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Should I Watch..? 'Alien Vs Predator' (2004)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Promotional artwork

Promotional artwork

What's the big deal?

Alien Vs Predator (also known as AVP: Alien Vs Predator) is a sci-fi action film released in 2004 and finally saw two of cinema's greatest horror villains united on screen for the first time. Inspired by a 1989 comic book of the same name, the film depicts an expedition to a remote island in Antarctica where they are soon trapped in an age-old conflict between the two deadly alien beings. The film stars Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova, Colin Salmon, Ewen Bremner and Tommy Flanagan and was directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. Initially part of both the Alien and Predator franchises, this crossover and its 2007 sequel Requiem are now considered its own separate timeline after a largely negative from fans. Despite a successful run at the box office with global earnings of $177 million, critical reception was not positive with the decision to make the film PG being especially criticised although a more R-rated version would be subsequently issued. The concept was also criticised by the likes of Ridley Scott (director of Alien) and James Cameron (Aliens) as well as Sigourney Weaver, who reportedly asked to be killed off in Alien 3 upon learning about plans for the crossover.

Forgettable

What's it about?

In 2004, an undetected Predator vessel in Earth's near-orbit uses a heating device to blast a hole into a patch of ice in Antarctica. The heat source is detected on satellite by aging industrialist Charles Weyland who rapidly ensembles a team of experts and security personnel to investigate. As the likes of archaeologist Sebastian De Rosa, chemical engineer Graeme Miller, mountaineering guide Alexa Woods and former Special Forces operative Maxwell Stafford listen on, Weyland explains that they have detected a mysterious pyramid buried some 2000 feet beneath the surface of the ice. With his health failing, Weyland insists on accompanying the expedition to claim whatever is found.

Setting up their base at an abandoned whaling station, they soon discover a newly-melted tunnel down to the pyramid. Professor De Rosa works out, via the pyramid's hieroglyphs, that whoever build the pyramid did so to facilitate human sacrifice to appease some unknown figures worshipped as gods. However, they quickly disturb some of the pyramid's ancient mechanisms and find themselves trapped down there. They also soon learn that the pyramid is host of a hoard of insectoid alien creatures that soon emerge from their slimy cocoons while their exit is blocked by some heavily-armed, humanoid creatures apparently hunting them.

Trailer

What's to like?

Anderson's films aren't especially known for their quality if we're being honest - aside from his obsession with the Resident Evil series, Anderson's filmography is propped up with B-movie efforts like Death Race and the first Mortal Kombat adaptation. But sometimes, he gets things right - Event Horizon wasn't that bad and had a decent visual style that disturbed viewers in the right way. It's a strong aspect of this production, bringing some decent effects and not leaning too heavily on CG. Costumes, makeup and puppetry all combine to make both Aliens and Predators feel like legitimate characters in their own right instead of computer sprites and both of them provide some suitable chills. Sets also look well made with plenty of nods to both franchises but still retaining plenty of 'haunted house' vibes with plenty of ill-lit corridors, slowly moving walls and plenty of cobwebs and slime. In fact, there's so much slime that it's even mentioned in the MPAA's content warning which must surely be a first.

I also must praise the film for trying to expand and link the mythology surrounding these two characters who, by this point, have lost pretty much all mystique. At the time, both of them were floundering with their respective series and this film presumably attempted to breathe new life into them. Instead, all it did was focus minds on rescuing them from purgatory like this - no film with a 'Vs' in the title is worth watching and since the release of the two crossovers, we have been treated to the Alien prequel Prometheus and the Predator reboot Predators and both of them were better than this. So I guess we kinda have to thank AVP for that, I suppose. And yes, I'm clutching at straws here.

Bringing together two titans of sci-fi horror should have been a no-brainer - unfortunately, it resulted in a film without a brain.

Bringing together two titans of sci-fi horror should have been a no-brainer - unfortunately, it resulted in a film without a brain.

Fun Facts

  • The Alien Queen animatronic was among the largest and most advanced at the time, requiring 12 puppeteers to operate as it was 4.8 meters long although its tails were added via CG. It also used hydraulics to operate the alien's mouth and had twice the number of moving parts as the T-Rex from Jurassic Park.
  • The film had languished in development hell for years, especially after James Cameron had produced a script for a potential fifth film after the release of Alien Resurrection and even approached Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver to return. But after Fox decided to develop the crossover instead, all three of them walked away. Scott has claimed to have never seen this film although Cameron was more complimentary, claiming it to be his third favourite Alien film.
  • The four Predators seen in the film were all played by Ian Whyte and had codenames: Scar (who marked himself with the alien blood), Chopper (who had much larger wrist-blades than previously seen), Celtic (who had an ornate design on their faceplate) and Elder, the cloaked Predator seen at the end. The Alien nicknamed Grid had a net burnt onto their domed head and is the only on-screen character seen to kill more than one Predator.
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What's not to like?

