Alien vs. Predator (2004): Film Review

EDITOR’S NOTE: With ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM now on screens, we offer a flasback review of 2004’s ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.

The long-anticipated movie monster match-up (which had been in development for decades) turns out to be a considerable disappointment, dumbing the ALIEN series down to the level of a videogame. Fortunately, the film is not a complete misfire on the level of mindless entertainment: the funny thing is, it’s exactly what you would expect it to be, as long as you don’t expect too much. Some reason is contrived to get some hapless humans stuck in between a rock and a hard place, and then lots of people die as the special effects team goes crazy depicting the battle between the two franchise stars.

The result is not too horrible, but it’s not nearly the exciting slugfest it could have been. At least writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson had the sense of humor to include a clip from FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN early on – proving he realizes that he is simply making contrived movie monster match-up that no one can take seriously. ALIEN series star Sigourney Weaver wisely took a pass, but Lance Henrikesen shows up as an “ancestor” of the android Bishop seen in ALIENS and ALIEN 3.

The scenario basically takes a videogame approach, placing a bunch of characters in a pyramid, where they move from room to room, encountering dangers and traps they must overcome if they are to survive and move on to the next room. Unfortunately, this pyramid is set on present day Earth, which seems a bit ridiculous. We’re supposed to believe the predators created it and populated it with aliens as a kind of training field for their young hunters, but it makes nonsense of the story of the original ALIEN, which was supposed to show humankind’s first encounter with the predatory beast.

The script also cheats a bit with the predators, who are supposed to attack only armed opponents. Here, they pretty much just clear out the whole place like exterminators routing vermin – which is about as much sympathy as the film generates for the victims. The cast is competent but undistinguished, but who can blame them when they’re basically playing grist for the meat grinder?

Anderson’s biggest mistake is that he unwisely opts for favoring the predators over the aliens, overlooking the obvious: The aliens, as frightening as they may be, are – in at least one sense – innocent: they act from instinct, doing what is in their nature to survive. Hating them – or calling them evil – would make as much sense as hating a tiger, a shark, or a T-Rex. In fact, there’s even a certain elegance and beauty to their predatory nature (although it’s definitely something one would prefer to admire at a distance).

The predators, on the other hand, truly are vile beings. They’re from a highly technological society, which means they’ve had plenty of time to evolve, and yet they still haven’t moved past the primitive notion that killing other forms of life is noble. Sure, they seem to have some kind of code that governs their hunt, but they don’t kill for food or to survive; they kill for trophies.

As if realizing this distinction between the two species, about a third of the way through ALIEN VS PREDATOR, the film has its one great moment. After several humans have been killed , a predator is closing in on a trio of potential victims, including the female lead. When all hope seems lost, the predator is suddenly impaled by an alien tail and hoisted helplessly into the air. You want to cheer as this ruthless killer suddenly finds the tables turned.

Alas, the film does not fulfill this early promise. The human characters conclude that the aliens are a far bigger threat, because they could overrun the entire Earth if they escape from the subterranean pyramid in the Antarctic, where the story is set. Adopting the dubious philosophy that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” our protagonist teams up with one of the predtors to kill the aliens, and we’re suposed to feel gratitude when the predator saves the heroine’s life.

Here’s the problem: This pyramid was built by the predators specifically for the hunt, and they use humans as hosts to breed aliens as their prey. In other words, the human-predator detente isn’t really a matter of two species teaming up to fight a common enemy; in fact, the terrible situation exists solely because the predators created it and lured the human expedition into it, killing almost all of them in the process.

It’s probably not a good thing when a feature film reminds you of the Three Stooges. It’s especially bad when the reminder is that the Three Stooges handled a similar idea with much more intelligence. Unfortunately, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR accomplishes this dubious achievement. In one of their many short subjects, Moe slams a cabinet door onto Larry’s head and holds it pressed tight. Larry howls in pain, “Help, help — get me out!” When Moe lets his victim go, Larry gratefully says, “Thanks. If it wasn’t for you, I would have never got out of there!”

The joke is pretty obvious: it’s ridiculous for Larry to express gratitude to Moe for releasing him from a situation that Moe caused in the first place. Yet for some reason, the makers of ALIEN VS PREDATOR have played out a similar scenario, and they don’t realize it’s a joke; they want viewers to take it seriously. We’re even actually supposed to sense some kind of bonding between the human and the predator. It’s a colossal miscalculation that undermines the movie. Our heroine not only teams up with this monster (we might forgive that as being necessary for survival under difficult circumstances); but she also seems to feel some sympathy for the predator, forgetting that it and its brethren are the ones morally responsible for getting her into this lethal mess in the first place. If the Three Stooges – not noted for their subtlety – could see the humor in this situation, why is it such a mystery to Hollywood?

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004). Written and directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. Cast: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Tommy Flanagan.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

2 Responses to “ Alien vs. Predator (2004): Film Review ”

  1. [...] 1979’s ALIEN, yet ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM is just about as bad as its 2004 predecessor ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. In fact, the Straus Brothers had wanted to stay true to the tone of ALIEN, they would not have [...]

  2. [...] and reviews of ALIEN, ALIENS, and ALIEN: RESURRECTION. (For those of you who care, reviews of ALIENS VS PREDATORS and ALIENS VS PREDATOR: REQUIEM were previously [...]