Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Written by Hicks Monday, 07 January 2008 22:01
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is the second film in what has been deemed ‘the new franchise’ for Alien and Predator fans, and attempts to bring the series more inline with the original films in terms of the action, violence, mythos and creature designs than its predecessor. Although the movie does have its flaws, it certainly succeeds in each of these arenas where the first film failed. Comparing the two installments as films and one would probably say they are equal, but in terms of being an installment in Alien or Predator franchise Requiem is definitely superior.
AVP-R was fun to watch, and setting aside flaws in plot and character development, and at times pacing and acting, it was still enjoyable and offered its own unique contributions to the franchise. I’ve purposefully structured this review with little reference to specific scenes or content of the film in an attempt to make it spoiler light. Instead I provide general commentary on the structure and ideas that drive the film.
The storyline of Requiem picks up directly after the end of the first AVP – with the birth of the hybrid Alien onboard the Predator spacecraft which is still orbiting our planet after take-off from Antarctica. But quickly the action comes crashing back down to Earth, with Alien and Predator mayhem set upon the small, unsuspecting town of Gunnison, Colorado, USA.
The premise itself does not contradict any events of the previous film; however there are some liberties taken with some of the previously established canon, such as the timeline for the Alien reproductive cycle, which is sped up from what has been seen in the original Alien films.
The action flows at a brisk pace initially, immediately pulling the audience in, then lingers just long enough to introduce the setting and main characters before ramping back up. The action is then sustained for practically the duration of the film. Once the outbreak begins it is almost non-stop action, either from the perspective of the humans feeling the infestation, or following Wolf on his mission to cover-up any evidence of the Predator or Alien presence on Earth.
The fast pacing unfortunately also creates a noticeable lack of narrative, limits plot development, and provides minimal character exploration. However, if you are a fan of the franchise, and have seen at least some of the original films, it is certainly not hard to follow the events as they unfold. One plus is that there is little or no exposition throughout the film. Gladly we were not spoon-fed the concepts of the creatures, their biology and behaviour, even for the sake of non-franchise fans. Sorry Sebastian...
Some of the dialogue seemed strained at times, but in context of the scenes was still believable given the situation the characters found themselves in. Without full character development, however, it would be hard to argue either way how each character would act or react in any given scene. But there was little time to think about that, as the overriding theme for the human characters was to simply stay alive and escape the clutches of both the Aliens and the Predator. From the humans’ point of view it was definitely a survival film.
Throughout the film the directors went back to various cues from the early Alien and Predator films which, although they provided a pleasant sense of nostalgia, did not contribute much to the development of the film, nor the originality of the story. There are, however, several new introductions to the mythos of the creatures with the Predalien hybrid, its unique reproductive method, and several news weapons, equipment and tactics employed by Wolf. Then, of course, there is the introduction of the Predator homeworld, which had an interesting design and was a welcome addition. This made enough of a contribution to the franchise to make the events of Requiem unique, instead of simply relying on only rehashing previously used concepts from the other films. In this respect I give full marks to the directors for having the determination to introduce new canon, whether it’s viewed as good or bad, to a franchise with highly devoted fans that are very protective of their tenets, resisting change feverishly.
The ending certainly leaves the door open for a third film, not so subtly hinting at a sequel set in space in the future, but at the same times wraps up the events of this film nicely.
All-in-all the concept behind the film is a simple idea, with very little structure to work with, that was fortunately elevated beyond is original potential by the filmmakers’ passion for the material. However a stronger script would have most certainly made for a better film. Which is something only the studio can step up to the plate and provide by commissioning a talented writer with the appropriate resources and freedom to develop a compelling setting for the clash of these two science-fiction icons. Otherwise this versus concept will continue to amount to nothing more than a mere monster mash-up of action sequences. Providing a less frugal budget certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
Despite the fact that the Brothers Strause are making their directorial debut, and are forced to find their feature film legs in a franchise that has widely veered off the course that the original films first charted, their knowledge of the franchise and the mythos, and their determination to go back to the essence of what made the early films popular, certainly saved this film from being a completely dull, lifeless, shell of a film.
A pace was set that kept the audience engaged in the action on-screen, not focused on the limited character and plot development. Which in the context and scope of this film, seemed to work, as artificial injection of story or character would have only slowed the film, without making the people or setting any more interesting in the process. In this respect the film never tried to be something it wasn’t. It was not a social commentary on the human condition, nor was it a profound character study. The stars of the film were the Aliens and Predators, with the humans caught in the middle and relegated, for the most part, to the role of collateral damage. And in that regard, the direction was handled effectively and efficiently, which allowed the film to deliver exactly what it promised – hardcore Alien and Predator action that was not afraid to use violence, gore or horror to drive home its point.
Notwithstanding, I felt there were several scenes that had greater possibilities than what evolved on-screen. Most notably was the arrival of the National Guard. This scene had the potential to be an epic battle between the military and the Aliens but amounted to little more than several quick shots of the soldiers being taken down in the dark, or the soldiers returning fire on the Aliens. Additionally, one of the character and story angles that probably should have been developed more was that of the government involvement and the character of Colonel Stevens. The opportunity for a sinister sub-plot was introduced but not nearly explored enough.
