Aliens Vs. Predator should have been one of those movies that had fanboys and fangirls swinging from the rafters with glee. Teaming up this pair of Fox's finest franchise characters almost seemed like a no-brainer, especially after it was hinted at in Predator 2 and after Dark Horse Comics proved that there were plenty of cool stories to be told by combining the continuity and history of the two storylines.
Unfortunately, Fox punked out and released a watered down PG-13 film to theaters in hopes of cashing in on the fan base that was developed over the four Alien films and the two Predator films – all of which were R-rated movies. You don't need violence and gore to make a good movie, we all know this, but if you're not going to deliver on that front (and let's face it, the gore effects are definitely a part of both franchises) you should at least deliver an interesting and/or suspenseful story. Sadly, we don't get either. That's not to say the movie is awful, it's just very mediocre and it left a lot of people wanting a lot more from the film than what it delivered.
Fox has gone back to the vaults for this release, which comes fairly close to the release of the theatrical version that hit stores in January of 2005, less than a year ago. They've added a second disc of supplements and, more importantly to most fans, there's an additional eight minutes of footage on this release that has been worked into the movie (and, for those who want the theatrical cut, that's here too via the wonders of seamless branching).
For those who haven't seen the film and want a rough idea of what it is all about, well, the movie takes place in the present day and it revolves around a man named Charles Bishop Weyland, the head honcho behind Weyland Industries, a world leader in the field of robotics (anyone familiar with the continuity of the Alien series will easily make the connection between Henriksen's character here and the part he played in Aliens and Alien 3). Weyland and his team have just discovered an ancient temple located deep beneath the ice of the frozen tundra in Antarctica, and they mean to dig down there and check out what it has to offer.
In order to make this happen, Weyland assembles 'the best of the best' for his expedition. First and foremost he recruits the reluctant Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) to act as their guide, but he also brings in a Scottish chemist named Graeme (Ewan Bremmer), an archeologist named de Rosa (Raoul Bova), and a few other handy sorts, namely Adele Russeau (Agathe de la Boulaye), Thomas Parks (Sam Troughton), and his personal 'go to guy' Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon). Together they head out into the cold and start digging, setting up their above ground base in the remains of an old whaling station.
Once the crew starts working, it quickly becomes apparent that this isn't a normal archeological expedition. It doesn't take long before a few of the more disposable members of the team start getting wasted and it turns out that are here for their ceremonial right of passage. Every one hundred years they thaw out an alien queen and get her egg sack pumping out as many of the nasty little buggers as she can so that they can send in their hunters so that they may prove their worth in an actual hunt. Weyland and his team have just happened to arrive on the day of this event, and it's going to take all they've got to make it out alive because, as the tagline goes, whoever wins, they lose.
The best part about this movie, aside from the ever-cool Lance Henriksen, are the visuals. The pyramid/temple that was created as the main set is an interesting place to put the characters and the setup for the action that occurs is a pretty good one. The biggest flaw in the film is that the script just piles in way too many characters for its own good and as such, it's hard for us to care about anyone in the movie. There's plenty of style, but very little substance and as such the movie plays out with about as much heart and soul as a run of the mill slasher film. While the CGI scenes stand out a little bit and are a bit soulless, the animatronic effects and the make up effects that aren't done on a computer are pretty solid and look quite good in the movie.
There are some moments in the film that stand out – the face hugger and alien incubation/birth scenes are still creepy and wholly unnatural, and some of the fights between the various creatures that inhabit the temple are nifty. There's lots of footage of various characters tooling around in the dark corridors of the building trying to find a way out only to be chased down and made mince meat out of and while these aren't all that original, they're reasonably tense at times. Again though, when you don't care about the people being chased, the catch just isn't as sweet. The scene where the alien queen first appears is also quite dramatic and more than a little eerie.
Now, on to the added footage. Does it make the film much better? No, not really, but it does off a slight improvement in terms characterization and also restores some snippets of trimmed gore and effects footage. There really isn't anything of great important put back into the movie at all. There are some extensions to various bits and pieces of dialogue and some of the kill scenes go a little bit further and a couple of the battles go on a bit longer but that is about it. Don't go in expecting a different movie, as you're really not going to get one out of this release. Most of the character development that is added, and keep in mind it is minor, happens in the first half hour or so of the film while the added action and violence is in the last half hour. To this extended version's credit, however, there is an added scene that does do a better job of explaining why the Predators are here in the first place and that fills us in on their ways a little bit more.
Also worth mentioning is that the prologue that takes place in the whaling station that was added on for the first DVD release is retained here as well.The DVD
As with the last DVD release of this film from Fox, the movie looks excellent in its 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Print damage is a non-issue, film grain is present but barely noticeable and even when it is, it isn't distracting in the least. The black levels stay strong and deep and don't break up or pixelate at all. A few of the darker scenes lose a small bit of the fine detail in the background and have a tiny bit of softness to them, but other than that, things look great. The lighter scenes show plenty of both foreground and background detail, the color reproduction is excellent, flesh tones look lifelike and natural and there aren't any mpeg compression artifacts to note. Some slight edge enhancement is present in a couple of spots but if you're not looking for it, odds are you're not going to notice it as it really is slight.Sound:
The disc comes with the following audio options – English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, English language DTS 5.1 Surround Sound, Spanish language Dolby Digital Surround Sound and French language Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Optional subtitles are included in English and Spanish and English closed captioning is also present.
Just like the video, we're treated to a very nice presentation here as well. The DTS track edges out the Dolby Digital mix with, not surprisingly, slightly stronger bass, but both mixes deliver the goods. The film benefits from a fairly aggressive sound-scape and if your receiver is up to the task, you should find either of the surround sound mixes very pleasing indeed. The action scenes have got a lot of directional effects worked in that heighten the action and tension but the dialogue and score always remain nice and clear. Levels are well balanced, everything is very even keeled and sounds like it should sound. The gunshots sound nice and brash, and are quite startling in some spots, and the noises that the Aliens and Predators make in the movie also come through with a sufficient amount of 'eeew.'Extras:
In addition to both the theatrical cut of the film and the un-rated cut of the film (and the optional on screen indicator that shows you what footage in the un-rated version is new), disc one also contains two commentary tracks, both of which play over top of the theatrical version of the movie only.
The first commentary features director Paul W. S. Anderson and performers Lance Henriksen and Sanna Lathan. This is a reasonably interesting talk as we get to hear about the making of the movie from the side of the director and from the side of those who spent their time in front of the camera. Henriksen is an interesting guy and it would have been cool to give him a solo track, especially considering his history with the franchise but either way, there's enough information packed into this discussion to make for a worthwhile time killer. Anderson talks about some of the issues he ran up against trying to get the film made as well as some of the technical limitations that worked against him during the process, while Henriksen and Lathan talk about their characters a bit and some of the ordeals that they went through as performers with this movie.
The second commentary is with Visual Effects Supervisor John Bruno and Creature Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.. It won't be surprising to anyone that this discussion is considerably more technical in nature as it pertains mainly to the special effects work that was done for the film as well as the pre-production process leading up to the actual work being started. The three technicians talk about their respective work on the movie, how certain shots and sequences required specific details to be nailed down exactly as needed and the role that technology played in helping them along the way.
The bulk of the supplements are found on the second disc in the set.
First up is the Pre-Production section, where we find a documentary entitled AVP – The Beginning (with Branching Video that allows you to go more in depth with some of the points that this piece touches on). This starts with a brief overview of the franchise and where the idea came from. They talk about the comic books and the spin offs though interviews with Anderson, and a few of the other people who worked on the film. There's a lot of great artwork used in this documentary and some very cool behind the scenes footage in here as well. One of the more interesting aspects of this documentary was the explanation of how much work went into puppeteering the creatures and some of the remote controls used for the animatronic effects bits. Anderson ties his film into the continuity of the two original franchises nicely towards the end, where he explains where this movie falls into place between the other films in the series. This documentary runs for roughly twenty-six minutes in length.
ADI Workshop is up next, and it's a seven minute compilation of raw effects footage. We see some of the puppets in action as well as some of the guys suited up in Predator garb without the additional digital effects to tie it all in as seamlessly to the movie as we see in the finished version. This makes for an interesting comparison and it's kind of neat to see the monsters in their unfinished form.
