ALIEN VS. PREDATOR

It seemed that “Alien Vs. Predator” (20th Century Fox) had all the luck of a 3-legged dog. Before it had a chance to live, it faced a destiny as a punch line for movie snobs or, really, anyone whose EEG readout isn’t a flatline. After direction from renowned filmmakers like Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and John McTiernan, the director’s chair was given to Paul W.S. Anderson, the incompetent and universally reviled cinematic criminal behind opuses like “Soldier” and “Resident Evil.” Reports of problems both logistical and creative plagued the film’s production, the MPAA rated the film PG-13 (a forecast of toothlessness for what had been a traditionally violent series of films) and its final release date, ironically enough, was Friday the 13th. Things looked so bad that the studio held not a single advance screening of the film for press. So, the question of the hour: Is “Alien Vs. Predator” terrible? Yes, it is, but in the most gloriously campy and entertaining way possible.

The film’s arbitrary plot explains that thousands of years ago, Predators were worshipped as gods on Earth and that humans would sacrifice themselves to birth aliens for the Predators’ hunting rituals in a vast pyramid on the South Pole. In the present day, the pyramid is discovered via satellite after a heat bloom and a team of researchers commissioned and led by Charles Weyland (Lance Henriksen, who played Bishop in “Aliens” and “Alien 3”) travels to Antarctica to investigate. Of course, the team is soon trapped in the pyramid as hapless fodder for the creatures. Oh, drats.

The deep flaws riddling “Alien Vs. Predator” were easily foreseen. Anderson’s groan-inducing dialogue was expected, as were his screenplay’s ham-fisted and obvious attempts to develop the characters. Unlike the great ensemble casts of “Alien,” “Aliens” and “Predator,” we are given Wheat Thin characters who elicit the same level of empathy and caring from the audience as shark chum, which, aside from diverting screen time away from the film’s real extraterrestrial stars, was their only real purpose anyway. Many of the key plot twists, especially the alliance that forms between the last surviving human and Predator at the film’s ending, are at best unintentionally comic and at worst daft.

But once the film reaches its true purpose, pitting the terrible beasties against each other on screen, what begins is breathlessly banal and corny fun. Witnessing the camp of an alien queen running after the survivors in a shot that echoes the T. Rex chasing Jeff Goldblum in “Jurassic Park” or the funniest shot of the movie, a leaping face hugger stopped in midair with “Matrix” bullet-time photography, transformed the film into a spectacle joyful rather than painful to behold. The audience with whom I saw the film responded more like one watching a comedy than a horror-action film, greeting the action scenes with laughter and cheers rather than cries of terror (all, that is, except for the 10-year-old boy behind me who would issue the occasional “Whoa!” and who, at the closing credits, said “That was the coolest movie I’ve ever seen!”).

It’s evident that “Alien Vs. Predator” was an attempt to craft a serious new chapter in two of the most revered sci-fi franchises in film. One can only imagine the heights to which this film could have been taken in the hands of “28 Days Later” director Danny Boyle or even Sam Raimi, who more than proved his smart action mettle with “Spiderman 2.” But Paul W.S. Anderson’s amateurish screenwriting and directorial ineptitude steered the film far from the elegance of “Alien” or the taut suspense of “Aliens” and “Predator.” Regardless of Anderson’s intentions, in “Alien Vs. Predator” he has created the kitsch classic of the year.

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