Friday, February 02, 2007

Movies: Trying too hard to prove we're smarter than the dudes who cooked up "Alien vs. Predator."

The idea of a sci-fi monster mash betwixt the acid-blooded aliens of the Aliens franchise and the dreadlocked great invisible hunters of the Predator franchise is one of those seemingly obvious ideas that, in fact, contains a hidden flaw that the finished flick makes obvious.

Two flaws, actually.

First, the franchises are, if you think about it, in two different leagues. Aliens, if you count strictly the canonical flicks, has run through four films. Each flick was helmed by a major directorial talent (Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, and the French guy whose name completely escapes me, you know, that guy), each flick featured at least one big name actor, and all of them were major productions. The Predator franchise, however, has spawned only two flicks. The first built around the rock-stupid action character persona of Arnold, the second around the tired Lethal Weapon persona of Glover. Neither had an A-list director at the wheel – the firtst being the product of the workman-like John McTiernan, the second being the work of Stephan Hopkins fresh from Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, his incomprehensible addition to Kruger franchise. In short, as fun as the Predator franchise is, it simply doesn't play in the same league as Aliens. It is somewhat like teaming up Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter with Chucky – sure they're both serial killers from horror movies, but there's a qualitative difference that would make such a team-up more of a joke than a genuine fright fest. In this flick, the aliens felt diminished and wasted because they'd been shoehorned into a lesser product.

Second, the Predator was the star of his franchise. Though Arnie was perhaps one of the most bankable names at the time the first flick was shot, the reason why we still remember Predator was that it took a forgettable, typical Arnold actioner and flipped it. The soldier boys of Predator purposefully seemed like they wandered in from the jungles of any of a hundred 80's shoot 'em ups. It is the presence of the alien game hunter that brings the film to life. The aliens of the Aliens series, however, have always been more like the zombies in Romero's Dead franchise. They are the stars of the flicks, but the real drama comes from watching humans deal with them. They are not, themselves, particularly interesting, from a cinematic point of view. They look cool, but they tend to just hiss and bump into one another and crawl on the walls aimlessly until you give them some astronauts or space marines to chew on. Then they become this force which puts humans under pressure and gives us a classic "trapped and surrounded, will they band together?" plot. The aliens make for good film because of what they make humans do.

AVP, as the cool kids call it, places the aliens and predators front and center, losing what makes the aliens cool and concentrating way more attention to the Predator than it can take. The film is a silly, pointless romp that never gives viewers enough of anything to really make it worth its hour and a half running time.

That said, I'd like to turn my attention to perhaps the best thing one can say about this flick, and that is that the film inspired some truly delightful reviews on Netflix.

The best of which comes from a dude who calls him- or herself "The Astrodart." The Astrodart (like The Cheat, I think you need to include the The whenever you mention The Astrodart) gave the flick one star and then proceeded to provide a series of questions meant, I think, to poke holes in the plot of movie that centers around giant space bugs fighting a race of aliens who, like interstellar gun-nut rednecks, have based their entire culture on recreational hunting. Unfortunately, The Astrodart's efforts are as funny as the movies flaws. The Astrodart begins the "deconstruction" thusly:

Rather than give a straight review of the steaming pile that is "AVP," I'd like to critique the movie by asking several relatively spoilerless questions. Why would there be a whaling station in Antarctica in 1904?

Well, the filmmaker probably thought they could feature an Antarctic whaling station from 1904 in their film because there was a really a whaling station on Antarctica in 1904. Before the creation of factory ships, whalers need Antarctic whaling stations to help process their catches. The first processing station went up in 1904, on Grytviken, South Georgia. Now, to be fair, this isn't something I knew off the top of my head. I had to Google it – but, presumably, anybody who can post a review on Netflix can Google "Antarctica whaling stations" and not begin their clever assault with a utter dud. Astrodart, The, then launches into a series of probing questions:

Why does no one's breath steam in the sub zero temperature of the south pole? Why don't the predators in this film use stealth and intelligence like the other movies? If the predators' weapons are acid proof, why not their armor? Why do the chest burster aliens pop out of people's bodies in a few minutes rather than incubate for a day or two? How do said chest bursters fully mature after another ten minutes or so?

The first one seems fair; though, to me, a question like "how could aliens have evolved in such a manner as to be perfectly adapted to incubate inside what appears to be an infinite number of host species?" seems like a considerably stickier wicket. Or, perhaps, more interesting, "how is it that aliens never have to eat?" They turn many of their victims into egg hosts; but even when they don't, they usually leave their corpses behind or so vastly outnumber potential food species that they'd burn through the population and starve to death. As for why armor would melt, but not weaponry, perhaps they're made of two different materials like, oh, I don't, modern weapons and body armor. Finally, do we have a timetable for alien gestation and development? Is it any less absurd that a creature with an exoskeleton would mature in a day, sans shed shells, than it is that such an animal would be lethal in minutes? Basically, my point is that the whole concept is fairly absurd, so this outrage at perceived plot holes strikes me as bizarre. How you can set your personal absurd-o-meter high enough to accept the aliens and predator species, but still sweat this crap is beyond me.

Still, for all The Astrodart's quirky questions, he or she didn't take the lazy way out. There are several reviews which basically use this construction:

I could systematically dissect this movie and give a detailed breakdown of exactly how awful this movie is, but honestly, it’s just not worth the effort.

This is just a tease! Either unleash critical Hell or don't, but this "I could kill, but you aren't worth my time" thing is lame. How valuable can your damn time be that you're leaving a review of Aliens vs. Predator on Netflix?

I knew this kid when I was young – Richard Fellman – who swore he knew karate, but could never show us anything because he was only supposed to use the deadly art in self-defense. Nobody believed him. He was, in fact, a big lame-o. I have a proposal. From now on, when somebody posts a review where they suggest they could demolish a movie with their keen critical insights, but do not because it would not be worthy of them, we call that "posting a Fellman."

Did people do this before the Internet era, when anybody could instantly preserve their weird hissy-fit for all eternity? I reckon they did.

Lord Waddleneck: Verily, Lady Macbeth claims she knows what 'tis like to nurse a child, but 'tis made clear their marriage is a barren one. Odd's blood! For sooth, such lapses logickal are apt to throw me into a most intemperate rage! And a child born of a section de Caesar is not born of woman? The groundlings may enjoy such contrivances inane . . .

Sir Autumnbottom: By my troth, t'would serve if I did raze this foul drama with mine bodkin sharp wits – but gross combat with one so unfit t'would be unseemly.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Classic post! "Posting a Fellman" is merely one of several highlights!