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: