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Jules Verne Film Festival

Written by Jay Wess

Downtown Los Angeles, California — location: the Los Angeles Theatre — an opulent historic monument that represents the grandeur and spectacle of Hollywood’s yesteryears — a fantastic setting for those fortunate enough to attend the heralded “Alien vs Predator” night on December 14th (part of the “Jules Verne Film Festival”). Ironically, this incredible two thousand seat theatre is just a mere short walk from the infamous “Bradbury Building” (literally being on the same street) — the filming location of the climatic showdown between Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer in “Alien” director Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”.

Half of the theatre was regulated to Alien fans, while the other half for Predator fans — and it was clearly a divisive crowd about who stood for which of the Alien species. Dividing the audience proved to be beneficial as tensions were running high as some of the fans in attendance either tried to through “Alien acid blood” at the Predator fans… or the Predator fans tried to impale the Alien fans with shurikens… ultimately, the Predator fans were forced up into the balcony area… where they belong…. Ugh! Did I just say type that? I mean, where they respectively had equally as nice viewing area seats as that of the Alien fans who sat in the Orchestra.

OK… reality check, the second paragraph DIDN’T happen… but ah… in a perfect world…

What DID happen was a jammin’ night for cinema and sci-fi aficionados to indulge in — retrospective showings of the original “Alien” (the 2003 Director’s Cut) and original “Predator” — a synergy of a double feature to celebrate the coming of AVP-R — with both movies shown on the theatre’s majestic HUGE screen — in the attendance of several hundred moviegoers.

The evening was kicked off by a Q&A panel with the Brothers Strause (who made their movie convention debut Downtown L.A. approximately a month prior discussing AVP-R — see my previous article) — who shared more teaser footage from AVP-R — and who were on hand to further elaborate on their creative insight and direction into manifesting the eagerly awaited next entry of the Alien and Predator species.

Audience members who asked questions came prepared to share their rants and raves about the previous installments of the Aliens and Predators — and as with their previous panel, Colin and Greg displayed great candor and knowledge of both franchises — discussing how they’ve worked hard to incorporate the best of both into their directorial feature debut — and answered questions regarding what to expect while trying to avoid giving away too many spoilers.

The theatre then darkened… and the familiar 20th Century Fox logo and drum roll greeted the audience… “Alien” began… met by cheers from the audience… then thereafter, “Predator” was shown — met by “hisses” from the Alien fans… ah, there I digress again — as “Triumph – the Insult Comic Dog” would say… “I kid, I kid…” — ah yes, “Predator” was also met by cheers from the audience…!

Viewing “Alien” and “Predator” in this theatrical setting were sights to behold — the sheer size of the canvas of the screen, framed by the incredible “movie palace” architecture — represented a rare indulgence for cinema aficionados — especially given that multiplex movie auditoriums these days rarely differ from any notable degree from one multiplex to another — and are typically radically smaller in size.

Ultimately, it’s easy to see not only how these movies have stood the test of time for their sheer entertainment value (on many levels) — but for their communal movie experience that they both create. Watching both original installments with all of these elements exhibited the magic that can occur at the movies… and how audiences can be spellbound by a cinema experience that captivates when truly great story telling and filmmaking is realized.

L.A. Comic Book and Sci-Fi Convention

Written by Jay West

Downtown Los Angeles, California.

A rogue Predator surveys his environment… watching, stealthy stalking its prey.

…No folks, I’m not talking about Predator 2!

This is the “Los Angeles Comic Book and Sci-Fi Convention” which was held this past weekend — and the “creature” is a Predator fan, wearing an impeccably self-made costume.

This monthly convention caters to the cusp of those who want the latest and greatest information and memorabilia for movies and sci-fi — and the brothers Strause were there to herald the coming of AvP-R — which opens Christmas Day. Ah yes, as the tag for the movie says, “This Christmas, there will be no Peace on Earth….”

AvP aficionados attended in full force to hear what one can anticipate from the latest, eagerly awaited, and perhaps most controversial Alien/Predator movie entry.

To share a brief bit about me… I hail from Los Angeles, California and became an Alien fan at the age of nine in 1979 — when the movie was first released — my initial efforts to see the movie in theaters at that time (then in Oklahoma where I lived) were daunted due to my age…! (Those dad-gum Famous Monsters magazines didn’t make it any easier to go without either with those great Alien movie images and stories of the time…!) — I was not deterred however, and I eventually devised a plan to buy a videocassette of the first ever release of Alien on “Magnetic Video” VHS a couple of years later by mowing lawns and doing odd jobs — even though my family didn’t even own a VCR at the time! Yet, all was not lost, for down the street from me was a neighbor who had a VHS VCR — and I was finally able to journey into the Alien’s filmic world!

