THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Has August officially become the month of big screen movie monster battles? Is this going to become a yearly tradition? Last August, we had the excruciatingly bad Freddy vs. Jason; this year, we get Alien vs. Predator. I hope that August 2005 isnít going to bring us Chucky vs. Candyman or some such thing.

Lance Henriksen plays Charles Weyland, a billionaire industrialist whose personal satellite has discovered a ďheat bloomĒ 2,000 feet below the ice in Antarctica. He assembles a team of specialists in various fields (archaeology, security, etc.) to investigate. When Weyland and the team get there, they discover that a path to the bottom has already been drilled. (Unbeknownst to them, the Predators have already been there.) The team Ė led by Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) - hops down the chute, where they discover a pyramid that combines Aztec, Egyptian, and Cambodian styles of architecture.

Inside the pyramid are the frozen remains of the Alien Queen, who is kept there in order to lay eggs every 100 years. She and her offspring are, of course, let loose while the team is inside the pyramid. Complicating matters is the fact that the pyramid physically restructures itself every ten minutes, which makes it hard to find a way out once the Predators show up to hunt the Aliens. And thatís exactly what happens: the Predators try to hunt the Aliens, the Aliens fight back, and the humans get caught in the middle.

I liked the Alien and Predator movies, so I was inherently interested in seeing the main characters duke it out. Somewhat to my surprise, thereís still a lot of potency left in the familiar images of the dreadlocked Predators, the slime-dripping Aliens, and the face-hugging Alien spawn. These images reminded me of how effective the originals were. It didnít take long for me to realize that I like the Aliens and the Predator enough to want to see them in good movies.

This, however, is not a good movie. The human characters are generic at best. The action scenes are photographed and edited so poorly that itís often difficult (and at times impossible) to tell whatís going on. The special effects in the climactic ending are only a cut or two above those in an old Godzilla movie.

Those are serious problems, but they are also problems that seem to be endemic to a lot of horror movies. I could spend more time elaborating on them, but I want to focus on a rather unique problem that Alien vs. Predator has Ė one that drives the final nail in the coffin: This film is rated PG-13 and it should have been rated R.

Ridley Scottís original Alien and James Cameronís follow-up Aliens were extremely gory films. Although I am not a fan of gore for its own sake, the high level of it was vital to the success of those pictures. I remember seeing Alien for the first time as a teenager. It literally made me sick to my stomach. But man, was I disturbed! When the creature burst out of a manís chest, when the face-huggers disintegrated human features, when the Alien mama ripped through people, it had an impact. You were afraid of those things. Cameron followed up on those ideas, and the Predator movies operated on a similar (but not quite as intense) level. The extreme gore created moments of genuine shock-fright.

Alien vs. Predator loses that because itís not as gory. We donít fear either creature. They donít shock us. There is obviously an R-rated cut of this movie somewhere (itíll probably surface on DVD) because you can see where the cuts were made to get the PG-13 rating. They look sloppy, as though they have been torn out without concern for continuity. An increased gore level would not have made this a good movie; the other problems still exist. But it would have made it a movie that was more true to the source material.

Alien vs. Predator was written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson, who made Boogie Nights and Magnolia). Anderson has also made Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Soldier, and Resident Evil. These are not good films. Anyone can make a bad film. Even the best filmmaker can have a project go terribly wrong. But if you make five bad films Ė in a row Ė then it says something about your talent, or lack thereof. In the press notes, producer John Davis says of Anderson: ďHeís seen the original Alien and Predator hundreds of times, and he can recite virtually every scene by memory. The way to make an exciting movie is to begin with a director whoís passionate about the material and has to do it. Paul had to make Alien vs. Predator.Ē Uh-huh. Iíve seen Star Wars a dozen times, but that doesnít automatically make me qualified to direct the next sequel. Know what I mean?

One of my big complaints about Freddy vs. Jason was that it was a cop-out. Despite the much-ballyhooed battle, neither of them actually won. Alien vs. Predator certainly sets itself up for a sequel, yet one of the titular creatures does, in fact, win at the end. For that reason alone, Iíll give it half a star more than Jason and Freddy got.

( 1/2 out of four)

Alien vs. Predator is rated PG-13 for violence, language, horror images, slime and gore. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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