I've liked the "Alien" films, despite not being a horror fan. I even liked Jean-Pierre Jeunet's very European take for "Alien: Resurrection", which many thought may have been the last in the series. However,likely even seeming like a better idea after the success of "Freddy Vs. Jason", the series was back - sort of. Instead of a purely "Alien" feature, this latest picture unites two of the most feared horror creatures of all time - the alien creatures and the predator.
It's not a bad idea - having both the creatures clash and humans be in the middle. It's done spectacularly in "Halo", a sci-fi epic that I still think is one of the best videogames of all time. The filmmakers did make one mis-step with "AVP", however - I can't begin to see why, given the history of the franchise and the genre, one would want to make an "Alien" or "Predator" picture PG-13, but they did.
This time around, we are joined with a new team of explorers on Earth. Lead and funded by the rich Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen), the team includes a mountain climber (Sanaa Lathan) and a couple of others who we really know nothing about - Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova) and Graeme Miller (Ewan Bremner). The group has found what appears to be a pyramid buried deep below the Antarctic surface. They decend downwards and wander around in the dark, looking for any secrets. The only thing they find hidden are both creatures - in this case, a set of predators that are hunting aliens and who have a past the humans will eventually discover.
The film looks okay, as visual effects and make-up work are good. However, the "pyramid", while having a nice array of traps and other gadgets, tended to look fairly ordinary in terms of visuals. Some rooms looked more detailed than others, though. The odd thing, again, is that the filmmakers decided on a PG-13, when all of the prior "Alien" and "Predator" films have been a solid R (even the director's film adaptation of the "Resident Evil" videogames was R-rated.) There's violence here, but no gore.
Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson doesn't get much respect, but I did enjoy his 1997 feature, "Event Horizon", an outer-space horror flick that had plenty of style and some good chills. "Resident Evil" was a zombie flick based on the video games that delivered what it promised. "AVP" proceeds much like "Resident Evil 2", however (which Anderson wrote). The film pretty much proceeds without a story, and some of the characters are barely one-dimensional - totally meant for alien chow from the very beginning. The picture is a series of action sequences strung together - some more effective than others. Some of the action scenes suffer from being overly edited and choppy, but others are enjoyable. The performances are rather mediocre, although the actors really have nothing much to work with. Lathan isn't bad, neither are Bremner and Henriksen, but the other actors make no impression.
Overall, those who are expecting a strong follow-up to either franchise will likely come away at least a little disappointed, as the film lacks the memorable moments and depth of the prior films. A different writer/director could really have made something more out of the premise. As a stand-alone picture, however, the picture offers a mindless 100 minutes of moderately good action. It's the definition of a "rental" for those in the mood for that kind of thing.
The DVD also includes a slightly alternate edition of the film, with an alternate opening. The theatrical version is about 100 minutes, the extended about 102.
VIDEO: "AVP" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Fox has continued to further emerge as a terrific studio for DVD, especially in regards to their recent theatrical releases. While there's been a few titles from the studio that look "just good", "AVP" is one of the studio's recent efforts that looks absolutely superior. "Film-like" and crystal clear, the picture remains sharp and well-defined consistently throughout. Even the dark scenes - and much of the movie is quite dark - offered a very good amount of visual information.
The picture seemed almost entirely free of concerns. No edge enhancement was seen at any point, and only a couple of brief traces of pixelation were spotted. The print looked pristine, with no instances of specks, marks, dirt or other wear. No grain was present, either.
SOUND: "AVP" is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio. Oddly, remote access was locked, so I had to go to the menu to switch between soundtracks instead of using the audio button on the remote. The film's soundtrack provided a pretty aggressive experience, although moreso after the battle really starts to get going inside the pyramid. Once that happens, the surrounds really kick in with a lot of solid effects, turning the action scenes into a very immersive experience. My only complaint is that there could have been some more subtle ambience in the rears at times to make the atmosphere a tad more creepy. Audio quality was very good - sound effects seemed fierce and well-recorded, while dialogue and music were crisp and clear. Bass, as expected, was powerful at times.
EXTRAS: Two audio commentaries are available if one plays the theatrical version (without the alternate opening). The first commentary is from director Paul WS Anderson and actors Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Lathan. The second commentary is by creature make-up/effects artists Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, along with visual effects supervisor Tom Bruno. The first commentary is only mildly worthwhile listening, as in-between some decent tidbits about the production, everyone (especially Henriksen) goes on about how wonderful everything is in the film. The second commentary is considerably more informative, as viewers are told, in detail, about the various elements that went into many of the shots. Technical, yet not dry, the second commentary proved to be the better of the two.
3 minor, very brief deleted scenes mainly seem like extensions of existing scenes. Although it's listed as "AVP Promo", this "promo" is actually a 23-minute "making of" documentary. The documentary is a bit heavy on the "happy talk" about the production as well, but otherwise, it does offer some nice details on the sets and the history of the production. Finally, we get a Fox sports promo, a promo for "American Dad" (the new cartoon from "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane), Darkhorse "AVP" comic book covers and DVD-ROM features.
Final Thoughts: "Alien Vs. Predator" could have been a really nice rebirth for both franchises, but it just manages some mindless thrills and moves along quite quickly. Fox's DVD offers superb video quality, very good audio and a few nice supplements. Rent it.