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Movie Reviews:

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Whoever Wins, the Audience Loses

I went and saw AVP the other night. Immediately after seeing it, I realized that I would have to do a review. It's just one of those movies that needs to be critiqued, because that's where the majority of the fun comes from.

Two caveats, however: First, I've been looking forward to this movie for a very long time. I remember hearing the first rumours about this movie, a good fifteen years ago, back when I read comic books regularly. Dark Horse came out with the series, which to my eyes at the time kicked at least seven different kinds of ass (the comic was put out in 1990, though I didn't actually get a chance to read any of it until '95 or so). So you may feel that my following review is a little biased.

However, the second caveat is a refutation of the first. My expectations of this movie were very, very low. I know Hollywood. I have very little faith in it, and I certainly wasn't expecting something of the calibre of Citizen Kane. I was just expecting something that was fun to watch.

In many ways, it delivered. I certainly enjoyed the parts without any story or dialogue. And... well... yeah, I guess that's it.

The story involves an ancient pyramid found deep beneath the ice of Antarctica. The dying Charles Bishop Weyland, wanting to make a mark on the world before he passes, funds an expedition to excavate and explore this significant acheological find. A superbad mountain-climber/environmental activist by the name of Alexa Woods is hired to guide the expedition. Unfortunately, nobody bothered mentioning that the pyramid had been built by the Predators as a sort of intergalactic hunting lodge, where the prey of choice is the Xenomorphs of the Alien series, and soon the would-be archeologists start dropping off like flies.

Some may wonder exactly how good the movie could have been. The short answer is very. Like I said, the comic series kicked a lot of booty, so all they really would have had to do to improve the story is take a few pages out of the comic. Of course, that would mean paying royalties, so that idea was right out. And if I'm being fair, I must point out to myself that comics are not movies, and it takes a certain kind of talent to properly translate even an amazing comic book into a good movie (exactly the opposite kind of eye that attempted to translate Daredevil onto the silver screen.) Still, I think the potential was there to make a very good movie involving such powerful 80's sci-fi monster icons. Somebody just dropped the ball, I guess.

Thematically, it felt a lot to me like Alien: Resurrection, which is a film I really hated. Instead of trying to be cohesive, logical, scary, or even fun, the movie desperately wants to be cool. Indeed, it's convinced of itself that it is cool. And like most movies that are convinced of their own coolness, it isn't.

In fact, the movie borrows a whole lot. The most obvious sources are from the previous Alien and Predator movies, of course, and this much is inevitable and thus entirely excusable. But really, there's not a whole lot of anything new to the movie... Even the high points to the movie (the Predator/Alien battle scenes) seemed to fall kind of flat most of the time. And the battle against the Alien Queen? Straight out of Jurassic Park. No lie.

The movie makes a few other serious mistakes. One is an alteration of aspects of the Alien mythos. In the previous Alien movies, for instance, it takes the face-huggers many hours of gestation to become a full-fledged chest-burster, and after that it still takes a while before it becomes a full-grown Xenomorph. This movie appears to shorten the time involved in each stage to about ten minutes. No explanation is ever given.

The other serious mistake that sticks in my mind is less damaging to the movie, though no more forgivable, and it falls on the other half of the spectrum. In the original Predator movies, the role of the Predator was played by Kevin Peter Hall. Hall was a very tall fellow, almost lanky, with dance and theatre training. (He was also the guy behind Harry in Harry and the Hendersons.) Beneath the suit, Hall was able to make the Predator really come alive, making the monster move like it was real.

This time around, instead of hiring someone like the late Hall, they hired some very large bodybuilders to play the Predators. So you have large, heavily-muscled men who aren't particularly flexible to begin with, and then you put these huge, bulky costumes on them to make them appear even less flexible. They looked pretty impressive as long as they were standing still or fighting with the benefit of an overly-shaky cam that prevented the audience from getting a good look at anything, but otherwise they just seemed rather cardboardy.

Credit where it is due. While the director failed at his attempt to make the characters the same sort of quirky, enjoyable cast that helped make Aliens such a successful movie, at the very least he was able to keep any of them from being too horribly annoying. In the end, they're just mostly forgettable. And we finally have a film that goes back to decent-looking special effects that don't involve CGI. That's right, the majority of the shots of the big baddies are depicted without cheesy computer animation. As a fan of "old-fashioned" special effects, that's worth half a CWR right there.

Also, to avoid laying more blame than there should necessarily be at the foot of the director, it should be pointed out that this was originally an R-rated film. The good people at Fox, however, later decided that they wanted to milk this movie for every penny it's worth, and pushed the rating down to PG-13 (or A for my fellow Soviet Canuckistani). Thus the movie required a lot of editing, and it shows; the movie feels a little bit short when you walk out of the theatre. Personally I couldn't care less about the blood and gore in a film -- I think it's perfectly possible to make a scary/fun/exciting/whatever movie without resorting to close-ups of revolting chunks of flesh and torn sinew -- but I have to wonder just how much more sense the film might have made prior to its second, producer-driven trip through the editing room. We may never know.

At least, not until the overpriced Special Edition DVD becomes available.

The movie isn't all bad. Just mostly bad. It could be worth a rental if you're looking for something really cheesy some Saturday night. It's inoffensive and non-challenging, and let's face it... The inner geek within all of us is just dying to see who will come out on top in this kind of clash, no matter how badly filmed the movie is.

Still... the idea that they turned this film into a buddy cop story just kind of makes me sad.

She's the last survivor of an archeological dig gone horribly wrong, desperate to make it back to safety...

He's a rookie from an alien warrior race out to prove himself to his elders...

And together... They Fight Crime!

Anyway, I give this one two CWRs on my Cute White Rat scale.

Jesse R enlightened the masses @ 9:36 p.m.


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