Visually, the majority of the film was well shot with a good variety of angles, contrast and lighting that provided the appropriate depth, texture and mood for the film. Ridley Scott once said the three things that make for a great shot are darkness, rain and fog. For the majority of the film we were provided with at least two out of the three. Only once did I find the action hard to follow due to poor lighting, which was near the end of the film, when Wolf was battling Aliens in the newly formed hospital hive. Detail in those combat sequences was definitely lost. Whether that was due to the print, or the conditions set in the theatre, remains to be seen.
The most unremarkable aspect of the film was certainly the performances of the actors. Many of the cast seem unengaged, even uninterested in the characters which they were playing. They played their roles well enough, but it would have been a bright spot if at least one of the performances had been exceeded simply through the talent or drive of the actor. Reiko Aylesworth was heading in that direction, but her character resonated so closely to Ripley that it was hard to see past the similarities and give full marks for originality in the role. That being said, overall the acting was good enough to get by in the premise of the film and certainly did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie. Once again, the humans were not the stars of this film.
One of the most enjoyable facets of the film was the special and visual effects. In a time and genre where it would have been all-to-easy to over saturate the film with an abundance of computer generated creatures and over-the-top sequences, especially considering the fact that the directors head up their own computer effects company, I was extremely pleased to see the vast majority of the creature effects done with practical, in-camera methods, as we were promised by the filmmakers throughout production. What little CGI that was used was well placed and effective and almost unnoticeable. In the path of recent science-fiction blockbusters such as the Matrix sequels, the Star Wars prequels, or to reference something more recent, I Am Legend, Requiem took the high road and grounded the visual effects in hard reality, which in itself added uniqueness to the film. Kudos to the directors for sticking to their guns.
Despite the fact that the framework for the score is essentially a mash-up of the best samples from the previous soundtracks of the four Alien and two Predator films, Brian Tyler still somehow managed to stamp it with his own unique style, avoiding a complete recycling of the work of other great composers.
That ability, however, does seem to remain the strength of the score – Tyler’s seamless and effective blend of not only Alien and Predator themes, but actual cues from six different films, and the poise to weave them together into a single flowing soundtrack. While the various tracks are unique from one another, with their origins referenced to each of the original films, when played as the backdrop to the on-screen events they worked in sync with the themes and actions evolving in the movie.
Another one of the highlights of the film was the redesigned creature effects. The Predator was back to its original form established by Stan Winston in Predator and Predator 2 and the creature itself was played equally as well by stuntman/actor Ian Whyte. Wolf’s behaviour and movements were certainly more indicative of what had previously been established throughout the series, and best of all - no human-Predator team-ups! Sorry Lex…
The Alien designs were also an improvement from the first AVP, but at times, in certain shots, the skull didn’t seem quite right. The spacing of the teeth was set too far apart, and the tendons that crossed from upper to lower jaw too transparent. The jaw and chin also seemed too pronounced, with strong features and sharp lines that don’t seem to fit the nature of the creature.
The Predalien design was, for the most part, well done. Never completely revealed from the darkness, the mandibles and dreadlocks served their purpose by making the hybrid distinguishable from the other Aliens to non-franchise fans, while creating an interesting new creature for the species.
Most certainly an improvement on the first AVP was the actual Alien versus Predator action, despite the fact it was heavily one-sided in favour of the Predator. It was clear the Predalien hybrid was deemed to be the dominate creature among the Aliens, even more so than the Queen from the previous films, due to the fact it was smaller and more mobile and could get into the thick of the action time and again, making it more deadly to both the Predator and humans alike.
Wolf dispatched most of the Aliens with relative ease aside from a serious wound received during one of the power station fights. I think it was certainly a missed opportunity to showcase the ferocity and deadliness of the Aliens. One overlooked theme from the original Alien films. Although disheartening as someone who is primarily a fan of the Alien franchise, the action sequences were still superior to anything offered in the original AVP. And again, very little of the action was generated using CGI effects, which was definitely a plus.
The level of gore was fitting to the setting in which it was applied and certainly not excessive, inappropriate or over-the-top. There was not more gore just for the sake of having more gore. It was well placed and worked in the context of each scene and definitely fit into the concept of an AVP film. There is certainly worse content in any number of recent horror flicks like Hostel, Turistas or any of the Saw films, just to name a few. This leads me to wonder why there is so much reaction to the nursery scene in the hospital. There’s really nothing to it. It’s not like the Predalien starts swallowing babies whole…
Overall I enjoyed the film despite the flaws it had. I felt it was a fun and entertaining movie that kept me in the action for 90 minutes. Admittedly it is not on the same level as the original Alien or Predator films, but it is a far better film than the first AVP, no question.
At this point I should mention that after the course of following the production of this film for more than a year and a half I decided going into the film I would let go any preconceptions or hang-ups one would have as a dedicated Alien or Predator fan and simply watch the film for the enjoyment of seeing the two creatures slug it out on-screen. Something so simple, yet something that even the first AVP couldn’t seem to get right.
I think there is definitely more potential to the material in the AVP franchise, including the capability to set the film in a compelling setting with interesting characters. The studio just needs to realize we don’t simply want a video game or comic book set to the big screen, but a film reminiscent of the originals in more aspects than just the action, violence and gore. This franchise, although unique unto itself, was built upon the shoulders of movies with gripping storylines, fascinating characters, terrifying sequences, heart-racing action, and of course, unforgettable fantastical creatures.
I also felt that the underlying intent for this film, whether intentional or not, was for it to serve as a segway to the next installment that would move the franchises closer together – in space and in the future. Whether we’ll ever see that come to fruition remains to be seen. Here’s hoping.
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