Alien vs. Predator: Unrated

Alien Vs Predator - UnratedSynopsis: The deadliest creatures from the scariest sci-fi movies ever made face off in Aliens vs. Predator. The incredible adventure begins when the discovery of an ancient pyramid buried in Antarctica sends a team of scientists and adventurers to the frozen continent. There, they make an even more terrifying discovery: two alien races engaged in an all-out war. And whoever wins…we lose.

Watch the ultimate movie monsters fight it out as never before in the Unrated Edition – with a re-cut extended version of the film not shown in theaters.

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Alien vs. Predator: Unrated 7.0

eyelights: the pyramid. the casting coup of Lance Henrikson.
eyesores: the CGI xenomorphs.

“They’re not hunting us. We’re in the middle of a war. It’s time to pick a side.”

‘Alien vs. Predator’ is a long-gestating motion picture based on a Dark Horse Comics property that was initially launched in 1989. It was a monstrous success at the time and many spin-offs were produced since, including many other comic series, novels, toys and video games. It was even hinted at in ‘Predator 2‘, when a xenomorph skull appeared  in the alien hunter’s trophy room.

For years, the motion picture adaptation was one of the hottest unproduced properties in Hollywood, with a script floating around since 1991. There was a consistent buzz coming from the fanbase but it was never greenlit, perhaps due to the failure of both individual franchises and because of studio politics. It would take until 2002, when writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson pitched his own idea for ‘AvP’.

His script, which he co-wrote with Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shussett (the writers of the original ‘Alien’), is not only based on the popular comic books, but also on Aztec mythology and the writings of Erich von Däniken, author of ‘Chariots of the Gods?’. It takes us to Antarctica, site of a newly-found pyramid build by the alien hunters that we know as Predators thousands of years before.

Antarctica was chosen because it’s the harshest and most alien environment on earth, but also because it takes our protagonists away from populated centres, as Anderson didn’t want anything taking place in his film to come into conflict with the original films. He tried to tie his picture to them in myriad ways, including the inclusion of the billionaire head of Weyland Industries.

Charles Bishop Weyland is played by Lance Henriksen, who played Bishop, the android in ‘Aliens‘. Anderson’s genius casting coup establishes that the future Weyland-Yutani would model some of their androids based on their founder – which makes sense, as corporations aren’t exactly known for their humility. Plus which it landed the film with much-needed experience, authority and gravitas.

In ‘AvP’, Weyland’s satellite monitoring system has picked a heat bloom in Antarctica, and his experts believe that it’s emanating from a pyramid 2000 feet beneath the surface – the first pyramid ever built. In ill health and concerned with his legacy, the billionaire decides to round a team of experts from around the globe to mount an expedition to brand his name on this history-changing find.

Naturally, things don’t go as well as planned: this pyramid holds a few horrifying secrets.

Secrets that kill.

The first time that I watched ‘Alien vs. Predator’, I saw the theatrical version, which was released with a PG-13 rating – the weirdest thing for a picture based on two gruesomely violent and/or scary franchises. There have been rumours that the studio made some last-minute edits to make it a wider release, but there are counter-claims that it was always intended to be PG-13.

Who knows what the truth is.

All I know is that I kind of enjoyed myself this time around, having watched the Unrated version – while I was sort of bored and unimpressed with the other one. Was it because I had just watched the gawdawful ‘Predator 2’ the night before? Or is it just that the ‘Unrated’ version is slightly better? Even this has been cause for some debate and online chatter from the series’ fans.

Personally, I think that the Unrated version benefits from improved pacing and that the story is a fair bit more coherent (an extra seven-eight minutes of plot and character development can make a significant difference). It’s no brilliant motion picture, but at least now its weaknesses didn’t detract from my enjoyment – even though there were still a significant number.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

For example:
  • All the specialists that Weyland has rounded up went to the Antarctic without knowing in advance why they were being called upon? Really? Later, an exchange between the two archaeologists suggests that they were paid a large sum just for showing up. Maybe that’s the reason, but it’s never explicitly established. Anyway, it seems out of character for Alexa Woods, though, who seems to be a no-nonsense type.

  • None of the specialists bothered to ask why Weyland was interested in mounting this ultra-expensive expedition. Surely one of them would have at least been curious enough to wonder out loud. Nope. Not this lot. I mean, we find out later, but I can’t imagine an expert going into this without knowing why – aside for the financial incentive, I mean.

  • You know how every paint-by-numbers scary movie has a cheap cat scare in it? You know, the one where our protagonists hear a creak, are scared out of their wits, only to find out that it was just a cat? Well, ‘Alien vs. Predator’ did the next best thing considering the context: they gave us a penguin scare! No joke. I wonder if they were just being ironic, if it was intended to provoke laughs, or if they actually meant it. Either way, the ambiguity is problematic.

  • When the expedition shows up at the location of the pyramid, they find a tunnel has been neatly dug into the ice at a 30 degree angle all the way down – but it wasn’t there when they left. We know that it was purposely dug by the alien hunters, but they don’t (although the big hole in the barracks should have caused some concern). Interestingly, the laser that dug the tunnel also left ridges for ease of access for these puny humans. Hmmm… not so sure about that one.

