by Tony Dayoub
Both the Alien and Predator franchises had a reputation for spotlighting the work of some of cinema's most promising directors. Here's the list:
Alien - Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Blade Runner)
Aliens - James Cameron (Titanic, The Terminator)
Alien³ - David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en)
Alien: Resurrection - Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, The City of Lost Children)
Predator - John McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October)
Predator 2 - Stephen Hopkins (24 Season 1, The Ghost and the Darkness)
Predator 2 showed us an Alien skull in the Predator's trophy room. This led to a series of graphic novels that combined the mythos of both characters. They were popular and demonstrated how viable the idea was. So I was hoping that combining these two franchises on film (still a good idea) wouldn't necessarily end the trend. The first Aliens vs. Predator directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil) was not great, but it had some interesting ideas to build on. But the newest flick Aliens vs Predator - Requiem proves to be beyond the capabilities of the Brothers Strause in their feature film debut.
As set up in the last feature, the Predators, intelligent space-hunters, use Earth to hunt the Aliens. In that film, it's discovered that the Predators set up our civilizations by introducing their technology, in return leading to pyramids built in their honor. Humans would sacrifice themselves to breed Aliens that would provide the intergalactic hunters with their prey. However, if the Aliens proved to be too much to handle, the Predators would nuke the area to prevent infestation. Nifty idea for explaining how some of these civilizations just seemed to disappear, right?
As Requiem begins, an Alien chestburster pops out of a Predator from the last film. It grows up to be a Predalien. This one ends up in a small town in Colorado, killing the townspeople as it uses them as breeding stock, with a Predator not too far behind to clean up the mess. We get to know some of the townspeople, but not well enough for them to make a lasting impression. And that's a big problem, because if you don't identify with these victims, how can you truly be scared?
The Brothers Strause, owners of a famous visual effects house called Hydraulx, have got the blood and gore part down well. But I go to horror movies to be scared, not disgusted. When you have the disgusted part without the scared... well, what's the point? The directors fall into the trap that most novices from the vfx and gaming world fall into when making the transition to cinema. They feel they must take on the challenge of topping the last film by concentrating on the effects and gore, and not the story. For example, is it really necessary to show an alien burst through the chest of an 8-year-old boy? Or how about the Predalien (a creature which, in and of itself, is a bit over the top) stalking through the maternity ward in a hospital as babies cry in the foreground? Had enough yet? No? How about the Predalien impregnating an already pregnant woman in said maternity ward with baby Aliens? These cheap scares provide the filmmakers with some challenging visuals, but they are stomach-turning more than frightening.
And it's too bad, because they had the elements to make this one a little more relevant than previous ones. Setting it up in a small town was a winning idea. But it would be more effective if one actually got involved with the characters, like in Frank Darabont's recent The Mist. They have the beginnings of some nice subplots involving a couple of very good actors. Reiko Aylesworth (24) as a soldier returning from Iraq has some nice interaction with her young daughter (Ariel Gade), now distant because of their time apart. And the great John Ortiz (Carlito's Way) plays the town sheriff, so eager to overcome the stigma of his juvenile delinquency that he will lead his people into oblivion for fear of doing the wrong thing. Sounds great, but the Strauses spend about as much time exploring these avenues as it took you to read those sentences.
I'm sure we'll see a sequel to this film at some point. It's too valuable a pair of franchises for Fox to leave languishing on the shelf. But hopefully they will go back to using these films as a training ground for strong directors, rather than as a reward to a successful visual effects house and their founders.
Aliens vs. Predator - Requiem, is available today on single disc (rated and unrated) and two-disc (unrated) standard DVD, and Blu-ray.
Still provided courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment.