Sunday, July 25, 2010

Money Vs. Decency

Comic books were never really my thing. I have friends who tell me how crucial an artform they are but something about them fundamentally turns me off. I like pulpy writing, I like graphic art so I don't know why they don't entertain me. I don't like super hero comics because I don't give a flying fuck about super heroes, they bore me. I bought a few of the things when I was probably six or seven but I only ever got ones with recognizable characters. There were only two that I repeatedly returned to: the Mortal Kombat and Aliens Versus Predator comics. I liked Mortal Kombat because I enjoyed seeing the characters of a video game that I enjoyed doing and saying things that I enjoyed that they couldn't in a Super Nintendo game. I liked Aliens Vs. Predator, created in 1988, because I liked Aliens and I liked Predator, so why wouldn't I want to see their villainous critters duking it out on the pages of a graphic novel where nothing mattered? I liked the idea of following the people who have to deal with they're constant squabbling on a daily basis. I think even as a devout fan I liked them because I knew neither played for keeps. They were just throwaway bits of fun until Paul W.S. Anderson fucked everything up. As often happens, Anderson made one half-way interesting film, then threw away any and all credibility for the chance of a bigger paycheck, which came from the producers of Mortal Kombat, the film that probably kicked off the notion of a marketable video game adaptation in America. Mortal Kombat was and remains an unwatchable piece of self-important shit but it took enough cash for producers to trust Anderson with Soldier and Resident Evil, and it didn't matter because Mortal Kombat was only ever a mediocre video game. We also have him to thank in spirit for Wing Commander and House of the Dead. With Resident Evil, Anderson basically figured out the style he would employ for everything he'd ever touch. This means that when it came time for him to lend his talent for fucking up to another relic of my childhood, it would come off looking and acting just as stupidly as Resident Evil, only this's personal.

Alien Vs. Predator
by Paul W.S. Anderson
In a cruel tease of the great film this might have been we start in an Antarctic whaling station where one bearded man witnesses the end of a battle between a predator and what was probably a bunch of aliens. Then just like that, it's all over and the movie we're stuck with starts. We're introduced to a bunch of experts in various fields (archeology, drilling, mountain climbing) who're being contracted by one Charles Bishop Weyland. If you're thinking that the probability is microscopic that this guy is both the founder of what would become the Weyland-Yutani corporation and the model for a second-series android thousands of years in the future, that idea becomes even more laughable when you consider that he gets murdered halfway through this movie. Anyway this rich asshole has found something underneath Antarctica thanks to some nonsensical thermal scanner and he needs climbing expert Alexa Woods to get them to the sight so Mark Verheiden can help them drill to it and then Sebastian de Rosa can help them identify it. The strange thing about this thing they found (it's a structure) is that it doesn't resemble any known architecture, per se. Stranger perhaps than this fucking thing being hundreds of feet under ice no one has ever been under is that it has characteristics from Egyptian, Cambodian and Aztec culture scattered throughout its design. Surely some strange mojo is afoot.

Woods brings everyone (also along for the ride are a scientist played by Ewen Bremner and some of Bishop's armed men, one played by the once again woefully misused Colin Salmon, who thankfully stopped slumming in Paul W.S. Anderson movies after this) to the sight only to realize that they don't need Verheiden's drill after all, something bore a hole right through the ice to the pyramid for them about a day ago. They set up a rig and start their descent to the structure. Improbably the structure is surrounded by a large cavern and not just frozen solid into the ice like, you know, common sense would dictate. So they climb the giant staircase and start poking around inside, accidentally setting off a switch that brings a queen alien out of deep freeze. As she starts laying eggs, reinforcements in the form of three predators land, kill everyone back on top of the sight and then run into the pyramid to contain the impending alien onslaught. Soon the eggs have hatched, the faces have been hugged, the chests have been burst and the supremely lame battle has come sashaying to a start.

Remember when Freddy Krueger fought Jason Voorhees and you were never the same? Neither do I. The same thing happened when aliens fought predators. The film grossed a stupid amount of money but I don't even hear people complaining about it. The response was so abysmal that everyone just agreed to forget about it. Alien Vs. Predator very quickly became a 60 million dollar non-entity. Everyone, including myself, hated it so much they erased it from their minds and agreed it had nothing to do with either the Alien or Predator series. By comparison Anderson's other projects got off easy. Resident Evil spawned two sequels of roughly the same quality. Alien Vs. Predator spawned one that was better by default because it was such a colossal fuck-up that nothing good go quite as wrong and still be released. The problem was that in the same way that Ronny Yu took two separate franchises and kept only the faintest glimmer of their respective personalities and made a Ronny Yu film replete with Wire Fu, stonerific imagery and scads of stupid violence, Paul W.S. Anderson did the same thing but he has not the strength of his convictions that Yu does. Freddy Vs. Jason didn't do either series justice but it wasn't trying to because Ronny Yu could have given a fuck what fans wanted. Paul W.S. Anderson is just a fucking idiot who makes shitty movies over and over again who thinks he has the pulse of the movie going public. In fact he makes the same shitty movie over and over again. With it's subterranean setting, byzantine backstory, armed bit players, female heroine and big CG villains doing big CG stunts the biggest coming out for the climax, Alien Vs. Predator is just Resident Evil and that's not good enough. The only difference between the two films is that instead of ruining a video game, it ruined two franchises with two of the most ruin-proof creatures ever put on film.
Where to start? I guess the science is as good a place as any. Anderson's screenplay goes way out of its way to try and explain why Kane and then Carter Burke knew enough about the alien to want to bring one back to earth. It can't even do that convincingly and needs so much fucking backstory just to arrive at a point where it might be possible to consider. Instead of simply introducing both species, Anderson thought it best to imply that they've been knocking around together for hundreds if not thousands of years and are responsible for all human civilization. That's hard enough to swallow without Anderson's patented misunderstanding of how shit works. Sebastian concludes based on the drawings on the walls of the temple that the Predator came here, stuck a queen alien in an assembly line (and that's just how it works, stupidly enough) so that they could fill human beings with alien eggs and then hunt the aliens that burst out. It was a kind of ritual for the predators. This is dumb enough on its own. Consider a race of alien with shoulder-mounted lasers building Rube Goldberg like temples out of stone. Doesn't really make any fucking sense does it? Then there's the ludicrous conclusion they come to that because the temple has evidence of Egyptian, Cambodian and Aztec cultures that the few people who helped build the temple then went on to found each culture (assuming this is before Pangaea split, which is before homo sapiens had evolved so it's all bullshit anyway). This doesn't even work if you forget the logical problem. If the disciples of the predator had gone on to form their own separate cultures, they would have taken the design with them and their temples would look like copies of the one in Antarctica, not just one element of it. Furthermore if we were once enslaved by the predator, why didn't anyone write that down? Why didn't we develop or at least sketch laser cannons or retractible spears or at least try to? See why it doesn't work?

Beyond the problems with the script is that this is a Paul W.S. Anderson film. Like Resident Evil, we're treated to chunks of endless exposition that has nothing to do with the immediate threat, a stupid-ass 3D map of the area, loads of characters with two much baggage all there to be killed, and lots of flashing of weapons and slow-mo action. A tip to action directors: the opposite of action is immobility, so why slow everything down in the middle of an action sequence? Seriously. Answer me that. Please. Anyone? Why would you put so much slow-motion in an action movie? Forgive me if I've misinterpreted something but in an action movie there's supposed to be some MOTHERFUCKING ACTION, not a recap of how cool the shot was! Anderson's fanboy direction renders the sequences of the aliens and predators fighting into a cutscene from one of the video games he loves so much. And when the alien has the top of its tale cut off and it uses it like a hose to spray the predator in blood, it's game over. Because the single greatest problem with Alien Vs. Predator is that Anderson had no respect for fans of either series. The behavior of both creatures is neglected entirely and a whole new, much stupider set of rules. The predators have shiny new gear with pointless functions and there's too much CGI and nice people are killed horribly by them. It also makes no sense given what we know about the predator that they've been doing this training thing here on earth. If that were the case, they'd be much better equipped to deal with them than they are on their trips to Earth in Predator and Predator 2. Anderson also negates the heat vision established in the first two films right out of the gate. The aliens are also not smart enough creatures to understand the harm their blood causes, let alone to use it as a weapon. If Predators have the intelligence of people, aliens are no smarter than wild dogs or crocodiles. They know what they have to but they don't contemplate their own mortality. I don't think Anderson saw the movies he was following so much as he studied their promotional material and delivered a mishmash of supposedly popular elements that just sit there. I knew it was a bad idea for aliens and predators to meet but who knew it would be so fucking boring.
The ever-so-slight silver-lining of this movie (besides its universal dismissal) is that at least you could really only go up. And as terrible as the movie that followed Alien Vs. Predator is, it really does represent a gigantic leap forward in creativity. If nothing else the sequel (what do you call a sequel to an unwanted series melding?) delivered on the promise of both species landing on earth and actually interacting with people in a normal environment. If you're going to send aliens to earth, don't shitchange your audience by having them meet in some bullshit sound stage. Bring the fight home. And Shane Salerno may not be a better writer of dialogue or character, but he's not such a fuck-up that he can't think outside of a made-up universe. He and our two directors operate inside the system and even if the one thing they contribute is a truly ugly hatred for humanity, that's better than a fuck-headed love of The Matrix school of sci-fi. After all, how seriously could a movie take itself when its title is....

Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem
by The Brothers Strausse
We begin where the last movie ended, with an alien bursting out of the chest of a predator. Thanks to Alien³ (which is really starting to look like a masterpiece), we know that the alien resembles anatomically whatever it's impregnated, which here is a kind of reptilian predator. It's a stupid idea terribly realized and the suit is once again too baggy for it to come across as the unstoppable killing machine it is in the script. Furthermore it shoots eggs outs it mouth. Where the fuck did that come from? Bunch a goddamn nerds. The Predalien makes short work of all the predators on board the ship of his host mother. With no pilot the ship crashes in Crested Butte, Colorado and some stowaway eggs (I know, I know) hatch, immediately finding hosts in Buddy Benson and his young son Sam who're out hunting. When they don't return a search party is organized but all they manage to do is lose one of their deputies. Sheriff John Ortiz now has three missing persons and he's not liking their odds of returning. Meanwhile in a more vacuous and cliched plot, pizza delivery boy Ricky has just been beaten up by his high school crush's boyfriend. Jesse looks like she just walked off a porn shoot so naturally she's the girl of Ricky's dreams, even if she does perpetually date asswipes like Dale. Ricky wouldn't mind so much because Jesse did manage to flirt with him a whole bunch, but when Dale handed him his ass he dropped his keys in a sewer and now has to go get them without Jesse seeing him emerge. As luck would have it, Ricky's recently paroled brother Dallas is in town and after they have their argument about where he's been (required by law in the Exposition Clause, fourth paragraph) big brother agrees to help little brother. Finding them wouldn't be so hard but the aliens have recently arrived in the sewer and started feeding on the homeless. By the time the Predator arrives, sent from his home world to clean up the mess left by the crash, the town is over-run by aliens and if anyone wants to get out alive, they'll have to work together and stay one step ahead of both monsters and the powers that be, who always have the same mushroom-shaped answer to small town crises.

There's also some stuff in there about Kelly, a veteran coming home to her daughter for the first time, but it doesn't really matter. In point of fact we meet a lot of Crested Butte's citizens but aside from Dallas, Ricky, Ortiz, Kelly and her daughter, this movie could be about the clowns at a traveling circus or a bus full of cheerleading nuns; they're just there to get murdered by spacebeasts. That's nothing new; plot-wise this movie is Eight Legged Freaks, almost to a note and if I were Ellory Elkayem I'd consider suing (but then I'd have considered not making Eight Legged Freaks). The difference between this and that more pleasant giant spider movie was that Eight Legged Freaks had a sense of humour. AVPR has no such thing, even if it knows it's just a trashy action film. It has a kind of heinous disdain for all people which means that whether you're a slutty high school girl, a cute waitress, an expectant mother or a pleasant cop, your chances of not being horribly mutilated are slim. My dad was so repulsed by the way they kill everyone from kids to mothers that he couldn't stop thinking about it, then bought it used at a convenience store. He hadn't seen a major studio release so dark before and couldn't get it out of his head. The Saw movies might be exclusively about cleverly cutting people up but this was an Alien movie, wasn't it? Somewhere in this film's DNA was Ellen Ripley going back to rescue Newt from the queen alien. But here no one's life is sacred. This is a film in which the first victims of the face-hugger are a little boy who has to watch his dad go first and the last are the women in a packed maternity ward. I guess if fucking up two franchises dear to the hearts of thousands didn't bother them, why should killing innocent people who aren't around long enough to deserve it?
And the ways that the Brothers Strausse (as I've said before it's always a bad sign when your directors call themselves the brothers anything) find to kill people are truly staggering. Bodies are melted, heads blown off, stomachs explode, and in the end thousands of people are dispatched in the blink of an eye. Oh, uh, spoiler alert. I couldn't ruin this movie if I wanted to because watching it is ruin enough. Aside from pleasant cinematography the only thing I liked about watching this movie was that while it gave me hope that a good movie could come out of the idea of watching a fusion of aliens and predators, this film didn't do nearly well enough to make me worry that some dumbass is gonna try again anytime soon. There are good images and ideas (the search party, for instance was wildly anticlimactic; a great idea ruined by its dispersal. I wanted the aliens to attack then, in the woods, in the dark, but I guess the Strausses don't like a fair fight) but ultimately our directors only real mark is their cruelty. What neither Strausse nor Paul W.S. Anderson realized is how fucking terrifying it would be if either of these aliens walked up your driveway, let alone both of them. I used to have nightmares to that effect as a child and yet there isn't a single genuine scare in either film. They missed golden opportunities that millions of amateur screenwriters would kill for and little in-jokes and re-using original sound effects is no consolation; this is a bored teenager's graphic novel of a movie first and an Alien/Predator movie second. The script is a fairly faithful recreation of the kind of thing that wound up in the comic books, but those were never meant to be taken all that seriously. Like video games, they're just meant to pass the time, not to be given weight and power, then you defeat their purpose. There are people who disagree with me but whatever I'm an insufferable elitist and to return visitors this is not news. Film is art and those who would replicate the contents of an ancillary marketing tactic on the big screen don't deserve the privilege of being allowed to make it. When you take the things that were mindless entertainment to my six year old self and treat them like a real commodity, something's gone terribly awry.

No comments: