October Horrorshow: Alien vs. Predator

Alien vs. Predator, the 2004 film that brought together the two franchises for the big screen, has its roots way back in the 1980s. In 1989, Dark Horse Presents ran a short Aliens vs. Predator story for three issues, written by Randy Stradley with art by Phill Norwood and Karl Story, which served as an introduction to a standalone miniseries Dark Horse subsequently published.

In it, a pair of unseen protagonists aboard a long haul space freighter discuss the ethics of humanity spreading throughout the galaxy and stripping life-bearing planets of resources. Meanwhile, the art shows predators depositing alien eggs on a planet. Later, after the eggs hatch and impregnate the local fauna with aliens, the predators arrive to hunt them.

The story is short and effective, and was welcomed with enthusiasm by comics fans, if my memory serves. Comic books have always been the realm of grand crossover stories. Superheroes occasionally appear in each other’s titles. Sometimes different publishers decide to collaborate on a story, and that is how the comics world got the Hulk and Batman appearing together, or Spawn and Cerebus, or, my personal favorite whacky crossover, Batman and Judge Dredd. Dark Horse even got in on that action, collaborating on stories that pitted both Batman and Judge Dredd against aliens and predators. Aliens and predators are such versatile antagonists that everyone wanted in, and it all began with that short story in 1989.

The seed for an Alien vs. Predator movie may have been planted back then, but it would take until the 21st century for the title to actually get made.

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, Alien vs. Predator takes place on contemporary earth, marking the first appearance of the aliens outside of some indeterminate future. A satellite, owned by the ever-present and evil Weyland Corporation, passing over a remote island off the coast of Antarctica, detects a heat bloom under 2,000 feet of ice. Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen) assembles a team of scientists, security personnel, and an extreme trekking guide, Alexa (Sanaa Lathan), to investigate.

It turns out the heat bloom marks the location of an ancient pyramid that combines aspects of ancient Egyptian, Mesoamerican, and Khmer architecture. In a fit of faulty reasoning that fits in quite well with the overall tone of the film, the resident archaeologist declares that this must be the first pyramid ever built, because Anderson (who also handled screenwriting duties) doesn’t know how cultures develop. This moment of exposition is kin to the simple nonsense that scientist characters would spout in 1950s monster fare, and is pretty typical of a Paul W.S. Anderson film. He’s never felt the need to burden a viewer with anything that’s actually plausible, so rather than be frustrated by his unique brand of movie science, it’s best just to ignore it and move on, otherwise a viewer will be driven to distraction.

There are some moments, though, that just reek of lazy filmmaking. My particular favorite is when the audience first meets Alexa. Anderson introduces her as she’s free climbing an icefall in Tibet or some such place. She’s almost to the top when her cellphone rings. I shit you not, she got a phone call, on a cell, in the Himalayas, while hanging her ass off a mountain. Then she answered it. I would have let it go to voicemail.

On the other end of the line is Max (Colin Salmon), one of Weyland’s employees, who needs Alexa to rush off to a meeting with Weyland. No can do, explains Alexa, as she is at least a week from civilization. Weyland anticipated this, however, and as Alexa tops the icefall, still on the phone with Max, she sees that Max is there to pick her up in a helicopter.

What?

During this entire sequence, neither Alexa nor the viewer hear a helicopter arrive. Just how long has Max been waiting? Did he show up the previous day? Is he wishing he brought something more suitable to the Himalayas than business attire? Extraordinary. The sequence doesn’t last long, but it’s a sublime moment of shitty filmmaking.

And that is Alien vs. Predator. Anderson appears to have been given free reign to work his shitty magic. From beginning to end, this film is packed full of stupid. How much this affects a viewer’s feelings towards the film is in direct proportion to how little or how much one cares that a film makes sense. All this becomes apparent before we even see one alien.

Moving back to the plot, the pyramid is an ancient site that the predators use as a ritualized hunting ground. Down in the basement is an alien queen that lays eggs. Up above, the eggs are placed in a sacrificial chamber to impregnate humans. The aliens that then burst forth are hunted by the predators. This little song and dance has taken place once every hundred years for millennia, according to Anderson’s backstory. It’s fortunate for the predators that Weyland brought some fodder to the pyramid, otherwise the predators would have nothing to do.

Eggs hatch, then aliens hatch, then predators fight aliens. Humans team up with predators. Climax. Denouement. Curtain. The end.

This flick really is a piece of shit. Anderson treats much of the setup as something to be gotten through as quickly as possible. That’s not the worst sin of filmmaking, but if he was just going to pay lip service to how things work in this fictional universe, then he shouldn’t have bothered with the introductory stuff. All it ended up doing was cram more idiocy into the movie.

Like almost all of his work, Alien vs. Predator looks great. But it’s so shallow. There’s just nothing Anderson can offer beyond an idea — predators hunting aliens — that wasn’t even his to begin with. With the exception of look and feel, everything he brings to this project stinks. For only the second time in Shitty Movie Sundays history, we have a tie. Alien vs. Predator is just as shitty as Alien: Resurrection. How appropriate.