do see are primarily suit-on-suit or suit-on-animatronic action, though some odd creative licenses were made regarding the length of the Xenomorph’s tails and the Predators are disappointingly neutered in these conflicts. Chopper is impaled through the back like a loser and, despite Celtic absolutely dominating Grid during their destructive brawl, he ends up being pounced up and having his brains blasted out. Although Scar dispatches of a Xenomorph with a deft skill and earns his mark, even he’s unable to keep himself from being impregnated, though he is able to use his self-destruct device to destroy the pyramid and contain the Xenomorph outbreak in keeping with the traditions of his people. While I’m unimpressed with the digital coat of paint given to the Predator’s technology, it’s the impotent portrayal of the Xenomorphs that really lets this film down; the incubation time of the Chestbursters has been shortened from days or hours to mere minutes and they pop out with barely a splash of blood, and the only time we really see them splattering gore is when they’re spilling the vivid neon green blood of the Predators.

Although Lex earns the clan’s respect, Scar doesn’t make it and gives birth to an even greater threat…

Eventually, of course, Lex is the only human left standing; armed with the gutted skull of a Xenomorph and a modified spear, she accompanies her newfound partner to the exit of the pyramid, with Scar destroying the entire structure but getting injured following a surprise attack by a Xenomorph. Still, the two manage to escape to the surface, burying all evidence behind them and, in a moment of respect, Scar brands Lex with the sacred mark in recognition of her Xenomorph kill (despite the fact that she got lucky, something I’m pretty sure the Predators would’ve acknowledged). However, the Xenomorph Queen somehow escaped the blast to menace them in the film’s finale; here, the Queen is a combination of a massive animatronic, puppetry, and CGI and the result isn’t actually half bad, making for a pretty impressive last few minutes as Scar and Lex desperately try to fight it off with their weaponry. With Scar having lost his shoulder cannon during the escape, the two have to improvise somewhat; Lex takes cover in a frozen bone yard and the remains of the whaling station, which only riles the Queen up more, but Scar is able to impale her through the head with his lance. Unfortunately for the young hunter, Scar is run through from behind just like Weyland’s android counterpart while helping Lex to tangle the Queen up in a water tower; it’s thus Lex who not only delivers the coup de grâce to the rampaging matriarch, sending her plunging to the frigid depths of the ocean, but who is honoured by the Predator Elder (Whyte). Just like in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), a group of Predators decloak before her and grant her a gift for her bravery before departing with Scar’s body, which I have to give props to as any film that actually acknowledges the under-rated Predator 2 gets a nod from me. While Lex’s fate is unknown (there’s a snowmobile nearby so presumably she uses that to get back to civilisation), Scar is taken back aboard the Predator ship and left on a ceremonial alter in reverence to his accomplishments (such as they are)…only for a disgusting little Alien/Predator hybrid Chestburster to emerge from his chest to set up for the sequel…

The Summary:
As a fan of both franchises, and the concept of Aliens Versus Predator, I was pretty disappointed by AVP: Alien vs. Predator. Everything that made the two franchises great has been stripped away and replaced by a by-the-number monster/action flickthat has none of the nuance of the Alien series or the machismo of the Predator films. It comes to something when the comic books are gorier than the movies and I think AVP really let itself and its honestly impressive practical effects down by toning back the violence and blood and slipping in some unnecessary CGI. Although it massively contradicted the mythology we’d seen in the films up until that point; I enjoyed the flashback to the conflict between the Predators and Aliens; I’ve always liked the idea of the Xenomorphs being the ultimate prey and even the idea that the Predators were frequent visitors to Earth has sone legs, I just find it questionable depicted the Aliens being on Earth in 2004. Still, there are still quite a few elements from the Dark Horse Comics here, most notably the Predator using a strung-up Xenomorph Queen to breed their prey and depositing them across the galaxy. Aesthetically, there’s a few noteworthy elements too; I like that the film’s set in the frozen wilderness as I think it’s important to place the Predators in new environments and the dark, claustrophobic corridors of the ever-shifting pyramid recall the atmospheric, oppressive nature of the first and third Alien film. Scar is a notable highlight of the film, for sure, and I did enjoy his brutal throwdown with the Xenomorph Queen and the inclusion of Lance Henricksen, but the overall toothless nature of the film really stops it from being everything it could’ve been. There’s enough here to like if you’re just looking for a mindless monster romp but, as both franchises are capable of so much more, I can’t help but remain disappointed by the end product, especially as it would’ve been so easy to bring it more in line with the standards set by its predecessors.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the live-action version of Alien vs. Predator? Were you disappointed by the lack of gore, the modern-day setting, and the toothless execution of its titular monsters? Which of the humans was your favourite and what did you think to Lex and her alliance with Scar? What did you think to the alternations made to the Predator lore and the relationship/conflict between the two species? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts on Alien vs. Predator, drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.

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