These days I have my own home theater setup, “guarded” by an actual life-size Queen Alien, along with a life-size Alien Warrior, Facehugger and Alien eggs.

I say all that to say this — when I talk about Aliens as well as Predators — I mean business…!

Lately, each successive AvP-R trailer, footage, etc., has been looking better and better as each has been released… yet, per the many mixed results of the past couple of Alien movies — as well as the first AvP movie — many have wondered, could this actually be an Alien/Predator movie that movie goers can look forward to and get excited about?

An onsite Fox representative began the panel, and said that: “AvP-‘R’ stands for ‘R’ rated — we listened to you guys — and no one wants a PG-13 AvP movie…” — which rightfully was met by enthusiastic applause from the audience.

The red band trailer — which made its debut recently on the Internet and which has been well received — was then shown (see my reviews of the red band Internet trailer and the international trailer).

On the heels of applause for the red band trailer, the Brothers Strause greeted the audience — and any concerns for a lack of presence of AvP-R at this past summer’s Comic Con in San Diego were soon brushed aside by way of this very thorough and comprehensive panel. Clearly the Brothers Strause have a love and passion for the Aliens and Predators — their discussions and commentary transcended any gimmicky or generic sales pitching that can sometimes occur at conventions — theirs is true, green Alien blooded fandom!

Details concerning the plot and the production of the film were discussed. As many now know, the movie centers on a lone hunter Predator who is sent to “clean up” the consequences caused buy incidents incurred from the first AvP movie. Chaos has erupted and Aliens have run amuck in a small town in Colorado, where the Predator must hunt down and eradicate any and all signs of them — including a completely new alien creature hybrid — the PredAlien (first seen at the very end of the first AvP movie — and recently given a photo spread in USA Today).

A sequence from the movie was also shown which takes place in the latter half of the movie… we are in an Alien hive — reminiscent of what we’ve seen in Cameron’s Aliens LV-426 colony nuclear-powered atmosphere-processing station — the PredAlien is advancing towards the Predator — the Predator extracts his wrist blades and slashes the PredAlien across its belly… the PredAlien rears back… an Alien Warrior appears and attacks… the Predator blasts it with his plasma cannon… another Alien Warrior attacks — the Predator catches it by the throat… then another Alien Warrior appears, and the Predator cuts its head off with his wrist blades. The Predator then takes a vile of Alien blood and shoves it into the remaining Alien warrior’s mouth — the Alien Warrior disintegrates. The Predator hears the shrieks of additional Alien Warriors within the hive — looks down a tunnel — and throws his Shurikens toward two oncoming Alien Warriors — cutting their heads off — and also impaling a human in the wrong place at the wrong time…!

This footage definitely felt like finally seeing/hearing the “other shoe drop” — it was like, f**k’n finally! This is the style, atmosphere, and action that has been ever so elusive in the past few Alien movies — and which was otherwise once it’s signature and defining inertia..! The “R” in “AVP-R” could not only just stand for “Requiem” or R rating — it could most certainly stand for “Return” here as well — as the Aliens and Predator have definitely returned in true and faithful cinematic form — the likes of which we have not seen since the first two “Alien” movies and the first “Predator” film.

The Brothers Strause said that the US town concept had already been in place before they came aboard — however, they made it very clear that perhaps only a single page of the initial script remains per the version that they have created cinematically — and further, it is their desire, like so many fans and cohorts of the Aliens and Predators, to see these iconic creatures return to space — with the “possibility” of exploring what I would call the “Boba Fett” character from the first Alien movie (in terms of a character who has had little screen time, yet has immense popularity and allure) — the briefly seen, mysterious “Space Jockey” — whose skeleton was encountered in the derelict spaceship on LV-426 — now that would be one “distress signal” worth investigating again…!

