Thursday, April 02, 2015

Cult-Movie Review: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

Long ago -- and according to legend -- the great Sigourney Weaver put down the Ripley role because 20th Century Fox envisioned a new direction for the Alien series.

What was that new direction?

Aliens vs. Predators. 

Perhaps apocryphally, perhaps truthfully, Weaver noted that she believed aliens belonged in the darkest, most isolated corners of deep space, not jumping out from behind haystacks on Earth.

Aliens vs. Predator Requiem (2007) is the movie she had the foresight to imagine.

It’s the aliens-jumping-out-of-haystacks film.

And it is no exaggeration to note that Requiem is godawful. It represents franchise-scuttling at a heretofore unimaginable, apocalyptic level.

To put it another way, this is the worst-shot major film that I’ve reviewed in ten years of blogging, and the most disappointing too. 

Often, I write here that a horror film fails because it lacks suspense or tension.  AVPR can’t even reach the quality threshold where that’s a legitimate issue. The movie is incompetently lit, making important details impossible to determine, and the narrative is incoherent and contradictory.

The film never bothers to build towards anything significant, and scenes start and stop without rhyme or reason.

“You know, when I was your age, I used to have these awful nightmares.”

AVPR is the tale of several aliens and one predator set loose in a small Colorado town in the early twenty-first century.  

Basically, the Pred-Alien that hatched at the end of AVP (2004) causes a ruckus on a predator ship in orbit and it crashes in Colorado. A bunch of face-huggers get loose in the woods, thus spawning more aliens, and the Predators send one of their own (from their home planet...) to clean up the mess.

Caught in the middle of this war are a bunch of horny teenagers, a former juvenile delinquent named Dallas (get it?) and sexy, confident Reiko Aylesworth as a tough-as-nails Iraq War vet. 

They all attempt to escape the sleepy burg of Gunnison, while the U.S. Government puts a fatal strategy into effect, one that will contain the spread of the alien forces.

“This plan is stupid.”

The most trenchant observation I can make regarding AVPR is that it represents the first film in either classic horror franchise that feels it necessary to spotlight teenagers skinny-dipping in a high school pool after hours.

And yep, these horny teens are attacked by swimming aliens there.

Once upon a time, neither franchise required stripping high-schoolers to draw enthusiastic audiences.

Once upon a time, both franchises were intelligent, beautifully-designed meditations on the darker angels of human nature.  But now -- all the sudden -- we’re asked to sympathize with the angst and ennui of a pizza delivery boy who wants to date a girl he’s always liked.

Because that’s the reason I go to see Alien and Predator films.

As I wrote in my post the other day, Alien 3 (1992) was about the fact that survival isn't always a "win." One could also gaze at Aliens (1986) as a metaphor for American arrogance during the Vietnam War. And the original Alien (1979) was about, in some subconscious sense, human sexuality co-opted by a nasty xenomorph.

Even 1997's Alien Resurrection -- for all of its problems -- offered some worthwhile commentary on the morality of human cloning, and the way that man had unwittingly become more like the xenomorphs by corrupting the life-cycle of other beings.

But the best that AVPR can muster is to steal a page from the 1980s slasher film formula: vice (sex) precedes slice-and-dice or in this case, attack by alien.

I find this element of the movie immensely depressing; that the Rolls Royce and Cadillac of horror franchises settle for Friday the 13th-style scenarios that are so hackneyed they were being mocked by Scream nearly twenty years ago.

Now don’t get me wrong, please. I happen to like many of the Friday the 13th films. The “Dead teenager” formula absolutely has a purpose and a kind of validity to it in appropriate circumstances.  But I hate to see Alien lobotomized into the equivalent of a bad slasher flick.  Especially one that so readily dispenses with series continuity.

On that front, consider the modifications presented by the Pred-Alien. It has developed, genetically-speaking to eschew the egg and face-hugger stages of development. Now it simply kisses its prey and pumps embryos into the throat, leading right to the chest-burster stage.  

I see this unnecessary alteration as emblematic of the film’s lack of patience. AVPR isn’t willing to take its time, make its characters sympathetic, or generate real feelings of terror and unease.  Instead, it just wants to barrel away, skipping the things that would have made the film more than an extended wrestling match.  The Pred-Alien’s evolution is a symbol of this lack of patience.

AVPR never bothers to explain how an infusion of Predator DNA permits this change in the alien’s nature.  Since the answer is never given,  I suspect that the filmmakers decided to do something “cool” rather than something faithful or dramatically motivated.  Here, we get a scene where a few chest-bursters erupt out of a pregnant woman in labor, and that, I suppose, fulfills “the cool factor.”

Another question: why does Predator technology -- and even the spaceship interior – suddenly look completely different than how it looked at the end of Alien vs. Predator?

AVPR also puts the final nail in the long-erosion of the "un-killable alien" meme first realized by Ridley Scott in 1979. In his original film, the alien couldn't be killed, and couldn't even be stopped. You just had to get away from leave it behind floating in space.

Yet here teenagers with hand-guns literally blow aliens away left and right.

Twenty-first century weaponry is more than efficacious blowing up these once unstoppable beasts. The trademark xenomorph -- once a genuine Terror from the Id -- is now just a big "bug" to be swatted with our state-of-the-art hardware. Forget the fact that it took advanced, futuristic hardware like smart guns and pulse rifles in Aliens to do the same job.

Nope, now we can do it with good old-fashioned, conventional shotguns and pistols. 

Among other problems, this fact dishonors Ripley’s four-movie journey. She fought the alien without weapons. She fought the alien with weapons too.  She even laid down her life to prevent the aliens from reaching Earth, and impacting innocent families. 


The xenomorphs were so dangerous that they could destroy everything, imperil all life.  They were a perfect (and perfectly hostile) life-form, and if they reached our cities…it was game over.

Well, AVPR undercuts Ripley’s meaningful sacrifice by putting aliens on Earth -- and making them containable -- before Ripley was even born.  This “sequel” film fails egregiously because it rewrites the saga in a way that makes Ripley’s choice to die rather than birth a queen seem inconsequential.

If aliens can be put down by shot-guns, what’s the big deal?

Also, I strongly dislike how the aliens move in this film. They are almost universally seen on all-fours, as though they are banana-headed dogs, rather than the upright drones of the earlier films.

The Predator fares slightly better in the film, though he operates by no sense of logic I can discern. This Predator arrives on Earth with the mission to "clean up" the mess. We periodically see him spilling some kind of glowing blue acid stuff on the corpses so as to cover the tracks of both the aliens and his own kind.

It's his mission, we presume -- from this act of destroying the evidence -- to hide the incursion of extra-terrestrials on Earth.

Given this task, the fact that the predator skins a police deputy and hangs his corpse from a tree --- to be found by the sheriff -- doesn't make a lot of sense. Why go out of your way to destroy all evidence of your presence, and then leave behind a bloody, hanging corpse in a tree?

That's just one incredible gap in situational logic, but there are bigger fish to fry here.

Before seeing the movie, for instance, I read a number of reviews from unhappy fans indicating that the film was poorly shot: that it was too dark.

I thought this was just fan griping.

 It isn't. 

I know of no modern-day corollaries for this overt failure in a major, big-budget production. But for some reason, AVPR is terribly, terribly under-lit throughout. Even the daylight scenes are hard to see. You'll spend the entire movie squinting, trying to make-out the crappy action.  This is a movie that actually hurts to watch. 

I mean that it physically hurts your eyes to pay attention.

In scene after scene, dark, indistinguishable figures clash with other dark, indistinguishable figures, all to the sound of squealing, gunfire and grunting. Rain falls, and we get the illumination we desire and need from brief instances of gunpowder flare and lightning strikes. 

But otherwise, we’re in the dark, literally.

Even now, some years later, I remain shocked that there was no quality control on the set in terms of the lighting; no review of dailies that revealed the film was too dark to countenance. Perhaps the film was darkened post-production because the monster suits weren’t up to scrutiny? I don’t know the reason for the problem, but the film is inarguably a visual disaster.

In the final analysis, AVPR isn't merely an insult to the intelligence, it's an insult to the great tradition and lineage of Alien and Predator films.

A requiem, by the way, is a hymn for the dead; a musical composition for the expired.

In this case, the "requiem" sung by AVPR is the death knell of not one, but two classic sci-fi film franchises.

1 comment:

  1. Computer snafu while I was typing this up. Let's see if it works this time. Personally speaking, I much prefer this film to AVP. But that is like stating which pile of manure you think is better as they both stink. I find this one especially frustrating as I feel a good film is buried in there somewhere, whereas I felt that AVP was always a lost cause. First off, this is more of a Predator film than an Alien one (and that scores big points with me). After the disastrous Predas of the previous film, they get this one right. Long and lanky, able to make the most of a bad situation. I especially liked his field conversion of the damaged plasma caster into a hand gun. I also loved the brief look at the Predator homeworld. I was worried about the Predalien, as I felt it looked rather weak in the promo photos, but it came off much better in motion.But then we get the bad. Why was this thing filmed so dark, then not corrected for it's home release? Did they honestly think this would not anger the viewers? I'm still shaking my head and asking why they did this. Was the blue acid self replicating, or was it's container a TARDIS? Also why didn't the Pred just toss a bit on the aliens rather than full on fight them? It seemed even a tiny amount of the material could dissolve an elephant. Also the fan service of the skinned corpse does indeed fly in the face of the Pred's clean up/no evidence mission. But the greatest sin of all are the 1980s, stock slasher film, human characters. Why? I want AVP, not "Horror film cliche cast, with a guest appearance by AVP." How could they drop the ball twice? And the Weyland/Yutani coda? Ugh.