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Name: David Hitt
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The opinions expressed on this page are those of the author, and very likely no one else.


:: Saturday, August 14, 2004 ::

Action Versus Plot 

Saw AVP last night. Not as bad as it could have been, but it could have been a whole lot better. The first thing that would have helped it is if someone had actually read the script before they started shooting it. Even without going into the canon of the two series, the script had tons of just minor, annoying problems. I'm generally the sort of person who lets stuff like that slide, but throughout this movie I found myself going, "Yeah, but..." Plus, and I've never seen either of the Predator movies, but this film played surprisingly fast and loose with the Alien canon, particularly considering the involvement of one of the creators of the original Alien (to be fair, though, tweaking the Alien canon to fit your story is an old trick that dates back to the James Cameron days. I just don't remember it ever having been this egregious before.)

The other major problem with the movie is that it breaks the "make-or-break" rule of the Alien series, which is, in short, "To thine own self be true."
Each of the Alien movies has been in an entirely different genre, and the best are the ones that know what sort of movie they are, and play to that.

Alien, of course, is your conventional horror movie, a classic monster movie. The monster just happens to be an alien, and the haunted house just happens to be their spaceship, but it follows all of the rules and conventions of a good horror movie. By following the monster movie rules, and having a darned scary monster, it works perfectly.

Aliens is obviously a war movie. The basic story elements and emotional notes could be transferred to World War II or, particularly, Vietnam, and work just as well. And, again, it's good at what it does. Aliens is an excellent war movie, and the addition of a darned formidable enemy makes it perfect.

Alien^3 is where this begins to fall apart. Alien^3 is, at its heart, a drama. The story isn't about the alien, it's about the people, the alien is just a catalyst for telling the story. Unfortunately, someone, likely the studio, never really understood that, and tried to make it something it wasn't, pretending to some extent it was a horror movie. It wasn't, and doesn't work as one, and adding those elements to a drama means that it doesn't work as anything. I still find Alien^3 to be underrated, possibly because I try to watch it as what it was meant to be instead of what it was forced to try to become, but it lacks the internal consistency of the first two.

Ditto Alien Resurrection. Alien Resurrection, in my mind, is the least ambitious of the series from a genre perspective, in that it uses the same science fiction elements as the others (spaceships, aliens, etc.), but unlike the others, used them to tell a science fiction story. Whereas the others have the synergy of the deft repurposing of elements of one genre to service another, AR is flat and lacking in creativity; as impressive as the alchemy of turning lead into lead. Unfortunately, AR apparently doesn't even realize what it is. I doubt its writers even gave any thought to the whole issue of genre. AR is a fanboy film, which attempts only to do cool things with the rules of the Alien universe, which is what makes it science fiction, it attempts to do tricks with ideas.

But I think its creators were under the mistaken impression that they were making a horror film, and indeed, it does have some scary moments, as do all of the Alien films. But one has to wonder if they really thought that saggy-breasted baby Skeletor was going to be scary. A horror movie, to work, has to have a scary climax. And AR just plain doesn't. Saggy-breasted baby Skeletor is pure science fiction, the culmination of interesting ideas--a combination of the aliens and humanity. From that perspective, he works. From being something out of a horror movie, he just doesn't. It's hard to believe that anybody that thought that softening the alien up with humanity would somehow make it scarier. So, again, another Alien movie weakened by failing to stay true to its core concept.

So now we have Alien Versus Predator. And, once again, we have the same problem.
It took me a while after watching it to realize what genre film this was. It pretends, as did the last two Alien movies, to be a horror film. But, like the last two Alien movies, it's just not.

But, it's possibly actually less sure of what it actually is than any of them. I finally decided that if you stripped away the entire movie and rebuilt it around its core, that what it actually would be is, and this makes sense from the title, a fight movie. It's the Rocky or Karate Kid or Stricly Ballroom or Searching For Bobby Fischer of the Alien series (and the Predator series, too, I guess).

And that's where it suffers it's biggest failure. A fight movie has to have--has to have--a hero. Imagine watching Rocky and not knowing if Rocky was the one who was going to be in the big fight at the end. Imagine watching the Karate Kid and wondering if maybe it was going to be about Johnny. You have to have a hero.

A horror movie, on the other hand, is just the opposite. The hero develops. At the beginning, you have to have no idea who will live or die. Someone watching the first Alien movie, having never seen the others and knowing nothing about them, is not going to know that Ripley is the hero into well into the movie.
That's part of why the changing-genre aspects of the Alien movies works to well. In the first movie, Ripley develops as the hero. Which is how a horror movie should work. By the second movie, we know Ripley's going to be the hero. Which is fine, because you need a hero in a war movie. The second one would not have worked as a horror movie once you knew Ripley is the hero.

AVP pretends at the beginning to be a horror movie, but, because it's not really, it doesn't work as one. Unfortunately, by pretending to be, it doesn't do due service to the hero, which means that it can't work properly as a fight movie either.

Of course, to be fair, watching the movie, I wondered how they could make a movie with such blaring problems, but then, when it was over, and heard the applause, I realized the answer. The target audience of AVP are those people that want to see cool Aliens fighting Predators stuff, and in that respect it does pay off. I imagine those people came into the movie of a checklist of things they wanted to see, and I can imagine that by the time they left most or all of those items had been checked off.

Leaving those of us who were fans of Alien and Aliens because they were good movies to keep hoping for that rumored Ridley Scott and James Cameron team-up Alien movie.

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