Aliens: Steel Egg, Author’s Notes

Written by Hicks

After interviewing John Shirley, author of Aliens: Steel Egg, John was kind enough to send us a preview of an early draft of his author’s notes for the book. Here are his thoughts:

In the first Alien film-a film distinguished by a remarkable convergence of talent: eg, Ridley Scott, Ron Shusett, Giger, Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, Jean Giraud, Dan O’Bannon, and a very talented cast of actors-we get the definite impression that “The Company” already knew about the aliens, and had diverted the starship specifically so that more could be found out about them, and so they could possibly be used for The Company’s sinister purposes. We have the impression, too, that these corporate overlords knew something about the destructive nature of this alien species, with its potential military applications, already. So far as I know, or can recollect, this foreknowledge has never been explained (unless possibly it was explored in Aliens comics, or in other “tie-in” novels). I attempt to explain, here, how knowledge of the aliens first came to the people of Earth, later to be collated by savants at The Company with the discovery of the crashed ship teeming with alien eggs, as seen in the first film.

Another thing that has never been explained, so far as I can find out, is how the adult alien grows from a creature of small mass, a chest-buster, to the full sized xenomorph, without apparently eating-and in a remarkably short time. Many have expressed puzzlement over this. My guess, mentioned in this work, is that the chest-buster and young xenomorph is indeed consuming materials of various kinds, scavenged food stolen from storage, human flesh-even metal, softened by its acids-but that consumption wasn’t documented in the other Alien adventures because the people involved were too busy just trying to stay alive to do an inventory of the ship’s stores or even to notice how much human flesh might be missing from the corpses of the creature’s victims. (Sometimes the aliens will kill people and not eat any part of them-they only kill and eat if they need the materials to grow.) Had the crew of those other ships done that inventory or weighed those bodies, they would have inferred h
ow the creatures are getting the mass.

As to how they are growing from infant to adult in a single day, that’s just one of the wonders of their alien biology-it’s a radical evolutionary adaptation, using the large amounts of material they have to be ingesting in the process. Being primarily biological machines for killing and reproducing, who seem to obtain much information from the DNA of those they destroy, they have no need of a long youth, an extended period of development.

In poring over the one Alien “bible” (as the industry term has it) that I have come across, and dipping a bit into other publications based on the Alien films, I find a good deal of contradictory information-or at least apparently contradictory information. It isn’t possible for me to incorporate every story development, revelation, and term used in every printed Alien story, in this book. And since they’re at least somewhat contradictory, at times, I’m loathe to use them as a source.

My source, therefore, is primarily the Alien movies, especially the first two. Readers may assume that this novel take on these intriguing creatures is based on those films-and on my personal approach to telling a story about them. This is not some other author writing about the creatures found in Alien. This is John Shirley writing about them.

The Heim device, by the way, is real-it’s just still in development. But there’s a good chance it really will provide a kind of “space warp” drive, for real life spacecraft. And that ridge bisecting Iapetus is real too. What it really is, however, is still being debated.

The language in the book is more or less contemporary to our own times, just for clarity’s sake, but I occasionally threw in a term used in the future just to give a flavor of what their casual talk might be like.

One last thing-this book is not for little kids. Parents take note. You’ve been warned.

And now-let us proceed. Because I think I hear something moving about in the ventilation shaft.

Colorado Nights: The Stunts of AVP 2

Written by Hicks 

Whoever said that small towns are boring? Certainly no one who lives in Gunnison, Colorado… How could it be boring? Not with two of the galaxy’s most fearsome creatures battling for supremacy against townsfolk and the military alike! Of course I’m not talking about the real Gunnison, Colorado, but the town recreated and filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia for all of the on-location action in Alien vs. Predator 2.

And according to Jeff Habberstad, the director of the second unit, the action certainly won’t disappoint, “[The action is] on the high end of the intense scale.”

Jeff certainly would know. As a stunt professional whose career has spanned over 20 years working on feature films, first as an award-winning stunt performer specializing in aerial work, then as an Emmy-winning stunt coordinator, and now a highly regarded second unit director, Jeff has over 60 films and television series to his credit.

“You have to be on your toes when working with the best.” Comments James Bamford, one of the stunt performers on AVP 2, and an 18 year veteran of the industry. Bamford is also stunt coordinator for Stargate: Atlantis, and acted as fight coordinator for Stargate: SG1, but did not have the opportunity to direct any sequences in AVP 2.

So, define intense. Falls? Car crashes? Explosions? People set on fire?!

“You will see a good sampling of most of those things.” Says Habberstad. Which also includes extensive wire work featured throughout the film, another of Jeff’s specialties.

“I was attacked by an alien in the rain and was jerked into an alleyway on a wire and bounced off the wall.” Adds Bamford, who says the scene was the most intense he participated in for the film.

