STARRING: Sanaa Lathan, Raoul Bova, Lance Henriksen, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon

2004, 87 Minutes, Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Description: Set in the early 21st century on Earth, Charles Weyland, an industrialist billionaire, leads an archaeological expedition in Antarctica. Using thermal imaging satellites, Weyland believes to have discovered the ruins of an ancient pyramid temple that predates the Egyptian and Aztec pyramids buried under the ice. Once inside, the team finds the remains of humans with holes in the rib cage and the remains of face huggers, meaning that the possibility of the temple being uninhabited is very unlikely. To make matters worse, five teenage Predators are coming to the temple to perform a coming-of-age ritual that involves fighting to the death with the aliens. Soon, it becomes clear that only one species is getting out alive.

Dracula vs. Frankenstein
Godzilla vs. Mothra
King kong vs. Godzilla
Freddy vs. Jason

It's a time honored sci-fi/fantasy tradition to have two villains duke it out to see who's the baddest in the land. Alien vs Predator (or AvP) joins this illustrious list of B-movies by being one of the most highly anticipated in recent times. Ever since the Alien vs. Predator Dark Horse Comic series in 1989, this concept has been percolating in the halls of 20th Century Fox. Predator 2 hinted at the possibilities with an "alien" skull on a Predator's trophy shelf. But while there have only been two Predator movies, Alien has been the more successful series with four flicks so far. However, when whiny Winona Ryder derailed the dreadful Alien Resurrection (1997), it was time to revisit the AvP concept to re-energize the franchise. The result is Alien vs. Predator, a popcorn movie that's light on concept but heavy on action.

British writer/director Paul W. Anderson, best known for the hit Resident Evil as well as duds, Soldier and Event Horizon, has created an utterly enjoyable and utterly forgettable summer movie. That's a shame, given how iconic Alien (1979) was to science fiction - it launched Ridley Scott's career and it forever changed the look of "aliens" thanks to H.R. Giger's influential alien design.

In AvP, a satellite detects a subterranean pyramid in the Antarctic. A rich industrialist, Charles Bishop Weyland, assembles a team of experts to explore the pyramid. Played by Lance Henriksen, Weyland is the only link to the Alien movies as Henriken was also an android named "Bishop" in Aliens.

"Ends up being a video game of a movie. Just press the start button to begin   . . ."

After a mad rush to get to the pyramid, the explorers soon discover that this construct was designed to train young predators how to hunt. Hunt what? Aliens, of course. An imprisoned alien queen lays the eggs. The eggs launch the Face Huggers and the Humans incubate and release some nasty prey for the predators.

In the rush to get the action going, Anderson is happy to leave all character development and plot tension behind. We have archaeologists, scientists and engineers faced with an ancient pyramid that looks like a combination of Mayan, Egyptian and Cambodian cultures, but we get no sense of awe or wonder. It's just a giant maze to run through. I suppose Howard Carter wouldn't have done much oohing or ahhing at King Tut's tomb if he had aliens and predators chasing him. But still, there's no perceptible thrill or marvelling at such a major discovery before Anderson slides some walls, moves a floor and gets the hunt moving.

Reminiscent of the 1997 sci-fi movie, Cube, the pyramid reconfigures itself periodically to create a multitude of scenarios in which hunter becomes the hunted as aliens begin hatching, breeding and running around. In the updated "Sigourney Weaver" role is Sanaa Lathan as the tough-as-nails mountain climber. Scottish actor Ewen Bremner has a disappointingly small throwaway role while Raoul Bova, the Italian hearthrob from Diane Lane's Under The Tuscan Sky plays the archaeologist who can, of course, read ancient Egyptian, Mayan and Cambodian - well, just enough to read the warnings carved all over the walls of the pyramid.

The action and fight scenes are terrific in AvP. This is clearly what Anderson is focusing on. The aliens, with their acid blood, telescoping jaws and bayonet tails, get into a number of no-holds barred maulings with the predators and their weaponry. Still, Anderson manages to make us feel sorry for the alien queen, trapped to breed more players in this death match.

Caught in the middle are the humans who eventually must chose a side for the sake of their own survival.

AvP ends up being a video game of a movie. Just press the start button to begin. The first two Alien movies - two very different approaches by two talented directors, Ridley Scott and James Cameron - were masterpieces in storytelling. It's interesting to recall that in both of those movies, the action didn't start until the second half of the movie. How the story is set-up gets the audience involved with the fate of the characters. With AvP, Anderson makes the sequelitis error of assuming that no set up is required. That's the difference between a movie like Alien that can haunt your nightmares 25 years later versus AvP, a movie that looks like a studio calculation to revive old characters and milk old franchises. Van Helsing anyone?

- Harrison Cheung

This is one stooopid movie - right from the aliens going through their entire birth- and lifecycle in what must be ten minutes flat and the ancient Aztecs having used a "metric time system" (what does that mean? that they had 100 minutes in an hour?) to  Sanaa Lathan using an alien skull as a shield. However, worst of all is that the movie is about as emotionally involving as watching someone else play a videogame over their shoulders. James O'Ehley


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