'Whoever wins... we lose' - the most apt movie slogan we've ever heard

A Predator warrior prepares for battle with another iconic screen monster: the Alien

Still from 'Alien vs. Predator' film

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Cast: Sanna Lathan, Raoul Bova, Ewen Bremner, Colin Salmon, Lance Henriksen, Tommy Flanagan, Agathe De La Boulaye, Adrian Bouchet, Carsten Norgaard, Joseph Rye, Sam Troughton, Ian White and Tom Woodruff Jr.
Duration: 97 minutes

There is one thing you have to keep reminding yourself about this flick. The title is Alien vs. Predator. The title is not Alien vs. Predator with a Lot of Deep Human Drama. In fact, there is no mention of humans at all in the title. If anything, the tag line says it all: "Whoever wins, we lose."

Part of the strength of Alien and Aliens was the fact that they both told separately brilliant stories about a group of humans trapped in an extremely horrible situation. Who can forget the cast of characters from either movie. (Not so much for the Predator films, unless you consider the pumped-up governor pairing of Jesse "the Body" Ventura and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a source of raw human drama.)

In Alien vs. Predator, the humans are insignificant. They’re less than significant. In fact, they really only serve as incubation chambers for baby aliens and opportunities for an occasional plot point explanation with expository dialogue. But, this is important because the films isn’t about them. It’s about Aliens and Predators kicking the z%^R$as32£J out of each other.

The one redeeming factor about Alien vs. Predator is that it clocks in at a comparatively brisk 97 minutes. An hour of that consists of pointless narrative padding and "humanizing" touches (two of the hapless scientists shanghaied in the ancient battleground for the titular extraterrestrial nasties have kids, we're told, but we still care nothing about them) - when the movie's sole reason for existence is the 41 minutes of CGI-engineered gaming-console carnage designed to separate 13-year-old boys from their allowance.

The studio didn't even screen the film in advance for American critics, usually a maneuver to deflect the box-office damage of a drubbing in the press when they know they have a turkey on their hands. The film is not out in the UK until the 22nd of this month, but Fox has already spent millions hyping it up via bastions of intellectuality such as the Sun ("The iconic monsters from two of the movie world's most famous franchises are set to do battle for the first time on film, as they already have in the comic-book world"). Despite that, British critics - well, the ones who haven't been swayed by Fox's freebies - have been falling over themselves to lamblast the gorefest.

It's filmmaking by the numbers; there is no soul. (If you've read this far, you've realized I gave up on depth at the door.) The PG-13 rating Fox was desperate for it to attain in America tells it all: the spirit of Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien, which introduced an indelibly horrifying and truly repulsive creature in H. R. Giger's monster creation, and John McTiernan's 1987 Predator, a watershed of exhilarating brutality in the action/sci-fi genre, are murdered with ruthless efficiency. Stripped down, dulled down, dumbed down for audiences on the cusp of adolescence - when the entire appeal of original Alien co-writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett's story outline is the possibility of hard-R carnage in squaring off piglike 7-foot humanoids armed with infrared vision and nuclear capabilities, against super-intelligent arthropods with projectile teeth and concentrated acid for blood.

The humans, who invade the creatures' hunting lodge in an ancient pyramid 2,000 feet below the Antarctic surface, are just fodder. All the basic slasher-template types are represented: Suave Italian Guy, Geeky Guy, Geekier Guy, Tough Girl, Last Girl. As in Resident Evil, the dialogue in Anderson's humourless script consists entirely of barked orders through clenched teeth, hushed warnings and redundant exposition, all of which had long been reduced to cliché in 1979. Zeroing in on what I hope isn't the zeitgeist of his target demographic, Anderson writes lines that don't just dangle old cliches in the winking, post-modern horror tradition - his characters actually complete the cliches. "When in Rome ..." isn't sufficiently descriptive for the pimple squad, I guess.

Sanaa Lathan (Out of Time) is a solid if forgettable Last Girl, as the conscientious archaeologist leading the doomed expedition - who, rather amusingly, actually ends up walking arm-in-arm with one of the Predators in a heartwarming display of teamwork. Lance Henriksen shows up ostensibly for series continuity as billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland, but it's a continuity that never materialises: his middle name is deliberately identical to the moniker of the android Henriksen played in Aliens and who improbably resurfaced in Alien 3, he gives us a brief homage to the game the character was fond of in Aliens, and - in the movie's most confusingly shot sequence - is revealed to have an anatomy that's not quite human. Yet he's soon forgotten along with every other plot point Anderson half-heartedly throws in the pot; why all the "links" to the series history if his presence adds up to a big fat nothing?

What's particularly troubling is that Anderson's not incompetent behind the lens, and he's not stupid. We even catch a glimpse of what might have happened had he not chosen the path of least resistance, in a moment that recalls the bleak, Lovecraftian brilliance of Ridley Scott's classic.

Geeky Guy (Ewen Bremner) heaves a sigh of infinite relief and triumph after blasting an alien hatchling that was a half-second away from attaching to his face. But the relief turns to paralytic horror as soon as he looks out in the room where he's entombed - he's almost out of ammo, and there are more of the little buggers out there. Hundreds of them.

For a fleeting moment, I was propelled back to that chilling realisation of 1979: in space, no one can hear you scream. The unfortunate realisation of 2004 is that on Earth, everyone can hear you snore.

DVD Extras: Disc One: Commentary by Paul WS Anderson, Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Latham. Commentary by Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff & John Bruno (special effects team). Inside Look Feature: Hide and Seek. Inside Look Feature: Elektra. Inside Look Feature: Robots.
Disc Two: Conception featurette. Visual effects featurette. Alien vs Predator: The Comic Book. Monsters in Miniature. HBO Special The Making of Alien vs Predator. ADI (Special Effects) Workshop. Miniature Whaling Station. Facehuggers and Eggs. Trouble at the Mouth of the Tunnel. Deleted scenes with optional commentary. Storyboard gallery. Concept art. Tom the Alien Actor. The Biggest Match-Up of All Time Clips.

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