Mind you the intensity of a stunt isn’t limited to what we see on screen. The stunt performers must maintain an elite level of physical conditioning at all times, including plyometric and stability-balance training, “We all train in different areas and not always physical, but being in good shape is the best way to avoid injuring yourself. Martial arts and gymnastics are also helpful since a good deal of stunt work involves fight scenes or some kind of flip or fall.” Says Jon Kralt, a stuntman of eight years, one of the performers on AVP 2, and assistant stunt coordinator to J.J. Marako, a 20 year stunt veteran himself.

“J.J.’s experience always benefits any production….he is a genius.” Comments Bamford.

Fortunately there were no injuries or close calls during the shoot. That doesn’t mean, however, that stunt performers aren’t at risk each and every time the cameras roll. Which is why safety is one of the top priorities during a stunt sequence, “As much as a stunt scene will appear insane, crazy, violent and out of control, it’s all planned and executed so that no one gets hurt. We all get banged up and bruised, it’s part of the job. You just can’t get hit by a car, or plow through a glass window, and expect to walk away without some cuts and bumps. You prepare as much as possible by rehearsing and testing and trying to consider every possible way it could go wrong and then prevent it. I want to come back again tomorrow and do it again and I can’t do that with a broken arm.” Says Kralt.

Not to say the actors themselves get off easy, “I always try and use the actors in the stunts when possible. It depends on the actor’s abilities, willingness and level of danger.” Says Habberstad.

“At any point, if there is an element of danger for the performer involved, whether it be an actor or a stunt performer, it is considered a stunt. For instance, if a character in a scene gets into a fight and gets pushed to the floor, then that scene contains stunt action. The actor may or may not choose to do the fall him/herself, in which case we might not need a stunt performer for that scene. However, if that character gets into a fight and gets pushed over the railing of a balcony and falls 20 feet to the ground, then this scene would involve a stunt performer. Many actors are fully capable of performing their own stunts and when it’s appropriate we encourage it. Directors and producers have paid for those actors so they want to see them on screen as much as possible. But if we put our actor in a position where he/she gets injured 3 weeks into a shoot, then we’ve set ourselves back for months while he/she recovers.” Adds Kralt, who goes on to explain how the fictional fight scene stunt would unfold.

“While we were filming the actors in their fight scene, the stunt crew were putting together the box rig. These boxes are going to cushion the fall for the performer coming over the railing. The stunt performer needs to do a back 3/4 over the railing and land on the boxes. He must land flat on the box rig to displace his weight evenly over the surface of the boxes or he risks punching through and contacting the ground. We do a quick safety meeting for the whole crew to ensure that everyone is aware of what is going on and what their responsibilities are. The camera crew needs to determine where to place the cameras and what lens to use so the performer does a few rehearsals. We have a few stunt safety’s around the rig to make sure that if the fall doesn’t go quite as expected, they can step in and prevent a camera operator from being struck by a foot for example. We roll cameras, call action and the performer goes through his routine. After we call cut the performer will give us the thumbs up indicating that he is ok and we reset the box rig for take two if necessary. If the scene requires a shot of the character hitting the ground then the stunt performer will finish off the stunt by falling into the camera frame from a lesser height and landing on the ground. Then we wrap and go to Earl’s for beers.”

“[The crew] prep all safety aspects, rehearse well in advance, revise, rehearse more, shoot.” Adds Habberstad.

Even Tom Woodruff Jr. and Ian Whyte performed most of the creature stunt work themselves, “They did almost all of it, except a few where they were not available.” Explains Habberstad.

The Predator stuntmen, although formidable in their own right, didn’t quite match Ian’s stature, “They were very close to Ian’s size, but not quite as tall. That is the best scenario.”

Performing stunts in a full-body latex suit obviously increases the level of difficulty of the stunt, requires much more rehearsal, and created the need for some unique and innovative stunt techniques for the film.

While stepping into a scene, and assuming the role of the actor (or creature), a stuntman must consciously work to ensure the integrity of the scene being filmed, “You may not be shouting out lines, but you have to make the audience believe that you got hurt or punched or killed and that takes acting. Quite often you will be hired to play a character because the majority of the role involves a stunt. For instance you might play the role of a police officer who runs into a room and says ‘Freeze or I’ll…’ and then gets kicked through a wall. For the most part there is no point of auditioning fifty people for a role where there are only three words.”

“Your body can tell the story; you have to be a good actor.” Adds Habberstad.

