AVP: Alien Vs. Predator [Unrated Version,Collector's Edition]

The Predator half of the team
The extra few minutes of playing time in the movie do, indeed, improve it marginally, but not to such an extent that I would be willing to change my initial film rating.
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By John J. Puccio
My colleague, Eddie Feng, and I had the dubious pleasure of attending the first showing of 2004's "AVP: Alien Vs. Predator" on the day it premiered. The pleasure was in seeing one another again and going to watch the movie at San Francisco's Metreon theater complex. The "dubious" part was having to watch the movie.

Now, another eight minutes have been added to the movie's mix. Can eight minutes really make a difference? Well, if you're eight minutes late for a bus that is about to take you to an important meeting that could mean life or death to the future of the world, I suppose it could make a difference. In the case of "Alien Vs. Predator," the additional minutes are not earthshaking, but they do effect a small improvement. The movie still doesn't rise anywhere near the level of the original "Alien," "Aliens," or "Predator" films, but at least the unrated "AVP" edition is a touch more watchable now than in its theatrical form. The keep case blurb announces the new cut as having "more violence, more action," and "more intense battles," if that's your idea of a good time. I found the added character development more important than the added violence. The new edition also contains the original theatrical version of the movie for comparison purposes, and it sports a lot more extras on a second disc. At least the Fox studios didn't skimp this time.

In fairness, I remember thinking when the original picture was over that it wasn't half as bad as it could have been. Unfortunately, that was not saying much. "AVP" is like one of those video shoot-'em-ups that looks great on your computer screen but has no story to it. Once the fascination of blasting space aliens diminishes, there isn't much left. This should come as no surprise to viewers familiar with "AVP's" director, Paul W.S. Anderson, who did "Resident Evil" and "Mortal Kombat." Of course, he also did "Event Horizon," which proves he can do more than show us monsters being blown away in darkened hallways. But not here.

Be that as it may, the question is whether the extra eight minutes are worth your watching the film over again. When you're watching the extended version, you have the option of activating an added-footage marker, a little "Alien" icon that appears in the lower right of the screen showing you when the new material is running. As I say, the added minutes make an improvement, but the film continues to be a simple variation of "Doom."

For me the best added material was at the very beginning, a sequence in Antarctica, 1904, that was included as a deleted scene in the previous DVD edition. I said in my earlier review that I liked it and wished it had been included in the movie. Well, now it is. The rest of the added footage is divided among character development, continuity, and violence. The new snippets of character background and personal interaction work best, most of it coming in the first half hour. We're more likely to care about the characters with additional information about them. If we care about them, we're more likely to worry about them. If we worry about them, we're more likely to feel the tension of their circumstances and the suspense of their situations, thus making the film more than just a stalk-and-kill proposition.

At least, that's the theory. In point of fact, there isn't enough new material to make much of a dent. There are a few more shots of blood, gore, guts, and slime to spice things up, though, and tiny bits of connecting matter to help us follow the story line better, but none of it amounts to much. At least one scene is highly reminiscent of the one in "Alien" where Dallas is attacked. Another good new scene is one where we learn that the Predators are really teenagers come to Earth to earn their way into adulthood; their hunt for Alien monsters, without using guns, is their way of proving themselves. It's a kind of rite of Predatorhood thing. I hear you saying, "So what?"

Here's the problem, though: I had seen "AVP" twice before watching this extended cut, and, except for the new opening, I'm not sure I could have identified the added footage without the on-screen icon to help me. As for the "unrated" business, it simply means that the film was not submitted to the motion-picture ratings board. The theatrical version is rated PG-13, and I don't know that the brief moments of blood in the extended version would qualify it for anything more serious.

Hey, look, I know I'm sounding critical here, but it's not as though either version of "AVP" is terrible. All it needed was a script and characters, and it might have been OK. As it is, it still reminds me of a "Friday the 13th" movie where you get a group of people together for the sole purpose of watching them die. The only fun is guessing the order of their demise. Despite the small amount of new character info, the people remain generic, interchangeable, and when they die, we have little feeling for them. Besides, we know from the outset who's going to be the last man standing. It's a tradition in the "Alien" series: It's a woman.

