Alien Vs. Ninja, the title pretty much says it all. In fact, you could say that the title itself is actually a pretty big spoiler. Either way, it doesn't change the fact that this latest in a long running string of Japanese low budget straight to video gore fests to find its way to these here shores is a bit of a stinker - which is odd, when you consider that it contains plenty of winning elements. There are ninjas, and an alien of course, but there's also a good bit of bloodshed and a pretty girl in a tight leather suit. All of these make any movie better on their own and you'd think that by combining them that writer/director Seiji Chiba would have hit this one out of the park. That didn't happen.
When the movie begins, we're taken back to the feudal Japan of the past where a trio of Igo Clan ninjas - Yamata (Masanori Mimoto), Jinnai (Shuji Kashiwabara) and Nezumi (Donpei Tsuchihira) - return to their small village after successfully slaying a rival clan's warriors out in the middle of a forest. As they near home, they see what looks like some sort of flaming comet descend from the night sky just before it crashes into the earth. They decide to enlist the aid of foxy female ninja Rin (Mika Hijii - and she of the aforementioned leather suit) to go and investigate.
A quick trip to the crash site later and the plot has more or less blown its load. Our ninja heroes soon find themselves up against the expected alien invaders, a slimy bunch of beasts only too happy to chow down on any human who might be so unlucky as to get too close. These two factions basically fight for the rest of the movie, until it comes to an all too prolonged end about eighty minutes later.
As flimsy as a story can be, this film has not meat on its bones at all. The characters are poorly written and entirely interchangeable. You won't remember one aspect of their personalities once the movie is over with and you won't care about them one iota while it plays out in front of you. While it's true that Seiji Chiba keeps the pace going at light speed from start to finish, normally a good thing for an action film, here he just goes too fast. A little bit of character development would have gone a long way towards making this more than just a gimmicky one trick pony, but instead we're given only the thinnest of plots and the most disposable of characters to try and latch on to. It just doesn't work. We can't invest anything in the film and as such it becomes rather dull, and this in spite of the fact that it really does contain a lot of footage of ninjas fighting aliens.
Chiba tries to work a self aware sense of humor into the film, having his characters pose for the camera in ridiculous and melodramatic ways (a page taken out of Versus' playbook, perhaps? - not surprising since that film's fight choreographer, Yuji Shimomura, worked on this picture as well!), which is at least an attempt to pull us in, but it's not enough. To the film's credit it does get creative in the blood and guts department. It takes about a half an hour or so for the red to start spilling but once it does there's quite a bit of it to ogle, even if so much of it is rendered digitally and as such looks like something out of a video game. That's not enough, however, to cover up the lifeless plot and characters that take a fun concept and basically bury it under a few tons of boredom.
Alien Vs. Ninja was shot on high definition video and the AVC encoded 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen 1080p presentation showcases the movie in its original aspect ratio. The image is as clean as you'd expect though it has a very artificial look at times, and color reproduction is often times very flat. Black levels are okay but detail looks about as good as standard definition DVD most of the time, never really impressing the way good high definition content can. There aren't any glaring problems here aside from the softness that looks to be inherent in the way that the movie was shot, but neither are there really any impressive qualities either. It's watchable enough, just rather flat and dull looking.
Audio options are supplied in Japanese and English language Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks with optional subtitles available in English only. Both mixes generally sound pretty decent. Dialogue is well balanced as are effects and the film's score. There's some good, strong directionality here that makes some of the combat scenes more interesting than they would be otherwise but this is still primarily a front heavy mix. The quality of the English dub is okay, but the original Japanese language track definitely suits the film better than the English track does. Bass response doesn't kick the way you might hope for, but it's there when the movie calls for it.
The main extra is a short film entitled Behind The Scenes featurette that gives us a look at the making of the film without much in the way of context or substance. Aside from that, look for a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Funimation releases, animated menus and chapter stops. Obnoxiously enough, a trailer for RoboGeisha plays before you get to the menu - you can't skip it or fast forward through it, you're forced to watch it.
Alien Vs. Ninja just isn't very good, really. It tries very hard, too hard maybe, to throw in as much as it can but winds up a dull and uninspired viewing experience which his no small feat considering how much violence and action the filmmakers have crammed into the story. Funimation's Blu-ray looks as good as we can assume the source material allows for but isn't really very impressive. It sounds decent enough but the extras aren't much to write home about either. Despite the fun premise, this one fails to deliver. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.