  • Of course, it wouldn’t be an ‘Alien vs. Predator’ picture without some xenomorphs. And there’s a mutha of a Queen in this one. My problem is that the eggs are laid far too quickly after the Queen comes out of stasis, they hatch way too quickly, and, their prey reawaken far too quickly – these xenomorphs barely need any time to gestate in their hosts. And, naturally, they become fully grown within minutes of tearing out of their hosts’ ribcages. Hmmm…. not so sure.

  • The alien hunters have their usual array of gadgets to help them on their hunt. But, as in ‘Predator 2’, I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t just use their cloaking device 100% of the time. I mean, aside for giving audience something cool to look at, what could be the practical reason for turning it off? At least the original ‘Star Trek’ films had established that you couldn’t attack in stealth mode. But what about these “predators”?

  • Speaking of which, the pyramid is covered in hieroglyphs that explain its origin and purpose. Although I liked that it’s claimed that the alien hunters passed some of their knowledge over to the Aztec, Mayan and Egyptian cultures to some degree (thereby explaining their technological advances), I didn’t much like that they used the pyramids as sites for rites of passage for their youth: which consists of hunting and killing xenomorphs (a concept from the comic books, actually). It’s not the hunting and killing that I have an issue with, it’s the idea that these are teenagers. That’s so-so. Overall, there are some good ideas here, but it just doesn’t come together neatly, 100% credibly.

  • Xenomorph blood is acidic, and yet our heroine (and other human prey) seems to escape being splattered by any of it. Seriously, given how gruesome the wounds are, and how quickly the xenomorphs move, you’d have expected their blood to spray everywhere – or at least miniscule droplets to hit random targets. Not so here – even when Alex is in close proximity. It’s not believable and far too convenient for my taste.

  • The CGI aliens are awful to look at. It might have been cheaper than costumed/puppet xenomorphs and it may have allowed them to do more with them, but CGI simply does not replace the real thing – it just doesn’t look the same. The CGI image doesn’t blend in, the motion isn’t right, and there are even reports that they aren’t built the same (although I didn’t notice). I wish filmmakers would learn to use CGI to enhance, not to replace practical effects.

  • In the end, Alexa survives. Of course she does. Fine. But how is she going to explain this massacre to the authorities? Because, presumably, she’ll have to head back to civilization at some point (how will she even get back home, anyway?). Someone will take notice that Weyland and company have disappeared and that she’s the only one left. Further to that, why are the alien hunters so sloppy? Why wouldn’t they cover their tracks, as they did in previous visits?

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

There are a number of elements that I do like, though. For instance, I like that our main protagonist is a woman. It’s to be expected in the ‘Alien’ series, I suppose, but Anderson purposely picked someone who wouldn’t remind people of Ripley. And Sanaa Lathan was relatively credible in the part, although she didn’t look especially fit – for an adventurer. At least she had the attitude.

I really enjoyed the setting and set design. Unlike some people, I’m not a big fan of pyramids, but I quite liked the look of this one. A lot of time was spent into putting all sorts of details into every part of it, which made it look impressive. You would be hard-pressed to not be awed in real life. The lighting also helped because it added an aura of mystery around it – and a sinister touch as well.

Given how large the pyramid is, and how complicated it would be to keep track of who is doing what where, I also appreciated that the filmmakers devised of a way to situate us: by showing us a 3D map of the building from both the expedition and the alien hunters’ perspectives. It’s usually pretty quick, but it’s enough for the purposes of the piece – this isn’t National Geographic, after all.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

Speaking of the pyramid, I was pleased with the way that the filmmakers kept the hunt going. Since ‘Alien vs. Predator’ mostly consists of pecking off its human cast one-by-one and watching xenomorphs and alien hunters beat the crap out of each other, the filmmakers had to find ways to separate the human victims – otherwise, they’d all be in one room and get swarmed. What they did was to make the pyramid reconfigure every 10 minutes, so that they invariably got separated from each other and from their hunters. I adored this plot device: it reminded me of ‘Cube’, except done with a greater budget. It was fun to watch all the parts move as they did, like a big moving puzzle.
And, although the way Alexa gains the respect of the main alien hunter is somewhat questionable, I really liked that he made her a shield out of a xenomorph skull and a spear out of a xenomorph spine. Très cool. Very primal. It doesn’t answer the question of why the xenomorph blood and guts didn’t burn her arms off when she picked those up, but presumably the hunter was an OCD clean freak and sanitized them first.
I also had a good chuckle at the final twist, even if it was predictable. But it’s moronic: the alien predators would obviously have a scanner on their ship to ensure that they don’t bring aboard any dangerous microbes or critters; this should have been prevented. Anyway, as further proof of how stupid this twist is, the alien hunter had been impaled by the Queen – which would have presumably killed the xenomorph inside. Not that she would have attacked, as they usually leave hosts alone. Still, it remains a cool idea. I just wish that they had thought it out more, is all.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

All this to say that, even though it’s not Masterpiece Theatre, I kinda sorta enjoyed watching the Unrated version of ‘Alien vs. Predator’ (unlike the Theatrical version, which bored me senseless). Sure, it was flawed. But it was also entertaining. And it had a few interesting ideas thrown in to boot.

Granted, it could have been done better. Granted, after 15 years of promise, it’s a let-down. But it’s better than many other ‘Predator‘ or ‘Alien‘ movies. And, all things considered, that ain’t half bad. Now, I highly doubt that I’ll race to see it again, but I’d watch this waaaay before ‘Freddy vs. Jason‘.

Or ‘Predator 2‘, for that matter.

Date of viewing: December 15, 2014

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