The concept behind Ridley Scott's Alien was that it was a B-movie treated like an A-list contender. With an attention to detail and distinct visual style, combined with an airtight script and an unforgettable collection of characters, Alien accomplished its goal and set a new benchmark for horror. Predator, on the other hand, was a balls to the wall action flick, and the two films in that series were done with such panache and glee that they quickly became a genre favorite. When the two franchises were combined in a comic book by Dark Horse, fans rejoiced in the inspired match-up of iconic movie monsters. However, after the debut of the comic book in 1990, the Alien series suffered from a pair of subpar entries (while I don't hate either Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection, they certainly exist on a lower rung than the astounding one/two punch of Alien and Aliens) that began a decline in quality that has only gotten worse with the release of Alien vs. Predator. The film, written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, found the director seemingly flipping the bird to fans of both franchises, as he ignored many of the established facts of the previous films and populated the picture with pathetic caricatures that were painful to watch. While the film was a critical flop, it had a huge opening weekend and a strong life on home video, prompting Fox to greenlight a sequel.
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem takes place immediately following the events of Alien vs. Predator, as the Predator ship takes off from Antarctica, carrying a stowaway xenomorph. Only this is no ordinary Alien, but a hybrid, combining the strengths of both species. The Predalien attacks the Predator crew, forcing the ship to crash land in Colorado. The Predalien and several facehuggers run amok, starting a Xenomorph infestation right in the town. A lone Predator is sent to Earth to contain and destroy the Alien presence. The townspeople are caught in the middle and for them it will be a struggle just to survive.
When initially announced, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (referred to in shorthand as AvP:R) seemed to offer the antidote to the unbelievable disappointment of Alien vs. Predator. The Alien series was well known for taking chances on new directors (Ridley Scott, James Cameron, and David Fincher were all virtual unknowns when they were hired to direct their respective installments), so the announcement of first-time directors The Brothers Strause was a relief after the cinematic masturbation of Anderson. And the first red band trailer showed an incredible amount of gore and dismemberment, prompting many to prematurely declare AvP:R the film that Alien vs. Predator should have been in the first place. However, expectations can be a terrible burden, and it turned out that Requiem actually got worse reviews than its predecessor, and the film only did half the gross at the box office.
Truth be told, Requiem is better than Alien vs. Predator, but only in the way that after you eat shit, a moldy ten-day old sandwich doesn't look so unappetizing. To their credit, Greg and Colin Strause do their hardest to evoke the legacy of the previous films in both franchises. Unfortunately, they don't do this by bringing back the nail-biting intensity and claustrophobia of Alien, or the edge of your seat action of Aliens and Predator. Instead, they mimic and ape shots from every film in both series, including sequences from Alien: Resurrection and Alien vs. Predator. At times, the film becomes a montage of homage shots. While this slavish devotion to what came before is preferable to the slapdash handling Anderson brought to his outing, it also serves to highlight the deficiencies in the Strauses' filmmaking. The movie is shot and cut in such a pedestrian and humdrum matter that at no point do you feel even an ounce of suspense, terror, or adrenaline.
The script, by Shane Salerno, at least attempts to develop the characters before the slaughter begins. Unfortunately, the characters are either unlikeable or carbon copies of characters from previous films. Reiko Aylesworth's character, for example, is a third grade Ripley rip-off, and even worse, she has a daughter who not only looks like Newt from Aliens, but is in fact given same of the same exact lines of dialogue from James Cameron's script. Steven Pasquale's character, Dallas (an obvious name check to Tom Skerritt in Alien) is the only semi-likable character, but even he has an asshole brother who the audience can't stand. It's impossible to put yourself in the place of the people on screen when you want them to die. And having the Aliens infest homeless people doesn't exactly inspire sympathy, either. The script also fails to adequately motivate the Predator. Why is he trying to hide the existence of the Xenomorphs from humans when he's more than happy to kill and skin the townspeople and cause thousands of dollars in structural damage? Why would Predators care if humans knew about the Aliens anyway?
Another major problem with the film is the failure to adequately set up the geography of the town. Much of the film hinges around who is in what location at what time, but this information means nothing to the audience with knowing the layout of the area. It's worth noting that Requiem had the relatively lowest budget of any of the films in either series (that is, after you adjust for inflation), and by far the shortest amount of prep and shooting time. This results in the worst effects in the films to date, with some CGI work that looks like it would have been right at home in a low budget film from 1995. Aside from looking bad and distracting the audience, this turn of events is somewhat astonishing, given that the Brothers Strause own a visual effects shop. When the film was released, I heard almost unanimous complaints about how the film was shot so dark that often the action couldn't even be seen on screen. I didn't notice this problem when watching the film on Blu-ray. Either the theatrical prints were set too dark, or the film has been lightened for home video, but either way, that's at least one issue that no longer should bother anyone.
