PictureFox Home Entertainment have done themselves proud here with a fantastic image presentation. Anamorphically enhanced from its original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect, AVP is quite glorious to behold. For a movie that is set mainly within the confines of a subterranean pyramid, it is remarkable just how clear, crisp and un-muddied the picture is, despite the overwhelming darkness that, inevitably, fills up the screen. Colours are bold and striking, locked in superbly with no trace of bleed or over-saturation, whatsoever. I just love the glow of the red flare that Lex uses when she first enters the ice-cave, very reminiscent of Kurt Russell's Macready creeping about in The Thing. Predator blood has a wonderful incandescent glow and the laser sights on the guns look tremendous as they sweep about. On a similar note, there are lots of cool torch beams poking through the blackness, too - all picked out keenly and with no hint of haloing or image-trail. Skin-tones are handled well, too - realistic and almost pore-perfect in close-up scrutiny. Weapons, clothing and equipment all have a reassuring clarity and tone that just drips class from the screen, lending suitable weight to a film that clearly needs all the brownie points it can get. You can clearly see every strand of fur in the team's hoods. Explosions are beautifully rendered too, with lovely rich, orange and red blooming fireballs that, although not entirely convincing, are always great to look at.
The black levels are, by necessity, awesome and the transfer betrays no evidence of the blocking that can dog some predominantly murky movies. Despite the gloom and shadow, every detail on the wall carvings can be seen. The aliens, also black, glisten with xenomorph drool and goo, emerging from the shadows with eerie clarity. Their eggs are intricately drippy and moist, the wonderfully sickly greens and pallid whites of their colour scheme really shining out on this disc and the face-huggers have never looked so hideous. The Predators, too, benefit enormously from the terrific transfer, with every wicked blade in their formidable arsenal gleaming in the dark. Their patented triangular laser sight is pin sharp and just check out the pristine glory of their various vision-modes. This is really top notch stuff, folks. Detail on the environment is not skimped on either. Look at the tiny ice particles on the temple floor, the crisp snowflakes dancing in the beams of light and the texture of the frosted surfaces in the deserted whaling station.
The disc copes admirably with all the shifts in contrast, too - from the bright daylight when we first meet Lex climbing the ice-wall to the subdued interiors of Weyland's ship, from the stark whiteouts amid the whaling station to the inky blackness within the temple and the eventual fiery return topside to the frigid blue/white sheen of the final send-off. All very impressive.
Apart from one moment, where an element of fine grain makes a curious appearance on Lex's face when she and Scar first hit it off, the image is practically flawless. There is some evidence of edge enhancement but nothing in the least detrimental to the visual splendour on display. Fast action, such as the title bout smackdown, is always capably delivered with no trailing, judders or motion-drag. We could argue endlessly about the indulgent over-use of slow-motion and bullet-time but, at least, with this disc it is always good to look at. So, even if not thematically or narratively, AVP can certainly stand next to the estimable transfers Fox provided for the other Alien sagas in the visual stakes, especially the original with a presentation that is simply radiant.
SoundWell, you will be pleased to know that, alongside the great visuals on offer, Fox have provided an equally impressive DTS 5.1 mix, too and what a stormer it is! Right from the start, all the channels get a wake-up call and from then on we are wrapped in a lovingly detailed soundscape that enjoys wonderful steerage and directional placement throughout. Switching between the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks reveals a lot more oomph and boom for your buck with the DTS. Whichever you choose though, you can be assured that gunshots will rip across the room, Predator weaponry will make those exquisite ching! and snikt! noises that Wolverine fans know and love and Aliens will, indeed, hiss ferociously from all corners. Listen out for the great thundering footsteps of the Predators stalking the catacombs and the bone-shuddering impact of an alien flung through a wall and what about the tremendous pounding bass as the huge stone blocks grind shut with each new Rubik turnaround? Sheer bombastic heaven.
But not only does the crash-bang-wallop sound great - the neat little ambiences play out teasingly from all speakers too. I have a particular fondness for the lovely tinkling sound of grit and stone skittering down behind the sofa as the team slide the sarcophagi open. Predators gurgle that throaty rasp from over your shoulder; their spacecraft rumbles overhead and the alien eggs squelch with the appropriate repulsiveness right in front of you. All in all, a terrific surround experience that will give your system a thorough workout and dialogue is never sacrificed in favour of boom-boom-shake-the-room. But, as I say, DTS has the edge over the Dolby Digital track with just so much more power and realistic steerage. Well done.
