Aliens vs. Predator says it all
by Matthew Everett
The first Alien vs. Predator was all about its premise. The title told you everything you needed to knowâ"either you want to see 20th Century Foxâ’s two name-brand sci-fi monsters brawl it out in an ancient city under the South Pole or you donâ’tâ"and video-game-to-the-big-screen auteur Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil) delivered exactly what he promised. It wasnâ’t as good as it could have been, even by King Kong vs. Godzilla standards, but there were aliens and there were Predators, and by god they beat holy hell out of each other for more than an hour.
Call it the Enter the Dragon principle: put a bunch of martial-arts experts/monsters on an island/in downtown Tokyo, set them loose with only the barest of backstories, and see what happens. (Itâ’s closely related to the John Carpenter School of Filmmaking.) Itâ’s an elegant set-up, sort of a low-rent Occamâ’s razor alternative to Hollywoodâ’s tendency toward expository dialogue, heavy-handed sentimentality, and redemptive endings. Directors are allowed to show off not as storytellers but as choreographers. AVP, like Enter the Dragon and Assault on Precinct 13, was essentially a formal exercise, almost an abstraction. And it beat the bloated naturalism of something like Crash or Million Dollar Baby like that first Predator did to Carl Weathers.
So now we come to the sequel. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, directed by the commercial/music video directors and special-effects barons Colin and Greg Strause, is burdened by the liturgical connotations of its title, and the first third of the new movie is weighed down by a half-hearted plot and the introduction of human characters who just donâ’t matter. (Itâ’s not just that theyâ’re inconsequential and hackneyedâ"in the end, when the mushroom cloud goes up, they really donâ’t matter.) In the first AVP the early plot, as skeletal as it was, set up the final showdown. Here itâ’s the same old horror-movie subplots when the simple unloosing of a bunch of aliens on Colorado and a single predatorâ’s intergalactic quest for retribution would have been more than enough.
That most of the subplots are dead-endsâ"more than half of the principle characters, many of them sympathetic, meet bloody, oozing, ghastly deaths on the end of an alien claw or Predator pikeâ"says something for the Strause brothersâ’ commitment to a gruesome anti-sentimentality (a commitment followed to its grim end with the aforementioned mushroom cloud). But it also reveals just how unnecessary the initial plot and character development are. Thatâ’s not to say that there arenâ’t strong moments earlyâ"the body count stacks up from the start, with little of the typical slasher/thriller regard for who deserves it and who doesnâ’t. But even as theyâ’re dying, the human characters donâ’t add up to much more than distractions. The viewer feels like the Predator, trying to wade through a mass of squealing flesh-bags on his way to the real prey.
The all-hell-breaks loose velocity of the final 20 minutes, however, redeems Requiemâ’s disjointed start. When the Predator chases the aliens into a hospital during a power outage, the movie finally gets down to fundamental, Enter the Dragon-style narrative simplicity and sleek B-movie precision. (The hospital sequence also provides the single most chilling shot of any movie in either series: a slobbering seven-foot-tall alien staring hungrily into the hospital nursery at a buffet table of human newborns.)
And for crying out loud, Requiem is also the big-screen coming-out party for the Predalien, a super bad-ass hybrid alien, complete with dreadlocks, sprouted from a Predator host. The mere presence of the Predalienâ"a long-running element of the AVP comic books and video game seriesâ"should be enough for a certain built-in segment of the audience. But it shouldnâ’t take a video-game geek to understand the basic cinematic appeal of a half-alien/half-Predator monster on the loose in Colorado.
On camera, Donald Crowhurst appears bright, level-headed, sincere, and properly British, with the stiff upper lip and indomitable spirit that stereotypically implies. As a BBC crew filmed the engineer/inventor and father of four preparing for a 1968 solo, non-stop around-the-world sailing race, he was wearing a tie under his survival suit. But once Crowhurst began piloting his small tri-maran toward thousands of miles of the worst seas on the planet, things began to go terribly wrong. Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwellâ’s new documentary creates a gripping account of Crowhurstâ’s journey into the vast South Atlantic and some even more lonely places.
The style of Deep Water is deceptively similar to the kind of historical narrative docs that litter the empty hours of cable TV: archival footage, talking heads, voiceovers, and computer graphics. But the filmmakers exhibit a deft touch with their material, keeping up the narrative tension even during the long stretches in which their protagonist is present as only a blip on a map. It certainly helps their cause that Crowhurstâ’s story, as documented in his logs and recordings, is both unfathomable and excruciatingly relatable.
As Deep Water recounts, even the most experienced sailors in the race faced unbelievable hardships. Racer after racer sank or dropped out, or, in the case of Frenchman Bernard Moitessier, found something out there in the towering waves that rendered him unable to return to human society. Crowhurst, a relative novice, soon encountered troubles with his slowpoke self-designed craft. Facing almost certain death if he continued and disgrace and financial devastation for his entire family if he turned back, Crowhurst stared down his dilemma alone, literally adrift. You wonâ’t believe what happens next, but you have no choice. â" Lee Gardner
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