Countdown to Prometheus

Fanboy Porn Or Old School Monster Smackdown? The Alien vs. Predator Films

Among movie myths, the notion that there is an alternate ending of King Kong vs. Godzilla in which Godzilla wins is extremely pervasive because it seems like it should be true. But in reality, Kong is favored nearly the whole time. In Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, though both titular characters die together, as equals, Frankenstein is never allowed to speak, even though speaking scenes featuring Bela Lugosi were filmed.

And in the grand tradition of monster mash-ups, both Alien versus Predator and AvP: Requiem relegate one monster to a less-than-favored role. And if you were taking bets on these smackdowns, the odds would be against Alien.

In Predator 2, the skull of an Alien is briefly glimpsed in a trophy case room. A year before, the popular Aliens vs. Predator comics published by Dark Horse had arrived, and for whatever reason, stuck around in the culture. The comic series began in 1989 (artist Chris Warner is credited with the notion of really matching up the two monsters) and has continued through the 21st century with titles as absurd as Superman and Batman versus Aliens and Predator.  But why? Why did this happen at all? And did it ruin the Alien movie franchise?

The answer to the first question is: it happened because iconic monsters fighting each other is inherently cool. And the answer to the second question is: no, not really, because there wasn’t much ruin. (Though AvP: Requiem is damn close to one of the worst movies I have ever seen. But then again, King Kong vs. Godzilla isn’t all that great either.) But let’s back up: do these films even fit into the Alien mythology? Kind of.

Alien versus Predator (singular, one Alien) is a movie that has inside of it a thing sort of like a plot. More accurately, the plot of AvP is exactly like a little chest-burster Alien gestating inside a host. Eventually it will pop out and then you’ll know what the story is about: horrific mass mayhem. The only difference here is AvP isn’t about an Alien or a Predator systematically wiping out a bunch of chumps until only one is left over. Instead, it’s about a grudge match. It’s about two monsters fighting it out to the death.

Sanaa Lathan as Lex

Sanaa Lathan as Lex

As a result, the characters in AvP are laughably ridiculous. The main character is a woman named Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) who is a really skilled cold-weather environment guide. This is handy because the Weyland Corporation hires her at the outset to lead a team of experts into a secret pyramid in Antarctica. Alexa’s journey oddly parallels Ripley’s from the first Alien film, though more sloppily and with less charm. Other notable cast members include Ewen Bremner (of Trainspotting fame) as Graeme and Raoul Bova as an archeologist named Sebastian. Sebastian is easily one of the silliest characters in movie history, with a personality that can only be described as Indiana Jones: Urban Outfitters Edition. Nothing he says is important nor real, and the discoveries he expounds upon are nonsensical. Ewen Bremner, however, is charming and I certainly wanted to view AvP as a direct sequel to Trainspotting. Spud received a lot of money at the end of Trainspotting; maybe this is what he’s doing in 2004!

Obviously the big casting stunt here was Lance Henriksen, who plays Charles Bishop Weyland, the head of Weyland Industries. Though it’s never explicitly stated, we know from Alien3  that a mover-and-shaker in Weyland-Yutani in Ripley’s time looks just like this guy. Confusingly, in Alien 3 it’s a guy named Michael Bishop, and this guy’s name is Charles Bishop Weyland. So he’s the original. (Now, with Guy Pearce playing Peter Weyland in Prometheus one has to wonder if he’ll be playing a robot version of himself in 20 years time.) 

Bishop Vs. Predator

Bishop Vs. Predator

This gives AvP a tiny bit of credibility, and makes you feel, at least a little bit, like this movie fits into the Alien canon somehow. But once the reason for the Predators fighting the Aliens is actually explained, it will make an Alien fan sad. And that’s because the Aliens are totally subordinate to the Predators.

After Sebastian translates some stuff in an Antarctic cave, we learn the Predators created ancient cultures, helped them build pyramids and ziggurats and temples, and then set up big game hunting parks to kill Aliens. They got people to sacrifice themselves to face-huggers, and then birth out Aliens, in the traditional, gross terrible way. Then the Predators would go try to hunt all the Aliens, apparently for sport. The group of bozos from Weyland industries stumbles upon one of these long forgotten Alien game preserves. And so, Aliens must fight Predators. Pretty quickly however, it gets down to only one Predator and Alexa makes the tricky decision to form an alliance with it, which for movie purposes, works. Against all odds, and because she becomes an honorary Predator herself, Lex manages to help the one Predator vanquish the Aliens.

Predictably enough, once the first Predator fights the first Alien, things do get really exciting. But here is where this movie, and its sequel aren’t like real movies. The human characters and dumb plot are really only a super-lame pretext to get to the money shots of the two monsters going at it. This is really no different than having a plot in a porno in which someone is cleaning the pool, or someone breaks down by the side of the road, or someone delivers a pizza and the people there don’t have any money. Godzilla movies did it all the time too. Really, these sorts of movies could be 30 to 45 minutes long, and just open with the monsters in their respective corners. The plots, though charmingly idiotic, are somewhat unnecessary.

AvP does have one fun, if absurd, notion. The lingering question, “What will happen if an Alien implants itself inside of a Predator?” The payoff doesn’t occur until the end of AVP, in which a chestburster comes out complete with a little Predator face. Referred to as a Predalien by fans (his friends call him Steve) this creature pretty much becomes the main focus of the wildly inferior AvP: Requiem. Briefly: the notion of the Predalien is really, really dumb because it’s not like the Aliens take on the characteristics of their human hosts. I mean, if the Aliens impregnated a giraffe, would you have a giraffe-looking-Alien or something? No, you wouldn’t.

 

AvP: Requiem is all about a Predalien fighting a Predator with a whip. There are scenes (which take place in the sewers) and characters even more unlikable than in AvP. For a fan of the Alien series, I can actually recommend AvP. I can’t even bring myself to recap AvP: Requiem. It’s that bad. There are two reasons why it’s so much worse than its sort-of predecessor. First, AvP:Requiem was directed by the Strause Brothers, responsible for a little movie called Skyline. AvP was at least directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. But more importantly AvP: Requiem doesn’t further the Alien mythology, and the novelty of the Predalien just isn’t enough to carry the whole movie.

Throughout both films, something odd happens to our beloved and feared Aliens. They seem to turn into animals. Though they’ve never been depicted as being as technologically sophisticated as Predators, you always feel like the Aliens are above all that crap, and are a more pure and perfect lifeform, free of technology. But something about the AvP movies turns them into vaguely more complicated Velociraptors from space. There are wonderful moments where these great creatures get to fight other great creatures with plenty of green blood splattered all around. But really, the Aliens were always better when they were a little more mysterious, confined to the shadows, and somehow, inexplicably, smarter.

It’s not a huge surprise that the dumbing down of the monsters themselves in turn dumbed down the films built around them. But then again, this is an old story. Most film incarnations make Frankenstein’s monster seem dumber than he originally was, too. In the book, he could talk.


Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. He wonders if characters from children’s fantasy literature should have smack-downs. Like Mr. Tumnus vs. The Giving Tree.

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