is it too much to ask for plot and characters with the chest bursting?

Last night I watched Aliens vs Predator – Requiem, or AVPR as it’s also known, and reckon the Alien/Predator franchise has hit its movie nadir.

I will admit a fondness for the original AVP. It’s formulaic, but it featured a strong likeable central heroine, Alexa Woods, (Sanaa Lathan), a clear story, and it delivered a couple of cool smack-downs: my personal favourite is when the Predator swings the Alien around like a discus athlete and knocks chunks out of the temple wall with the Alien’s head. Unfortunately, AVP contained too few moments like that. I wanted a bit more of Aliens and Predators knocking the crap out of each other. If that’s the title fight then I want ten rounds, not three.

It also did something intensely irritating, which was to speed up the period of time that a person is incapacitated after s/he has been nabbed by a facehugger, and to shorten the gestation period of the Alien inside its host. Before anyone points a finger at me and calls me a film geek and Alien/Predator expert (both are true), these are specific issues that are central to the Alien mythos.

This change in timing had been happening already, such as in Alien Resurrection – although that film was inconsistent about it for the purposes of plot. This can drain potential drama from the film.

There is a wonderful scene in Alien Resurrection when Ripley says to Purvis, an infected guy: “There’s a monster in your chest. These guys hijacked your ship, and they sold your cryo tube to this… human. And he put an alien inside of you. It’s a really nasty one. And in a few hours it’s gonna burst its way through your ribcage. And you’re gonna die. Any questions?” Purvis: “Who are you?” Ripley: “I’m the monster’s mother.” It’s great dialogue delivered for chilling effect by Signorney Weaver, who did a fantastic job in that film.

AVP has a scene at the end of the film that was obviously a set up for another film. Sorry, if you haven’t seen the film by now you’re unlikely to do so: in it the dead predator is carried on board the spaceship, and despite the fact he’s been dead for some time the final image is of an Alien bursting out of his chest. It’s an Alien with Predator features, or an Alienator I as dubbed it last night (an appropriate title considering AVPR did a good job of alienating me).

This aggrieved me when I first saw the film, because I wondered why an advanced technological race like the Predators didn’t have anything on board their super-cool spaceship that scans for infection or biological parasites, especially after a known encounter with the Alien race? It’s just ridiculous. Plus, it has already been shown that predators can see an alien infection inside a body using heat imaging.

This is when I know that the people writing or directing the film have no real understanding of science fiction, or any appreciation for the intelligence of their audience. Such questions are swept aside with a “it just happens” presentation. The Alien/Predator world has been very well established by a succession of films, and meddling with the rules of the world, or not considering them with any kind of thought, just proves that these films are money-spinners, nothing else.

AVPR has almost nothing to recommend it. First off the plot is muddled, but most unforgivable there is no clear hero. This is crucial to action flicks, and especially this franchise. It feels like there are dozens of characters running around in the beginning half of the film, and several of them are introduced far too late. It’s not until the last half hour that it becomes obvious with whom we’re supposed to be empathising. The film should have put Dallas (Steven Pasquale) and Kelly (Reiko Aylesworth) front and centre early in the film, instead of messing around with countless subplots and character stories I never cared about anyway. Both Pasquale and Aylesworth are good actors, and had the potential to leave us with lasting memories if the characters had been written properly. And, I must add that I didn’t take well to naming one of the characters Dallas. Someone probably thought it would be a nice homage to Alien, but since this is such an inferior film it feels like a lazy slap.

Not only is the script a mess, but the direction is dreadful. Colin Strause and Greg Strause (The Brothers Strause is their borg-name) can’t even frame characters well in the same shot. Their background is in visual effects, and the film is lousy with SFX – but most of the scenes are so dark you can’t tell what the hell is happening.

Again: cheated! When you blow up Aliens using nifty Predator tech I want to see it. Plus, why weren’t there some new weapons? Half the fun with these films is oh-ing and aw-ing over the gadgetry. I remember sighing in delight at the tanks and guns in Aliens, and the whizzy-bang toys in Predator 2 (yeah, I was a bit unusual for most girls my age).

Worst sin: the film is never scary.

The location of the film is all wrong. All the Alien films have placed their stories in tight, isolated, claustrophobic settings. Even AVP understood enough about the series to do this. This is partly because the contamination threat from Aliens is one of the inherent dangers of the species. Predators, on the other hand can operate in wide settings because their threat has to do with their singular purpose and their stealthy mobility. Once Aliens are given any kind of foothold in an unsecured environment you might as well take the cyanide pill because those guys will do what they do best and infect every possible lifeform.

Yes, I have thought about these things because the filmmakers obviously have not done so. Anyone who writes fantasy or science fiction knows that credibility is an important factor in creating a world. Often it doesn’t take a lot of work because your audience wants to be taken on journey somewhere else, but you have to prove to them that you have thought through the more obvious problems of introducing two extremely hostile alien races onto our planet.

(I won’t even discuss the strange twist they put in the film that combined human pregnancy with Alien incubation – it came in late, and they never exploited it for its true gruesomeness. Oh, and showing a child infected by an Alien in such a casual manner just smacks of cheap exploitation, rather than trying to be subversive or using the situation to create genuine dread.)

One of the things that bugs me about introducing Aliens to earth during a timeframe set in our present is that it screws with the original Alien films, which are set in the future. I can only hope that AVPR didn’t earn back enough to cover its costs, and Hollywood will spare us from tinkering with the franchise again.

I won’t even mention the lame ending, which contained a little nod towards the fans: too little too late lads!

I think this is a Highlander 2 situation: close your eyes, and singsong, “La, la la, it doesn’t exist.”