Rounding out the extra features in the Pre-Production section are extensive still galleries containing concept art and storyboards.
The Production section begins with a second documentary called AVP Production that is a look at the sets that the movie was shot on, including the ship, and some solid on set behind the scenes footage. Most of the main cast members are interviewed here and they give their take on the making of the movie, and it's interesting to see via the behind the scenes footage where the green screens where used in the movie. There's some raw footage and test footage found in here, as well as plenty of shots of Anderson directing his cast on the set. Again, there's some raw effects shots in here and some interesting footage that shows how some of the battle sequences were filmed and there are also some interesting framing demonstrations shown in the dailies. The highlight of this one? Seeing how the effects technicians had to constantly apply jelly to the aliens to keep them shiny and gooey looking. This bad boy clocks in at almost an hour and five minutes in length and does a pretty amazing job of showing us what life was like on the set of the movie.
Also in the Production section are three sequences that show how specific parts of the movie were shot. Miniature Whaling Station shows us the miniatures were built and then later destroyed by John Bruno and his team of technicians – it runs just over seven minutes. Facehuggers And Eggs gives us a peek at Anderson working with the creature effects designers. There's some nice behind the scenes footage that shows us how a lot of the alien effects were done, and how fingers were used to create the weird crawling effect of the legs of the facehuggers. This segment runs for about fifteen minutes. Trouble At The Mouth Of The Tunnel shows us, in just under four minutes, how the scene where the whaling village catches fire was done.
Post-Production contains two features. The first is a Visual Effects Breakdown that shows us rough CGI that was then tweaked into the final effects that we see in the film. This does a nice job of demonstrating the various phases that the effects work had to go through from start to finish and it contains interviews with a lot of the people who helped it through the process. It covers not only individual effects but some of the larger scale ones as well, including some of the battles. This runs for about half an hour in length.
The second segment in this section is a collection of Deleted Scenes that comes with optional commentary from Paul W. S. Anderson. There are three scenes in here, The Sister (twenty five seconds of dialogue from the plane ride to the location), Miller Gets Caught (forty seconds, Miller getting cornered by a pair of aliens), and Love Scene (forty eight seconds of a more intimate moment that takes place once the attack is underway in the temple). Anderson's commentary simply explains why these scenes where chopped, and how he feels about them.
Licensing the Franchise is the last section and it looks at the history of the AVP franchise outside of the movie world. The first part of this is Aliens vs Predator the Comic Book and it examines the successful Dark Horse Comics series by way of interviews with some of the creative talent involved in making them. There's some nice art from the comics in here and it's interesting to hear the creators explain their take on the series. This runs for about twelve minutes.
Monsters in Miniature by Todd McFarlane is an interview with the man who brought the toys to stores through his Movie Maniacs line. At roughly fourteen minutes in length, this gives Todd a chance to explain his take on what is required to make cool toys, and his own personal philosophy on how he makes that happen, as well as what he liked about licensing the characters.
The last section is Marketing. This starts off with the HBO Special that aired around the time that the film was to hit theaters. This runs for about thirteen minutes in length and while it is very promotional in nature, some nice behind the scenes and effects footage can be found in here as well as a couple of interesting interviews.
Rounding out this section are three different theatrical trailers for the feature, a trailer for the Alien Quadrilogy, and a trailer for the Planet Of The Apes 35th Anniversary DVD.
The whole thing is wrapped up in some stylish animated menus and of course, chapter stops are included for both cuts of the movie.
Edited to add - though the review copy didn't come with one, it has been reported that the retail version of this release does come with a comic book insert that reprints three stories from the Dark Horse Comics Aliens Vs. Predator series.Final Thoughts:
Fox has done an excellent job on this release – everything earns top marks from the audio to the video to the plentiful and interesting extra features – but the added footage doesn't raise the feature itself above mediocrity. AVP: Aliens Vs. Predator – Un-rated Director's Cut isn't a horrible movie, it just isn't a particularly good one and didn't come anywhere close to the potential that it had. That being said, Fox has put so much into the supplements here that it'll take you hours to go through it all and if you were a fan of the film, you'll be all over this set. Recommended for genre fans, a solid rental for everyone else.