Paul W.S. Anderson | 98 mins | DVD | 15 / PG-13
Once upon a time — around the late ’90s, when he was only known for Event Horizon (and that video game thing no one wanted to mention) — director Paul W.S. Anderson was seriously and vocally attached to a film adaptation of Doctor Who. At the time it was such a good idea, a bright new hope for Who’s revival, with a Hollywood-level — yet, pleasingly, British — director at the helm. When it didn’t come together it was quite disappointing. In retrospect, I think we can breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Anderson’s films always come in for a critical drubbing and AvP was no exception. Sadly, it was well deserved. The main problems are a weak script, including an abundance of prologues in place of genuine character development, and poor performances, not helped by what sounds like a regular use of bad ADR. Characters make leaps of logic that would be reasonable if they’d seen the preceding six films, but make no sense whatsoever given what they know in context. The story begins moderately well, even pushing to the slow build in the franchises’ best entries (though without as much tension), until just 13 minutes in, when there’s a pointless scene on a Predator ship. Of course we know they’re coming — they’re in the title — but it’s a reveal too soon and ruins any mood Anderson’s managed to create. Constant updates on their progress exacerbate the problem.
There are actually some very inventive ideas scattered throughout — like the captured, frozen Alien Queen — but, in storytelling terms, their reveals are poorly handled, occuring too early and too far from the protagonists. However much time Anderson wants to spend getting his humans into position (a lot, just like the other six filmmakers before him), he clearly doesn’t trust the audience to go along with it without some hints of the creatures (unlike the best of the filmmakers before him). It’s not his only directorial misstep. He makes the fatal mistake of letting his monsters out into the light too much, though the choppy editing almost obscures them again. While effects can now withstand this level of scrutiny, the effect of the creatures can’t — they belong half-hidden in shadow, especially the Alien.
Elsewhere, every facehugger is treated to a graphic slow-mo shot. Once might’ve been cool, but it quickly becomes overkill — especially when the first instance features three, immediately rendering every solo example that follows unremarkable. And then there’s the ending nabbed from Predator 2. And the final beat that, though the groundwork is laid earlier in the film, still doesn’t really make sense (considering how fast chestbursters came out of the humans, or how long the Predator had been dead by the time it popped). When the director doesn’t know how to handle the titular monsters correctly, you know you’re in trouble.
That said, Anderson certainly delivers on the title’s Aliens-fighting-Predators promise. Most of the film’s limited imagination is lavished on these battles, but as with most monster-on-monster bouts we have no stake in either side, leaving them mostly heartless and only engaging on the level of “cool!” The human characters are left by the wayside at these moments, disappearing out of the way — and taking what little plot there is with them — for a few minutes. When they do appear there are some attempts at character development (yes, beyond those prologues) which are well-intentioned but painful. All things considered, Anderson has taken two horror franchises with an action-adventure tinge and turned them into an action-adventure film with a horror tinge.
This ‘extended version’ is a whopping 79 seconds longer than the theatrical cut, adding a whaling station prologue. This exacerbates the issue of revealing the monsters too early, but it does go some way to justifying the otherwise random glimpses of the Predator ship. Nonetheless, to be truly effective we shouldn’t know more about what the aliens are up to than the human characters do and it’s all a mistake. (An unrated version of the film is also available in some territories. It runs eight minutes longer, but the additions seem to just be the deleted scenes included on other releases.)
Flash forward however many years since that mooted Who movie, and Anderson’s career has mostly reverted to video game adaptations and trashing as many franchises as he can. AvP is surely the culmination of his efforts: here he manages to amalgamate a popular and acclaimed film franchise, its almost-as-beloved stablemate, and an equally popular and acclaimed comics & video game series, and then decimate all three in one 85-minute (without credits) swoop. Well done Mr Anderson, your efficiency knows no bounds.