01 May 2008

Can’t See: Aliens vs Predator: Requiem

AVPR: Aliens vs Predator—Requiem (2007)
Directed by Colin and Greg Strause Starring Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz

I never had enthusiasm for making a film out of the “Alien vs. Predator” concept that was popular in comic books and videogames. It seemed to lower the intelligent “Alien” series, which even at its worst (Alien: Resurrection) strove for science-fiction artistry, to paint-by-numbers grab-the-money-and-run humdrum. The “Predator” series—only two films—was already at this level, so it didn’t have that far to fall, but they didn’t have to take my beloved xenomorphs down with them.

2005’s Alien vs. Predator was exactly what I feared it would be, but now that I’ve had my requisite viewing of the 2007 follow-up, AVPR: Aliens vs Predator—Requiem (no really, that’s the actual on-screen title), that first film seems like a Jean Renoir movie in comparison. AVP:R is a pure franchise-killer, a mega-embarrassment that I doubt the resilient alien nasties will be able to overcome. I had hoped there would be a fifth stand-alone Alien film that would return to the intelligence of the original series, but it’s all dust now. AVP:R was despised and ignored on release, and rightly so.

Watching AVP:R brought to mind two classic Mystery Science Theater 3000 comments:
  • “I’ll bet if we could see that, it’d be real scary.”
  • “Who timed this print, Stevie Wonder?”
Apparently, the budget on AVP:R excluded the use of lighting… because I could hardly see anything in this movie. The attacks by the aliens or the Predator (yep, there’s only one) are visually incomprehensible. Repeatedly, I found myself yelling at the screen: “Can’t see!” This starts to reach a point of epic frustration and anger. You can make a film visually dark and suspenseful while still making it discernible; just ask Tim Burton and David Fincher. Just being dark doesn’t work.

However, there’s no relief away from the murky monster scenes, since the collection of humans is the most pitiful and faceless bunch of cannon fodder ever foisted on either series. The key question I kept asking during the actions scenes—“What’s going on?”—is mirrored by a question in the drama scenes—“Who are you again?” I only saw the film last night, and I can’t for the life of me remember who anybody was or what their relationships were to each other. I remember that one character was named “Dallas,” a sad reference to Tom Skerritt’s character in the original Alien. However, I don’t remember which person on screen was named “Dallas.” I think he was the kid who delivered pizza, and lived with an older guy who might be his brother. The movie wasn’t interested in clarifying this for me. And he liked this blonde girl. There was a sheriff, and some military woman who could fly a helicopter, and her daughter. And there were some other people too, and all I can say about them is they all had equally risible dialogue. However, I couldn’t cheer for the Aliens or the Predator to come kill them, because I couldn’t see any of that happen anyway. So every which way, I lose.

Some fans complained that Alien vs. Predator was rated PG-13 and therefore couldn’t deliver the gore. Requiem goes for the R and loads on more gore, but more gore doesn’t equal better suspense—and I couldn’t see it anyway, so it doesn’t matter.

Are there any good points to AVP:R? It’s short, only 86 minutes long. Tyler’s music isn’t bad, and makes nods to Silvestri’s “Predator” theme and the “Alien stylings” of Goldsmith-Horner-Goldenthal. The moment when the Predator strips off his weapons and offers to go hand-to-hand with the “Predalien” (a goofy Alien-Predator hybrid born at the conclusion of the previous movie) has a slight kick to it.

Sorry, that’s the best I can come up with. The sad part is, that’s the best the filmmakers could come up with as well. The “Requiem” of the title is unfortunately a meta-reference to the series. It’s dead.