Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 20 News List

It's an underground monster world series

A very sticky movie, though not, ultimately, a very frightening or commanding one

By David Kehr  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Green blood and mucous gets everywhere in Alien vs. Predator, a knockout bout for otherworldly creatures.

PHOTO: FOX FILMS

Twentieth Century Fox threw its baby to the wolves, opening Alien vs. Predator nationally without holding the tradtional advance screenings for film reviewers. That's often a sign that a movie is a major disaster, but the film turns out to be no worse than most mindless summer action films, and even has some solid formal qualities thanks to the director, Paul Anderson.

Anderson, not to be confused with his close namesake, Paul Thomas Anderson of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, is a gifted creator of claustrophobic atmosphere whose unfortunate lot it has been to adapt at least two of his movies from video games -- Mortal Kombat (1995) and Resident Evil (2002). There is also a video game called Alien vs. Predator, but that apparently has little to do with this project, a simultaneous prequel to Alien (1979) and sequel to Predator (1986).

The notion of a face-off between Fox's two franchise monsters had been kicking around development offices for a decade before Anderson took on the project. The most likely reason that it hasn't been done before now is that no one has been able to lick the very large problem inherent in the concept: in a battle between ribcage-bursting Aliens and head-chopping Predators, where's the rooting interest?

Anderson hasn't solved that problem either, though he has spun a dark, handsome, well-designed film all around it. Alien vs. Predator is set not in outer space but in a Jules Verne world beneath the surface of the planet in an incalculably ancient pyramid buried 1,000m beneath the Antarctic ice cap.

Discovered by the billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen, providing a link to James Cameron's 1986 Alien sequel, Aliens), the pyramid becomes the object of a Shackleton-like expedition composed of assorted scientists and mercenaries. Weyland hires an ecological tour guide, Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), to lead his group to the buried temple, which turns out to contain a giant mother Alien just waiting to breed new face-hugging offspring.

Film Notes

Directed by: Paul Anderson

Starring: Sanaa Lathan (Alexa Woods), Raoul Bova (Sebastian De Rosa), Lance Henriksen (Charles Bishop Weyland), Ewen Bremner (Graeme Miller), Colin Salmon (Maxwell Stafford) and Tommy Flanagan (Mark Verheiden)

Running time: 110 minutes

Taiwan Release: today


As the little band makes its way through the twisting corridors of the underground world (another convention of video games, though the sets do recall the underground worlds of Fritz Lang), it becomes clear that no one has designs on these puny humans. The Aliens have been hatched on command to provide prey for a new group of Predator hunters, who have to earn their stripes by killing their species' most dangerous foe.

The humans, including the Italian actor Raoul Bova (currently on screen in Facing Windows) as an archeologist and the Scottish character actor Ewan Bremner (Trainspotting) as a geologist, don't have much to do in Alien vs. Predator but put the plot in motion and stand back to watch it work, a precarious position that eventually claims most of them. Though Anderson finds a rooting interest, it's too far-fetched even for fantasy, and the film turns into a cold but occasionally impressive special-effects extravaganza.

Between the Predators dripping their glow-in-the-dark green blood and the Aliens getting their rubber cement mucous all over everything, this is certainly a very sticky movie, though not, ultimately, a very frightening or commanding one.

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