What type of wine do you serve with crow? I'm asking because I'm about to eat a little. See, I have a friend who's been telling me for the past two years that Alien vs. Predator is a perfectly enjoyable piece of non-think entertainment. I have in turn been telling him that he's completely lost his mind. I pretty much loathed this movie the first time I saw it, and while I wasn't quite ready to crucify director Paul W.S. Anderson, I did take more than a few cheap shots at him. But now that I've seen the movie a second time, I'm backing off a bit from some of my previous statements, and I'm willing to accept whatever the consequences may be.
After a satellite owned by billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) detects a strange heat signature in Antarctica, he assembles a team of experts, including climber extraordinaire Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), to accompany him to the site and investigate the anomaly. Along the way he reveals that a pyramid of unknown origin has been discovered at the site, buried beneath several hundred feet of ice. Once inside the pyramid the team discovers relics of several ancient human civilizations, as well as evidence of ritual sacrifices. What they don't know is that an Alien queen is imprisoned in the bowels of the structure. After being kept in hibernation for the past hundred years, the queen has been brought out of her slumber in order to spawn warrior Aliens, which will in turn be hunted by three Predators who have come to Earth to engage in one of their species' rites of passage. After they realize they've been lured to the pyramid to serve as hosts for the Aliens, Alexa and her companions desperately struggle to make it back to the surface. Meanwhile, the three young Predators begin their hunt.
I'm not sure why I reacted so negatively to this movie the first time I saw it. I have no special affinity for either franchise, so I certainly didn't feel my childhood was being raped (a stupid notion if I ever heard one). I didn't resent the fact that Anderson, rather than say Ridley Scott or James Cameron, was helming the flick. (Unlike some, I don't view Anderson as England's answer to Uwe Boll; unlike Boll, Anderson shows some competence behind the camera, and could probably turn out a very good flick if he could get his hands on a solid script.) And I'd like to think I didn't go in with my mind already made up, having been unduly influenced by the backlash the movie received during its theatrical run, but I guess that is a possibility. Maybe I was just having a bad day. Whatever the reason, I came away wish no desire to see the movie again. After having finally caved to pressure and given the movie a second chance, I now agree that it is a perfectly enjoyable piece of non-think entertainment (until the last few minutes, that is, but we'll get to that in a minute). If you can turn your brain completely (and I mean completely) off, it's not a bad ride. It's nothing more than an excuse to kill a bunch of stock characters and stage a bunch of fights between two of modern cinema's more iconic monsters, but it knows what it is and makes no bones about it. It doesn't quite deliver on its promise (it's not violent, gory or unhinged enough to be totally successful on a visceral level), but it's certainly not the unmitigated disaster many people have made it out to be. (Of course, Anderson could have come up with the greatest thing since legalized birth control and he still would have been raked over the coals by a certain segment of the population.) Hell, I'd even go so far as to say AVP is a damn sight better than Alien: Resurrection, which to me is a textbook example of how even a truly gifted director can churn out a truly horrible film. Sure, they're not going to be teaching this thing in film schools anytime soon, but you could definitely find worse ways to kill two hours.
I think Anderson's one major misstep comes during the movie's climax, when he suddenly has Lathan morph into an action hero. Try hard enough and it's possible not to compare Lathan to Sigourney Weaver, at least for the first eighty minutes or so. But Anderson can't seem to resist the temptation to have her start kicking ass out of nowhere, at which point it becomes almost impossible not to make the comparison. Needless to say, that's a battle Lathan has no chance of winning. She simply can't compete, as an actress or as an action hero. (In Lathan's defense, she's been perfectly fine in other movies. I think she's just out of her element here.) On top of this, there's nothing about Alexa that leads you to believe she could go head-to-head with either or these species. Yes, she's tough, smart and resourceful, but that doesn't make her a warrior. Whereas Ripley went through an arc over the course of two films, Alexa simply changes in the blink of an eye. It would be impossible to accept the Ripley of Aliens if we hadn't seen what she had experienced in the first movie. Sure, she single-handedly dispatches the creature at the end of the Alien, but her actions there are a mixture of resolve and desperation. Had she instead been given a pulse rifle and gone tear-assing through the ship, blowing everything to hell, it wouldn't have worked. That works at the end of Aliens because she's evolved in a believable manner, making the climax both crowd-pleasing and a logical extension of the character. Unfortunately for Anderson, his ending is neither.