ExtrasWell, folks, there's quite a lot of stuff supplied here. This edition, although flagged up as a Limited Pressing in Japan, actually appears to be identical to the recent Extreme Edition that has graced both R1 and R2 with the aforementioned two versions of the movie on Disc1 coupled with an Inside Look at Hide And Seek, Elektra and Robot. Firstly, the Extended Version of the movie adds nothing much at all apart from a few tiny character beats tacked on and a particularly lame prologue that does the film no favours at all. Disc 1 also houses the two Commentary Tracks. The first, by Paul W.S. Anderson, Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Lathan, is quite good value. That's if you can forgive Anderson's and Henriksen's belief that they actually came up with something cool and original. Henriksen's mobile phone goes off at one point and there's even a lengthy digression to discuss the merits of Cameron's Aliens but, overall, this is quite an entertaining track. Certainly more so than the second chat-track with the FX crew of Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jnr and John Bruno. They achieved some great results here but the discussion has far too many quiet moments and a kind of techie staleness about it. But one out of two isn't bad.
Disc 2 houses a wealth of featurettes and two nice documentaries that really leave no stone unturned in a comprehensive quest to prove to us that this film really is worth it, after all. You decide. This stuff covers the movie from its conception, with some truly gorgeous storyboards and artwork, through its actual production with plentiful behind-the-scenes glimpses and talking heads on the set, right on to post production work on the CG elements and the eventual marketing campaign with trailers and a naff HBO Making Of.
The 25 mins AVP The Beginning documentary is good value with Anderson at pains to show how much of a fan of both franchises he is. However, just being a rabid fan of Aliens and Predators does not mean that you are an ideal candidate to helm a movie that squares them off against one another. Also quite distressing is the level of trust Anderson seems to put into the theories of universally debunked writer Erik Von Daniken for his, admittedly, neat notion of the underground pyramid heritage. It contains a nice display of an animatronic alien and some very cool stuff on the Predators. Production designer Richard Bridgland reveals the enormous amount of work that went into creating the impressive sets and intricate hieroglyphics - it's just a shame that some of this Herculean effort hadn't been diverted to the screenwriting side of things. To be honest, watching this little documentary made me quite eager to sit through the film again. The crew's enthusiasm nearly fooled me into thinking that I'd maybe missed the best scenes altogether.
The big documentary, AVP Production, is an hour long on-set back-slap-athon with everyone very keen to point out just how damn enthusiastic Anderson is, and how easy he is to work with and how incredibly focussed his vision is. Henriksen, in particular, comes across as a big sap. Now this is a B-movie tough guy with a pretty fearsome back-catalogue, yet his growly voice does little but simper on about how this one is going to be special, even mentioning Anderson in the same reverent tones as Cameron - “I knew then ... and I know now.” I'm tempted to say that, after AVP's release he should rephrase that into “If I knew then what I know now” but having heard his equally praiseworthy comments on the commentary I think he actually believes it. There is some great FX work and costume revelations in here though - a 7ft British basketball player with martial arts skills plays Scar - and some actual scenes being filmed before the FX have been put in.
AVP Post Production covers the CG work with John Bruno, detailing the great work done with the bullet-time face-huggers and the enhancement sprucing up the big smackdown. With more featurettes detailing miniatures work, the original AVP comic books - it's nice to see the guys behind them getting some recognition - and a cool 14 minute meeting with action figure supremo Todd McFarlane. Throw in a selection of justly Deleted Scenes with an optional commentary from Anderson and - just popped back in again - Lance Henriksen and you have a fairly extensive dissection of AVP. Quite honestly there is severe effort being made here. Whilst the overall package of extras suffers from a little bit of overkill, repetition and too much self-reverence, it is still a great set of features that really does cover the entire project from initial concept right through to the finished product. Just how much of this attention the film deserves is, however, debateable.
VerdictAVP is a difficult movie and badly flawed. It's a needless accessory to series of already great films that, at best, can only be described as one fan's wet dream. With all manner of tricks up his sleeve, Anderson still manages to miss the mark by a mile, gutting the original material of wit, intelligence and character. Visually, his movie is ravishing. Concept-wise, it's actually none-too shabby, either. But it's doomed by its maker's inevitable slide into video-game daftness and crippled further by a complete lack of what made the originals so damn good, namely excitement. However, if you love your aliens and your Predators and just want to see more and more of them, then look no further. To be honest, there are a couple of good bits in here, too.
Fox's disc is a fantastic package though, really going to town on a movie that, perhaps, doesn't warrant such attention. The extras are, in the main, entertaining and the FX examinations and creature shops are always cool to see. But what really seals the deal is the top quality AV presentation. Blistering sound design and tremendous visuals. I can only go on what I've seen and heard on this Japanese edition though, so I'm just assuming that the R1 and R2 versions are just as well decked out. So, if you are going to take the plunge, I personally would plump for the regions that you know because this version has those somewhat confusing Japanese menus, and subtitles on the movie that can only be lifted from one of those pesky menus. Not a major chore, I know, but still a little tiresome.
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