Saturday, December 29, 2007

Movie Review: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

Your Honor, I refer you to the case of Aliens vs. Predator.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, directed by Colin and Greg Strause. Screenplay by Shane Salerno. Starring Steven Pasqualle, Reiko Aylesworth, and John Ortiz. Twentieth Century Fox, 2007. Rated R. USCCB Rating is L--Limited Adult Audience.

I have to review this movie because I'm just about the only movie critic (do I count as a movie critic?) who knows this was a popular comic book franchise before it was a pair of atrocious films, though I suppose it doesn't matter: as far as I can make out, these movies have nothing to do with the comic books anyway.

Though I never saw the first Alien vs. Predator, all sources indicate I didn't miss much. This new attempt, Requiem, begins on a Predator spacecraft containing several jars full of Xenomorph facehuggers (for the non-fanboy, those are the spiderey things that latch onto your face so sometime later an Alien can burst out of your chest). A dead Predator on board is gestating an Alien, which soon bursts from his chest and gets loose. This sole Alien, which bears Predator-like features, kills the rest of the crew and causes the ship to crash near a small town in Colorado. The facehuggers get loose and latch onto members of the local populace, rapidly increasing the Alien population. A new Predator soon arrives to hunt the Aliens and casually kill any humans who get in his way. The human cast, an assortment of horror film clichés, runs around screaming. In other words, this has more-or-less the same plot as Critters, but without the whimsy.

One of the biggest complaints about the first film was the PG-13 rating, which meant the icky blood and guts characteristic of the Alien and Predator movies was absent. Colin and Greg Strause, directors of this sequel, apparently set out to fix that error. Unfortunately, that's all they fixed: Requiem is tacky and tactless, an attempt to cash in on two of the world's greatest movie monsters by dropping them into the middle of a brainless slasher flick. The plot (I use the term loosely) centers around a teenage boy, the girl he likes, and an assortment of other nonentities who spew hackneyed lines while trying to keep a step ahead of the monsters. The government arrives and tries to cover everything up, eventually dropping a nuclear warhead on the town, even though any idiot knows a nuclear explosion in the middle of Colorado would produce an international fiasco, not a successful coverup. The nuclear blast, incidentally, offers the movie's only good lighting. Every other scene is so dark, I couldn't tell Predators from Aliens. Admittedly, that's for the best: it helps disguise Daniel C. Pearl's awful cinematography.

Requiem has no respect for its source material. I consider Predator grossly overrated, so I'm going to talk about Alien, which qualifies as one of those rare films that stand like unshakable monoliths in the vast sea of campy sf. Alien is a revolutionary reimagining of the future, a bleak, gritty space opera already fiercely pushing beyond the vision of Star Wars, which had appeared only two years prior. Surrealist painter and sculptor H. R. Giger provides creature and set designs that are easily some of the most important visual contributions to science fiction. The Alien itself is the best sf horror monster since H. P. Lovecraft's fanged and tentacled chimeras. In the years since Alien appeared, its equal still hasn't.

Gross as it is, Alien is not simple horror. Masquerading as a run-of-the-mill monster flick that happens to be set in space, its superficial scares belie a complicated if perhaps pointless subtext. Alien is a unique exploration of that peculiar folkloric motif known as the vagina dentata: while exploring an extraterrestrial spacecraft laid out like the female reproductive system, a hapless astronaut discovers a mysterious egg--which penetrates him. The resultant offspring, first appearing in the famous chest-bursting scene, is an eight-foot monstrosity that mercilessly kills a mostly male cast with its sharp or toothy, phallus-like body parts. Numerous scenes develop and sometimes contradict the symbolism; taken altogether, it's hard to get a single, solid message out of Alien, but the symbolism gives it a pervading sense of dread and lifts it from the morass of rubber-suited monster movies.

(For another, more thoughtful sf take on Alien's basic themes, I highly recommend Octavia Butler's Hugo-winning 1984 short story "Bloodchild," which depicts a group of humans who have formed an uneasy symbiotic relationship with an Alien-like species. The climax of the story [mild spoiler] is an inverted sex scene in which a female alien implants an embryo into a male human via an ovipositor. It is much less grotesque than the facehugging scene in Alien, but just as unsettling.)

The sequel Aliens knows better than to tread on Alien's symbolic territory, but Requiem doesn't. The result is an unpleasant violation of both the established Alien biology and the dicta of good taste. In what is easily Requiem's most memorable scene--because it's the most likely to make you barf--the Predator-like Alien enters a hospital, seizes a pregnant woman by the face, and forces a whole litter of Alien embryos down her throat, which shortly thereafter burst from her uterus (yes, the film's understanding of anatomy is as poor as everything else).

Arguably, the original Alien film depicts male fear and female empowerment: the monster is born from a man's body impregnated by a female, and this same monster kills men through rapine violation. The series heroine, whether she's fighting in her panties or packing a ginormous flame-thrower/machine gun combo, is undeniably an empowered woman. Requiem, however, prefers to show a woman being ravished by a decidedly masculine Alien monster while strapped to a hospital bed, and the camera even takes time to linger over her gutted, naked corpse when the deed is done. Besides that, the movie's female leads have minuscule roles: the protagonist's obligatory hot girlfriend has no purpose other than to strip to her underwear in the film's first half and get pinned to a wall by a Predator smartblade in the film's second half. I'm not sure what to make of all this, but it suggests misogyny.

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem is gross but never tense, disgusting but never frightening, fast-paced but never exciting. Every aspect of this movie is incompetent, but since it sets up for a sequel, and since it can't possibly get worse, I recommend the next movie run under the title Alien vs. Predator: The Courtroom Drama:

PLAINTIFF: Hrraaaghh! Hssss!! Roarghh!
DEFENDANT: Hraaaaaaaggghhhhh!!!!
Defendant eats Plaintiff.
JUDGE (rapping gavel): That's it, man. Game over, man.

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem:

Myth Level: Low (just, no. No!)

Quality: Low (too dark to see, too gross to watch, too dumb to pay for)

Ethics/Religion: Low (fanservice, pointless gore, foul language, some nudity, nihilistic theme)
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