You can't win. Maybe I'm an extreme case, but few would argue - critics and fans - that Alien isn't an exceptionally good film; certainly within the top 100 sci-fi horror films of all time. In my small world it's number one. To wit; there is nothing wrong with Alien, everything within works perfectly, and nothing is there that needn't be. So when you're following in those footsteps - look out! It's like saying; I'm going to make an even better Jackson Pollock painting, or; Hey, let's form a band that will be more influential than The Beatles. Can't be done. That said; AVP-R isn't bad. It's no Alien, but then again, what is?
Unfolding with a bit of sweeping flair, bouncing from group to group of people (or aliens) as their respective stories are sketched in, AVP-R starts with dramatic promise. Onboard a Predator spaceship, an Alien has gotten punchy, killing and causing the ship to crash land on cozy little Planet Earth. A father and son hunting duo run afoul of the accident scene (tip: if you see a crashed alien spaceship, don't immediately bang on it with the butt of your rifle, you might annoy the tenants) and before you can say "the food isn't that bad" a small Colorado town is overrun by crazed Aliens and angered Predators out to settle a score.
AVP-R is fast, bloody and cruel. In this unrated version (101 minutes) the gore quotient is pretty high - worlds better than the first AVP - and to its credit works to give us characters with stories and not just characteristics. Best among these stories are those of an errant ex-con and his at risk younger brother, and it's a nice concession to those of us moviegoers not weaned on videogames. But clearly, we're not looking to AVP-R for character development, are we? We're looking for action, acidic blood, and plenty of tension-filled, scary, luscious looking set pieces. Those we get, in spades.
Problem is (and this is a universal complaint) most of this bloody action is impossible to see. Ebony skinned Aliens and Predators running around in unlit spaceships, woods, sewers and such makes for difficult viewing. Adding insult to injury, an Alien-kill spews acidic blood all over a power station, and soon all the lights in the entire town go out, and then it starts raining. What we're left with are a handful of rain soaked glinting surfaces on a cloudy, moonless night. If that's not bad enough, most all of this violent action is filmed in jittery medium-to-tight close-ups, with lightning fast editing. So now what we get are unlit, unidentifiable details of unrecognizable anatomy and architecture zipping by unfocused in a fraction of a second. It's so over-the-top impossible to see it's almost like an artistic challenge.
And then an Alien's head explodes.
So we must, if we can, focus on the positive. Even if we can't see it, the brutal alien carnage is plentiful and cruel. Children are put in peril and slaughtered at whim. Pregnant women are subjected to the vilest of treatments, and chest bursters are born in litters. Oh yes, there's also the hybrid 'PredAlien' and a fistfight in the deep end of the swimming pool. Someone is bucking for genre greatness, but not quite making it.
Living in the shadow of Alien must be tough, and James Cameron is the only director who's had any success of it (not that Alien3 and Alien Resurrection aren't good ...) because Cameron simply made a solid Cameron movie with Ripley and the Aliens. Pretty much everyone else just tries to 'put their stamp' on the creation of Ridley Scott et al. That creation was just seven simple yet utterly realistic characters in peril. Each successive film has suffered bloat and pretension to one degree or the other, and AVP-R is no exception. As the opening sprawl of AVP-R is whittled down by outer space chaos, the movie begins to return to - if not the form of Scott's masterpiece - at least something more akin to Cameron's ordnance assault (in fact the movie cops liberally from both films, as well as Alien3). It's pretty exciting, brainless fun, I just wish I could see it.
Non-sexy extras include Closed Captioning, French and Spanish Dolby Audio Tracks, English and Spanish Subtitles and it's all on a Dual Layer Disc which makes for a big old layer shift at the 1:16 mark (or thereabouts). Auto-play promos include a Blu-ray Promo, two Previews and a Rescue Me promo. Two Theatrical Trailers for AVP-R and four other Fox Trailers are also available.
Since this is an unrated edition, we are kindly given Additional Footage Markers (if you're banging your head trying to figure out exactly when that extra bit of gore starts). We also get two Commentary Tracks, one with directors Strause and producer John Davis, and one with creature creators Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis (who've been doing the Alien/Predator thing a long time). The Strause track is low-key but informative, running the gamut of usual behind-the-scenes and inspiration material. The creature track is dryly humorous (if not a bit smug and crass), the pair fall into occasional silences (in the few moments when effects work isn't on screen) and ultimately feels a little labored - for serious effects fans mostly.
Finally, almost an hour's worth of Making of AVP-R Featurettes will delight the SPFX couch potato in you. Prepare For War: Development and Production runs about 15 minutes, and is standard fare, with director/producer/actor interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and the like. All the other featurettes follow suit, with Fight to the Finish: Post Production going about 12 minutes. It highlights shot-by-shot comparisons from the theatrical and unrated cuts, and talks about CGI work and sound as well. The Nightmare Returns runs seven minutes and details work done on creating the Aliens for this go-round. Crossbreed: The PredAlien in eight minutes gives us insight in crafting that unique hybrid, while Building The Predator Homeworld is six minutes of design and creation discussion for an element that wasn't even supposed to end up in the movie.
Self-navigated Photo Galleries include Design Galleries for Aliens, Predator and PredAlien, with concept sketches, maquettes etc. On Set Galleries have behind-the-scenes and production stills for the rooftop scenes, sewer scenes, hive scenes and shots of the cast and crew.
That's a pretty hefty set of extras. I'm not sold on the need for the downloadable second disc, but it will maybe keep some people from illegally ripping copies to distribute, since you have to register your disc with a serial number. The rest of the extras are regulation-issue fun for Alien/ Predator fanboys and girls, that will give you lots to chew on, and reasons to watch the movie a second, third and fourth time, etc. etc.