Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Great Movies#1: AVP

I recently caught AVP: Alien Vs. Predator on DVD. Oddly, when I was in my teens and twenties, I was never much of an action movie fan. But at a time when my gore-soaked contemporaries from Lethal Weapon days are sitting down with their wives to watch Amelie, I find myself revisiting, and thoroughly enjoying, movies like Predator, Predator 2, Alien, and so on.

Sidebar: Want to see a liberal's view of Predator 2? Check this out: (full review here)

"The creature in this movie is a work of subtle racism. Subliminal clues are slipped in to encourage us to subconsciously connect the menace with black males".

Er... that's right, Roger. The guys who designed the Predator, their main goal was to instil fear of black males among the audience. Sure. Why not go and have a nice afternoon nap, and leave the reviewing to someone objective, like the excellent James Berardinelli?

So I am a huge fan of the first two Predator movies. The first pits the Predator against two future US state governors (Schwarzenegger, CA and Ventura, MN) and one would-be state governor (Sonny Landham, KY) as part of a US special forces team in Central America. It's hard to believe this is John "Die Hard" McTiernan's first movie as director. The pacing is relentless and nearly 20 years later it looks every bit as good as it did back in 1987. Another member of Arnold's team picked off by the Predator is Shane Black who penned Lethal Weapon. Legend has it he was sent out there to keep an eye on McTiernan. They needn't have worried!

Predator 2 (1990) takes place in the Los Angeles of 1997. The actual jungle from the first movie is replaced by the urban jungle torn apart by a drug war. The sequel is very enjoyable and every bit as good as its predecessor in my opinion. Danny Glover plays the hero cop avenging the death of his partner at the hands of another Predator. He brings a lot of humanity to the role (in contrast to Arnold's seemingly invincible killing machine). Glover's an excellent, underrated, actor. The movie has some terrific dialog, some of the best from Blaxploitation star Calvin Lockhart: "You can't see de eyes of de demon.... ontil 'im come callin'!"

So after a 14 year delay they finally bring the Alien and Predator franchises together on the big screen. When I heard about this last year I immediately checked out who they were going to get to direct. Cameron? McTiernan? Hopkins? Fuqua?

Paul WS Anderson? Who? A bit of research revealed the dreadful truth. Oh dear God. The man who directed Shopping has been let loose on the two best action movie franchises of all time?

Sidebar: Shopping was Jude Law's first film. It is jaw-droppingly, eye-wateringly, head-scratchingly, forehead-slappingly bad. It's bad in the sense that you can't compare it to any other film for sheer incompetence. If you consider every way in which a film can fail, Shopping manages all of them. It doesn't work on any level. It invents a whole new category of cinematic dreck of which it is sole occupant. For his work on Shopping, I felt that Paul WS Anderson could well be the new Ed Wood, but that gives him too much credit.

My expectations were, therefore, not high going into AVP. It's the first film of the franchise not to get an R rating. So its projected audience was: adolescent boys and me.

The verdict? I actually enjoyed it a great deal. It turns out Paul is absolutely fine directing special effects. It's only when it comes to directing people and conveying a story coherently that he tends to get a bit out of his depth.

In this case, neither were necessary. In all the other Alien and Predator films, the real stars of the film were the humans. But in AVP, the humans are merely extras, and the stars are the Aliens and Predators themselves. As for a story, Paul can't really go wrong. There are certain things which Alien and Predator fans expect in a film, so he just has to copy them from the earlier movies and put them into some kind of order.

The special effects in AVP are great. They used a large hydraulically operated animatronic model for a lot of the Alien shots and they don't rely too much on CGI. One problem is that the Alien/Predator fights are too short and too dark. The Predators have never looked cooler or moved better than they do in this movie.

Another complaint I have is that by allowing the actors to speak instead of just letting them get killed in various inventive ways, Anderson has allowed some unintentionally funny dialogue to creep in, like when Raoul Bova (last seen boning Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun) says: "It's beginning to make sense". Oh really, Raoul? You must give me the name of your pharmacist!

Why is AVP a great movie? I have been a fan of these critters since the Carter administration. Acid blood, facehuggers, invisibility armor and laser-guided smart weapons are practically in my DNA. Of course I'm going to want to see these great creatures go at it, and I'm not going to let a bunch of adolescent boys get in my way!

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