Despite my change of heart, I still have a few questions. I find it odd that Anderson has Alexa mention that the water surrounding Antarctica will kill you in a matter of minutes, but later has her running around in the cold with pretty much only a fleece top for protection. Seems odd to go out of your to call attention to the deadly cold and then chuck that notion out the window altogether. How is it that no one notices that big freakin' laser beam the Predators use to carve a hole down to the pyramid? I wasn't expecting a scene showing the guys at NORAD all abuzz over the flash, but you'd think someone on the damn icebreaker would have seen it (having Weyland see it but still carry on would have helped add more shading to the character). Why is it that the Predators' wrist blades can be damaged by the Aliens' acid, yet their disc weapons don't seem to be affected in the least? If they've developed a substance that's impervious to the acid, why not use it for all of their weapons? And given what we learn here, you have to wonder exactly what the Predators from the previous movies were doing on Earth. Were those two just a couple of tools out looking for some easy prey? Were they stopping by to make sure there were still plenty of human hosts? Were they stopping by to make sure the pipes hadn't frozen and burst? Am I reading too much into this? Yeah, probably.
Despite the fact that Fox released a Director's Cut of this movie a little over a year ago, what you'll find here is the theatrical cut and the slightly longer version that was included on the first DVD release. In what appears to be something of a first for Blu-ray, the two cuts are available via seamless branching. I had assumed each cut would be given its own layer, but there's a distinct layer change (one of those old school, stop-the-movie-cold layer changes) about an hour in.
The only flaw I could find in the 2.35:1 transfer (encoded with MPEG2 at a rate of 18 Mbps) was a bit of noise in a shot or two during the climax. It's nothing major, but it's enough to lower the rating just a hair. Aside from that, everything is aces. Colors, from the green Predator blood on down to the yellows of the Aliens' acid, are spot-on, flesh tones are perfect, the blacks (which are plentiful) are deep, and the level of detail is very impressive (take a look at the zipper on Lathan's coat; every bright red tooth is clearly delineated against the more muted red of the coat itself).
The movie gets the soundtrack it deserves, which means it's loud and quite active. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is front-heavy during the opening scenes, but things really let loose once the action starts. Bass is deep and tight, and the surrounds are well integrated. Dialogue is always clear and intelligible. Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included, as are English and Spanish subtitle options.
Fox has seen fit to carry over the commentaries from the previous releases. These are available for the theatrical version only.
The first track features Director Paul W.S. Anderson and Actors Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Lathan. This one balances production info with comments regarding the story and characters (insert your own joke here). Much like the movie itself, it's not a great experience, but it serves its purpose.
The second commentary features Visual Effects Supervisor John Bruno and Creature Effects Designers/Creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodroof, Jr. This track is, not unexpectedly, far more technical, and I found it the more enjoyable of the two. These guys know their stuff, and the information they share is quite interesting.
You also get another of Fox's Trivia Tracks. This one, which is designed as a transmission between a pair of scientists sometime in the future, provides information regarding the Predator and Alien cultures. Too bad it's so damn hard to read.
The disc is also enhanced for use with D-Box Motion Control Systems. I'm not lucky enough to own one of those fancy contraptions, so I can't attest to its effectiveness.
Closing things out is the movie's theatrical trailer.
I know what I hate, and I don't hate this movie. Had Fox included the Director's Cut and at least a few more of the extras found on the previous releases, I wouldn't have any qualms recommending a purchase. But the nagging suspicion we'll see a double-dip down the road is causing me to err on the side of caution, so I say give this one a rental.