There are so many problems to cover with Requiem that I didn't even mention how poorly the Brothers Strause handled the Predalien. What should have been the ultimate heavy was turned into some sort of mini-queen, completely changing the Alien life cycle to force the story forward. Gone is the hauntingly disturbing eroticism of Giger's original designs. Gone is the grace and terror of the life cycle Dan O'Bannon dreamed up. The Predalien is simply an ugly amalgamation of two far more interesting creations, finally turning the series into the B-movie that it has resisted being for so long. There are a few scenes of good, old fashioned Alien vs. Predator action that manage, despite everything, to offer a few basic thrills, but they're so few and far between, and sit in a framework with so many insurmountable issues, that Requiem can't drag itself out of the pit of its own mediocrity. For hardcore Alien and Predator fanatics, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem will offer a marginal improvement over AvP. But it will also remind you exactly how far the series has fallen, and make you yearn for the days when the release of an Alien or Predator film was actually something to look forward to.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents Alien vs. Predator: Requiem in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 in an AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. On the whole, this is a very strong transfer. The most important aspect of Requiem are the blacks, which are deep and inky, without any artifacts or black crush. The details on the Aliens and Predator are fantastic, with all the ridges on the Alien domes visible, and all the battle scars on the Predator ready for your scrutiny. There are a few scenes near the beginning that seem a little too soft, and maybe too warm as well. While the pre-invasion scenes on Earth seem to have a golden glow, it quickly turns to an icier blue as the creatures overrun the town. I also noticed a couple of instances of slight edge enhancement that will probably not ever be noticed by most viewers.
Fox offers a lossless DTS HD MA 5.1 mix and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. While my PS3 still cannot decode DTS' lossless audio codec (although at the time of this writing an update to the system has been announced as coming soon), the lossy DTS core still ripped the guts out of my speakers. When the action really gets going, your sound system will become a playground of broken spines, skinned bodies, screeching Aliens, growling Predators, and more. The bass is thundering, pounding you into submission like a jackhammer applied directly to your face. The only issue I have with the mix is that the dialogue scenes are absolutely bland, with no sense of larger atmosphere or surround use.
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem arrives on Blu-ray in a two-disc set. The first disc houses the film and all the extras (all in standard definition), while the second is a DVD with a digital copy of the film. While it is both PC and Mac compatible, it appears I received the screener too early to test the digital copy on my iPhone.
- Commentary by Directors Greg and Colin Strause, and Producer John Davies: Greg and Colin Strause give a surprisingly light and funny commentary, never taking the film too seriously. John Davies eggs them on, throwing out potshots and other funny comments. Of course, we can't escape the generic "these guys were so great" comments, but it wasn't nearly as overblown or self-important as I thought it would be. I actually enjoyed hearing the comments here, if only once.
- Commentary by Creature Effects Designers Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis: Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis have been working on the Alien series since Aliens, so they're old hands at this by now. Unfortunately, for anyone who's watched the extras on the Alien Quadrilogy set, there aren't a ton of differences between what the pair did in 1986 versus what they're doing now. They fill out the rest of the time with ads for their books and some back and forth jokes, but as nice as these guys are, their track isn't very engrossing.
- Preparing for War - Development and Production: I find it hilarious that even the featurettes take their cues from the lexicon of Aliens, especially since there's such a great documentary on the Quadrilogy set that puts this extra to shame. This is about as fluffy of a studio piece as you can get, with the actors hyperventilating over the fact that they're in an Alien film (never mind that the series is nothing but a joke now) and the filmmakers acting like this picture was on par with Ridley Scott's and James Cameron's genre masterpieces. Skip it.
- Fight to the Finish - Post Production: Some tidbits on how the piece was cut together. Most interesting is the sequences that document the use of virtual backgrounds, which offers some pretty seamless CGI effects. Now if only the CGI creatures looked that good.
- The Nightmare Returns - Creating The Aliens: Gillis and Woodruff detail the changes in the Alien molds, from the original film all the way through to Requiem. One of the more interesting featurettes, if only for the historical perspective.
- Crossbreed - Creating The Predalien: A look at the design and implementation of the Predalien. Some great footage of Tom Woodruff getting in and out of the Predalien suit and fighting against the Predator. Also some interesting conceptual designs.
- Building The Predator Homeworld: Perhaps the most revelatory sequence in Requiem is a brief look at the Predator homeworld. This featurette looks at how the Strause Brothers came up with the visual style of the planet, and what it took to achieve the look on film. Definitely some cool stuff on display here.
- Weyland-Yutani Archives: A Blu-ray exclusive, this is a Java-based glossary of information on both Aliens and Predators. There's quite a bit of information, and for people with 1.1 capable players, you can look at clips from the movies while reading a few of the topics. While the information probably could have been delivered in a more interesting fashion, this isn't a bad compendium and a neat use of Blu-ray technology.
- Added Footage Marker: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem offers both cuts of the film on one disc. For those watching the unrated cut (and why you'd choose to watch the R-rated version is beyond me), this feature pops up with an icon every time new footage appears.
- Photo Galleries.
- Trailers: Two for Requiem, both in HD, along with HD trailers for several other Fox titles.
While Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is slightly better than Alien vs. Predator, it still fails to breathe any new life into either franchise. In fact, the frequent references to every single other Alien and Predator film only serve to highlight how poor this movie is in comparison. Recommended for diehards only. Those that do take the time to check the disc out will appreciate the strong sound and picture, and a decent set of extras to offer additional information. If you have to watch Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, this is the way to do it. Rent It.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.