In what seems now like its hundredth incarnation, 'Alien vs. Predator' dusts itself down yet for another release on the DVD format. This time however, it's the most eagerly awaited arrival of all, the fabled unrated cut of the movie. As fanboys the world over rejoice at the prospect of the definitive cut of this much maligned entry in the sci-fi canon, and put away their £50's worth of compromised releases, the question is: does this newly expanded edition of the film actually make 'Aliens vs. Predator' any good now? The saga of the film is well known by now. Arriving in the cinema in 2004, 'Alien vs. Predator' rode in on a way of anticipation. Its concept, of uniting two of science fictions most iconic monsters in a fight to the death, had already been exploited in a tremendously successful comic book series, and eager fans wet themselves with fevered excitement at the thought of these two colossi squaring off on the Hollywood stage. Unfortunately when AVP unleashed itself to the world, it was less a mighty explosion of sci-fi action and more an ungainly dribble. Mercilessly shoehorned into an anaemic PG-13 certificate and directed by hackmeister Paul W.S. Anderson (a director so inept at the concepts of successful storyline he would struggle to find work in the porn industry), AVP became everyone's worst nightmare: just another Hollywood blockbuster. Despite its obvious shortcomings, it's clear that the execs got exactly what they wanted. A watered-down relatively brainless actioner that would clean up at the box-office, attracting loyal fans of the original franchises (whose money is as good as any whether they like the film or not) and the less astute consumer. In this respect Anderson is a master. He doesn't so much create a film as deliver a product, and to give him credit there is nobody better at doing just that. Studio interference doesn't appear to bother him, and he quite happily delivers sanitised cinematic junk food for the kids without any artistic scruples whatsoever, bless his little cotton socks. The problem is there's a reason why the money men are where they are (and it's not because they know how to make a good movie) so heeding their every whim isn't perhaps a sure-fire route to artistic greatness. Only little Paul is a human, flesh and blood like the rest of us. He knows deep inside that there's only Uwe Boll making him look good in Hollywood today, and the criticism hurts him. So he reels out his usual line to those disenchanted souls who have just frittered away their money watching his horrid little opuses. “It's not my fault guv, I'm just the director, the studio tinkered with it, my original version was really great because I am an artiste, really I am”. If this sounds familiar it should. It was the same little story around the time of 'Event Horizon'. Whilst the latter film is still sat waiting around for a definitive release in a mystical extended cut that might address its many faults, at least we now have what appears to be the comprehensive cut of AVP. Excuses are out the window Mr Anderson, and the verdict is in.... No doubt everyone is familiar with the basic premise of AVP (unless you yourself have been living in an Aztec temple 2,000 feet below Antactica). If not, the basic gist is that unprecedented heat signals have been located beneath the surface of Antarctica that satellite surveillance reveals to be an undiscovered temple from a lost civilisation. Millionaire businessman Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Hendriksen) assembles a crack team of explorers to uncover the secrets of the temple. Unbeknown to them however, the location is the scene for a coming-of-age ritual where young Predator warriors pit their skills against hoards of Aliens, and the humans find themselves trapped in the middle. The idea itself isn't that bad, (if you can get past the notion that letting yourself die horribly in a murky temple on a foreign planet is supposed to be a great rites of passage honour for a fledgling Predator - I'd stick with 'Porky's' myself) but where AVP really slipped up on it's theatrical release was primarily centred around three aspects; characterisation, plot-holes and sanitised violence. By that rationale, the extended unrated edition should be a tonic for these flaws and result in an altogether more satisfying experience. It is unfortunate to report then, that this new cut does little to remedy the inherent imperfections which marred the original edit. The eight additional minutes do enhance the film in that they allow a touch more exposition (always a blessing in an Anderson movie), however they fail to address the problems that the movie as a whole suffers from. Characterisation has never been Anderson's forte, but compared with the best of the series (the first two Alien movies and the original Predator) AVP falls flat on its face. There is the usually rag-tag ensemble in the group which nicely fit the standard chestnuts (the boffin, the bad tempered hard nut, the callous capitalist, the shifty sidekick, the sensitive potential love interest, you get the idea), but absolutely none are developed at all or in fact have anything interesting to contribute to the movie. Hendriksen's Weyland is criminally underused for such an integral character, and his group of explorers are so anodyne and two-dimensional that you struggle to give a jot when they get