As great as much of the film looks, it ultimately has about as much depth as cigarette paper. The human cast, for example, are entirely forgettable which is a shame considering Henriksen's presence among them. There is almost little tension because it's obvious who the so-called Final Girl will be and we simply don't care about any of them. It doesn't help that they act and behave in the stupidest way possible, openly wandering into potentially dangerous situations and taking precisely zero precautions, despite Lathan's character being brought along as a Health & Safety expert. The film openly mocks our intelligence by having every plot point explained via the use of the easily-readable alien hieroglyphs and the film's dialogue feels as though it was cobbled together by a free-to-download AI program. It's not entirely the fault of the cast because the likes of Henriksen, Bremner and Lathan deserve better but on this occasion, they don't help themselves.

As well-designed as the sets are, there is a heavy sense of repetition after a while. This ancient Mayan-themed playground feels like your classic haunted house with stock sound effects heard as walls slide open and close for no discernible reason whatsoever. Maybe if the film had some better lighting, we might have had some clue but the film is smothered by an inky darkness that Anderson presumably thought would generate atmosphere. The same can also be said for slime which seems to be on every surface and while it doesn't add anything to the scene, it does make every character stop what they're doing to slowly get it on their fingers and stare at it. Action scenes also suffer due to the lack of lighting as I can think of few films that shoot so many bullets without hitting anything. Thinking about it, I can only recall four that actually hit their target but one of them was a point-blank mercy killing and the other had no effect - which makes you wonder they bothered taking guns in the first place. The whole film is little more than desperate fan service with an underwhelming narrative, unengaging cast and uninspired premise.

The film's cast underwhelm as they battle against crummy dialogue, poorly lit sets and buckets of slime. Oh dear.

The film's cast underwhelm as they battle against crummy dialogue, poorly lit sets and buckets of slime. Oh dear.

Should I watch it?

As interesting as it is seeing Anderson make a film without a single zombie in it, it's only really committed fans of either franchise that might get anything out of it. There's plenty of enthusiasm and some decent visual effects but a disastrous narrative, forgettable cast and poor CG hamper the film's appeal. It was never going to change the world but Shadows Vs Slime can't quite maximise its potential for some B-movie shocks. Is it as bad as it could be? No but it's a little disheartening to see these much-loved sci-fi horror icons reduced to this.

Great For: reviving interest in both franchises, fans of shadows and slime, upsetting fans of either franchise

Not So Great For: fans of either Alien or Predator, anyone hoping for a film with a more mature certificate, viewers with poor eyesight

What else should I watch?

As disappointing as this first crossover film is, it's a near-masterpiece compared to its sequel. Alien Vs Predator: Requiem was made even more cheaply, had none of the principal cast returning (except Whyte and Woodruff as their respective creatures), made less money and was just as heavily criticised as this film. The best thing that can be said for these films are that they sparked some life back into the two franchises. Ridley Scott returned to the series for the first time since the original Alien with semi-prequel Prometheus, a more philosophical approach to storytelling that had the added bonus of retconning the crossovers into their own universe. And while Predators didn't quite work the same sort of magic, recent prequel Prey does as it relocates the story way back in history and features Native Americans battling the invisible hunters with their own primitive technology. It also features a star-making turn from leading lady Amber Midthunder who deserves to go on to mainstream success soon.

It shouldn't come as any great shock to any of you that the earlier films are the best ones to watch, made at a time when audiences weren't so familiar with their fancy technology or weird gnashing jaws. The original Predator was an action sci-fi hybrid with a sweaty Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers caught in a South American jungle, not only trying to survive but out-macho each other. And while Aliens certainly has its fans, I still just about prefer the first film which is tighter, scarier and benefits from a star-making performance by Sigourney Weaver as the greatest Final Girl in cinema history, Ellen Ripley.

Main Cast

ActorRole

Sanaa Lathan

Alexa "Lex" Woods

Raoul Bova

Prof. Sebastian De Rosa

Lance Henriksen

Charles Bishop Weyland

Ewen Bremner

Dr Graeme Miller

Colin Salmon

Maxwell Stafford

Tommy Flanagan

Mark Verheiden

Carsten Norgaard

Rusten Quinn

Ian Whyte

The Predator / "Scar"

Tom Woodruff Jr

The Alien / "Grid"

Technical Info

*story by Paul W. S. Anderson, Dan O'Bannon & Ronald Shusett, based on characters created by Jim & John Thomas, Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett

DirectorPaul W. S. Anderson

Screenplay

Paul W. S. Anderson*

Running Time

101 minutes

Release Date (UK)

22nd October, 2004

Rating

15

Genre

Action, Horror, Sci-Fi

Razzie Award Nominations

Worst Remake Or Sequel

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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