So given the risk to the performer, you might wonder what quality is the most important?

“As far as I’m concerned, balls.” Says Kralt.

Taking into consideration there is a variety of professionals involved in the setup and filming of each stunt and action sequence, which in the case of AVP 2 includes two units, three directors, an assistant stunt coordinator, the stunt coordinator, and a tactical advisor, communication is key to maintain the vision for the film, “We communicate extensively, and do our best to make the film Greg and Colin want.” Habberstad explains. “I believe they have exceeded what everyone expected. I do not think anyone will be disappointed!”

Habberstad also feels that this installment is much better than the first AVP, which was less than warmly received by franchise fans and critics alike. Not to say that the two films aren’t related at all, “It [AVP 2] absolutely can stand alone, but the story continues to be told.” He explains.

Currently, the story is slated to be told sometime near Christmas of this year.

Hollywood Looks to Ultimate Big Screen Battles

Written by Michael Y. Park

New York – The question has fueled countless schoolyard debates: Who would win if Superman and Batman fought one another?

Or if the creatures from Alien were matched against the trophy-hunting extraterrestrial from Predator? Or if Nightmare on Elm Street ‘s Freddy Krueger tried to terrorize Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees?

In at least two of those cases, fans will find out what their fantasy matchups look like. In what could herald a new trend, characters from separate franchises are being teamed up or made to battle on the big screen.

Actor Robert Englund has donned his bladed gloves for Freddy vs. Jason; several scripts for Aliens vs. Predator have been bandied about at 20th Century Fox; and Superman vs. Batman was shelved only recently after a titanic struggle to bring it to the silver screen.

“Elements of Hollywood are desperate, and they spot trends on Web discussion groups,” Premiere senior editor and film critic Glenn Kenny said. “In particular Websites where they discuss things like ‘Could Alien take on Predator?'”

When word let out about a possible movie pitting the extraterrestrials against each other, fan sites overflowed.

“Alien and Predator fans must be some of the most in-depth and loyal movie fans out there, with the exception of maybe Star Wars and Star Trek fans,” Pete O’Connor, Web designer for www.alienexperience.com, said from Ottawa, Ontario. “It’s nuts.”

A Fox spokesman said the movie is in such early stages it’s impossible to comment on it.

Gary LeMel, president of Warner Bros. World Wide Music, is doing the score for the upcoming Superman and Batman movies, which replaced Superman vs. Batman. He said the D.C. Comics characters resonate with audiences.

“Superman has gone through so many different incarnations and all of them seem to be well-accepted,” he said. “It’s so cultural, it’s man against the elements.”

But Kenny was skeptical of “versus” movies.

“The whole idea is ludicrous,” he said. “I’d be surprised if any of these produced a watchable film.”

The movie that’s furthest along, Freddy vs. Jason, from New Line, is an effort to milk two once-profitable franchises by combining two “characters who don’t have a lot of currency left,” he said. And though “fans have been drooling” about an Aliens vs. Predator flick for years, Kenny isn’t expecting much.

“You devolve into making it a videogame,” he said.

The exception, he said, was the defunct Superman vs. Batman movie, which had complementary characters with a long comic-book history of interactions.

Aliens and Predator fans defended the “versus” idea, though.

“Crossovers are often perceived as mere cash cows or last-ditch efforts to rejuvenate dying franchises,” Ben Bradbury, director for Aliens vs. Predator News, said from Derby, England. “The Aliens vs. Predator franchise, being an exception, has firmly established itself over a long period of time as a viable franchise in its own right.”

But being established can be difficult too, said LeMel who pointed out that meddling with America’s superheroes Batman and Superman made studio execs nervous.

“God forbid it was done wrong, because you would wipe out both characters,” he said.

And pitting two fan bases against each other is bound to disappoint some people. “Nobody is ever going to be satisfied with these things,” Kenny said.

New Line Cinema senior vice president of production Stokely Chaffin said that though Jason and Freddy fans are distinct, there’s a lot of “overlap.”

“It’s not like either fan base is out watching White Oleander when they’re not watching their preferred franchise,” she said. “Fans will profess to love one character over another, but by and large, the fans of one franchise have seen all the movies of the other.”

And in defense of “versus” movies like Freddy vs. Jason, Chaffin brought up the granddaddy of them all, which didn’t garner critical acclaim, but which many film buffs still recall fondly.

“It would be a clash of the titans reminiscent of Godzilla vs. King Kong,” she said.