unceremoniously picked off one by one in tedious, tensionless fashion. Ewen Bremner (who seems to be carving quite a niche for himself as a bit part player in Hollywood tat) at least gets some back-story and time on camera, unfortunately though that is only to reveal him as a poorly written mugging funnyman that seems to have wandered in from the cast of 'Carry On Alien'. Anderson appears to have written the characters around the main axis of group leader Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), who more or less takes the sole acting honours for the majority of the film. Even then she is no more than a poor mans clone of Ellen Ripley, all guts and stoic honour on the surface, but an empty undeveloped shell of plot necessity and character cliché in the ultimate scale of things. Things don't really improve with the plot holes either. Just how does that gestation period, once developed over a matter of days now progress faster than a greyhound shot from a canon? You won't find out here that's for sure. It's as if the Alien's themselves are on too much sugar, as pepped up as the audience this is intended for, and with just as fickle an attention span. Why sit around bored in a human stomach? Let's get to the action. To its credit, the extended scenes do help to flesh out the relationship between Woods and the Celtic Predator, but that whole scenario was always a touch rich to begin with. The smell of cheese hangs heavy in the air in certain scenes between the couple, not least in the slow motion escape from the explosion near the climax. There are unintentionally amusing moments when the pairing recalls a faintly ridiculous similarity to the eighties buddy movie. Perhaps if the mooted follow up relocates to the city we can enjoy the pleasures of seeing Woods and the Predator busted down to traffic by a no nonsense police chief for crashing their cop car into a department store or something.
Although sadly unsurprisingly typical of the clueless nature of most modern Hollywood cinema, it still beggars belief that anyone could have thought they could have successful squeezed a box-office friendly PG-13 rating out of two the most bloodthirsty franchises recent sci-fi has had to offer. Despite claims to the contrary, if you come into this edition of AVP expecting to have your blood lust satisfied with lashings of the grue deemed unsuitable for the nippers then you will leave disappointed. Even in its unrated version this is still tame stuff, putting to bed rumours that the original edit was compromised for the sake of a lower certificate. As per the original cut, all deaths are handled in that old familiar cutaway style, with the odd bit of ketchup chucked on a wall for the added effect. Even the film's central set piece, the Alien and Predator going at it in true WWF style, seems to suffer through the judicious self censorship the film promotes. The fast cutting eliminates any lingering on the ultra violence on screen, but it also means that there are times when you are sat scratching your head trying to fathom just what in the blue hell is actually going on. The camera doesn't even linger on the Aliens themselves for too long in case it scares the young 'uns. The horrific beauty of HR Giger's imagination has been used to great effect in the franchise in the past, but here it's sanitised and wholly less effective. Although the advances in CGI mean the Aliens never look as bad as they did in 'Alien 3', here they look more like rampaging bugs from a video game than the sticky horrible creatures of nightmares they were, especially in Cameron's movie. Although I have spent the majority of the review picking apart the film from top to bottom, perhaps it's only fair to offer some counterpoints. As a director he may be insufferable (Matrix-style bullet time on a facehugger? Only in a spoof mate), but there is no denying he has a keen visual eye and the film does look mighty impressive, with wonderfully composed landscapes making full use of the 2.35:1 frame. When the name Paul W.S. Anderson appears on the credits of a film it's damage limitation time, and on the plus side it could have turned out a lot worse, as anyone who has sat through 'Mortal Kombat' or 'Resident Evil' will no doubt testify (at least the scourge of the industrial rock soundtrack doesn't rear it's ugly head here). For all its flaws there isn't a point where you sit and think “I'm watching an absolute stinker here”, and compared to a lot of recent fantasy blockbusters such as 'Van Helsing' it fares surprisingly well. Anderson has obviously attempted to bring in some decent ideas to the table, but unfortunately hasn't had the skill or inclination to see them through. The fact that AVP is an enjoyable enough romp if you're in the mood and feeling forgiving, shouldn't really mask the fact that, with painful consistency, Anderson has dropped the ball once again. Although probably passable as a watchable actioner in its own right, the film has to be judged in relation to its standing in the franchises as a whole. Unfortunately for AVP, it's fighting its own battle for the wooden spoon with Jean-Pierre Jeunet's flogging of the proverbial dead horse that was 'Alien: Resurrection'. Overall a wasted opportunity, and like a disgruntled parent reprimanding a naughty schoolboy, “I'm not angry, just disappointed”.
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