One familiar face in the crowd is Lance Henriksen, who plays his own creator. Let me explain. The time setting for "AVP" is the present, and Henriksen plays Charles Bishop Weyland, a "pioneer of modern robotics." He's the guy for whom, many years later, the "Bishop" robots in "Aliens" and "Alien 3" would be named. And you always wondered where those robots got their name and why they looked the way they did. Now you know. It's the only clever touch in "AVP," and it's but one of a hundred other references to previous "Alien" and "Predator" movies.

Anyway, Weyland is the president of Weyland Industries, which has just located a gigantic, ancient pyramid under the ice in Antarctica. He gathers up a team of experts to go explore it, and there they find just what they were looking for: Aliens (never called "aliens" but mostly just "serpents") and Predators (simply called "hunters"). Well, it's not quite what they were looking for. It seems the Predators come back and activate the pyramid every hundred years, take the Queen Mother Alien out of the deep freeze to lay eggs, and rather quickly create some new Alien creatures to hunt and kill.

Weyland's team consists of a dozen or more people, most important of whom are Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), a mountain climber and guide; Sebastian de Rosa (Raoul Bova), an archaeologist; Graeme Miller (Ewen Bremner), a Scottish chemical engineer; Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon), Weyland's right-hand man; Adele Russeau (Agathe De La Boulaye); and Thomas Parks (Sam Troughton). The others, frankly, I didn't notice and can't remember even after three viewings. Moreover, the movie continues to be too short to be so cluttered with so many characters, none of them developed enough, even with the added minutes, to care about.

"AVP" is a good looking film, even if there isn't a lot of thought to go with it. Indeed, the one response the film evoked from me in the movie theater was toward the end when Sebastian says to Alexa, "It's starting to make sense." Well, maybe for him it was, but not for me. It's one of the silliest, most senseless plots imaginable, and I couldn't help chuckling out loud at Sebastian's remark. Still, as unintentional as my response was, at least it was something.

Here's an example of the intelligence level of the film. While exploring an old, abandoned whaling station above the pyramid, Alexa and Sebastian pass by what is clearly the skeleton of a whale. (I think it's supposed to remind us of the interior of the deserted space ship at the beginning of "Alien.") As they pass the skeleton, Sebastian asks in all sincerity, "What are these?" Alexa answers, "Whale bones." Now, think about that for half a second. They're in an old whaling station. They pass a huge rib cage lying on the ice. "What are these?" He's an archaeologist?

The film's graphics are dark and foreboding, and the music is mostly soft and eerie, reminiscent of the earlier "Alien" films. The pyramid is impressively constructed, like a giant puzzle box with endless corridors for the crew to get lost in. Remember, the movie is really nothing more than a glorified computer game with mazes and monsters. The Alien and Predator creatures are pretty much as we remember them, too, although now they are created on the screen by a combination of live actors in costume, animatronics, and CGI. Actually, I thought they looked less frightening in this latest venture than ever before, the Predators especially seeming less detailed, but that is my biased reaction.

As in all B-movie horror flicks, upon entering any building, the characters immediately spread out and go their separate ways. Then they creep around in the dark until something scares them. Too bad nothing scares the audience. A penguin replaces the ever-present cat from "Alien," but the hanging chains we became so acquainted with are still around to remind us of former glories.

As I mentioned above, I was more than a little surprised to find the Aliens reproducing so quickly. The Queen lays her eggs, the eggs hatch the facehuggers, the facehuggers attach themselves to a host and incubate, the little Alien creatures spring out of the midsection, and then they grow to maturity; all in about the time it took me to type this sentence. Nobody in the film comments on the impossibility of this feat, an amazing generative process even for fictional space monsters.

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