Alien Vs. Predator: Extreme Edition (2004)
28th February 2005
Since the beginning of time, the Predators have come to Earth for one simple reason - to engage in a coming-of-age ritual. To enter manhood, the teenage Predators have to hunt down a hive of Alien warriors and successfully defeat them and claim their skulls as trophies. However, during one particular hunting session, the easily aggravated Aliens fought back with a vengeance. Starring defeat and death in the face the Predators unleashed a force so deadly that it lead to the destruction of the two species as well as the Aztec people who worshipped the Predators as Gods and willingly gave themselves as sacrifices to their deadly prey.
Now two thousand years later, whilst using a satellite to scan for mineral deposits over Antarctica, billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland has managed discover a massive ancient pyramid structure buried thousands of feet under the ice. Not only does this discovery prove that man once inhabited Antarctica, but what makes this discovery all the more interesting is the fact that the temple is in the process of warming up. Knowing that he has uncovered something extremely significant, Weyland recruits a team of experts led by Alexa Woods and heads down to the Antarctic to uncover the pyramid and leave a legacy for all man kind.
But as the group arrive at the site they discover that a tunnel has already been dug down to the pyramid. Has someone else beaten them to the site? As the group go deeper into the buried temple they become trapped and encounter some strange eggs which have started to hatch. And one thing is for sure, the hatchlings are not the friendly kind, although they do like a nice tight hug. To make matters worse, the new hunting clan of teenage Predators have arrived and are ready to hunt down both the Aliens and the trapped humans. The humans have just stumbled into the middle of a centuries old war between Alien and Predator and they are the bait!
As the film takes place in dark and gloomy locations or driving snow blizzards, the picture transfer is going to be a serious challenge to the DVD encoding process. And on the whole it does its job extremely well, holding up to the most challenging of scenes with relative ease. Although a little muted at times, the colours are rich and vibrant whilst images are sharp with a high level of detail throughout. The transfer also exhibits no problems with dust specks or other picture imperfections. But, to be honest, with such a recent film the image shouldn't have been anything but clean. However, the picture is not perfect and there are a few scenes where grain and pixelisation is evident. Never the less, this is finding fault for faults sake and given the complicated images on show the end results are very commendable indeed.
Given that the film is accompanied by not one, but two, audio commentaries, it is all the more surprising to find both a Dolby Digital 5.1 384 Kbps and DTS 5.1 768 Kbps soundtrack. Although the Dolby Digital soundtrack has a lower bit rate than normal it still manages to produce a dynamic and involving soundtrack, so much that it goes on to prove that a lower bit rate doesn't necessarily equate to a poor sounding soundtrack. But given the extra spatial dimension offered by the DTS soundtrack, action junkies should ensure that their surround system is set up for the superb DTS mix.
Still, both soundtracks offers some cracking surround effects, with gun fire and the sound of both sets of alien creatures scuttling about providing the highlights. The dialogue is crisp and clear in the centre channel whilst there's some good stereo steerage in the front channels. Even the LFE channel is not neglected and whenever the action is on screen the bass channel rattles the floor boards, although it's staring moment is not until the closing minutes when a Predator finally get cheesed off with the Alien eggs and decides enough is enough.
There once was a time when Twentieth Century Fox lead the way with its innovative menu systems such as those seen on The Abyss and X-Men releases, and then for some reason they took their foot off the accelerator and reverted to the standard and boring menu systems seen on most discs. However, this release sees Fox return to something we've not seen from them in a while - innovatively animated menus. Whilst the main menu introduction drags on for way too long, with a camera zooming into the pyramid and then waiting for a couple of eggs to appear, once the introduction is complete the main menu is displayed. Although static, the various options and menus are easy to navigate through and by playing the film via my PC I did actually manage to find a different menu introduction, but for the life of me I can't work out how to reproduce it.
Extras wise, it's a good package with a couple of audio commentaries and detailed featurettes into the filming process. The bulk of the extras are supplied on the second disc, with numerous featurettes created during the pre and post-production process. Fortunately, Twentieth Century Fox have again added the option of purchasing the single or double disc set so fans of the on screen action can be catered for just as much as fans of the background details. Still, it's always the single disc edition which finds its way into the bargain bucket first and I'm not sure how long Fox will persist with this commendable feature.
Apart from the extended cut of the film, the main extras on the first disc are the two audio commentaries, of which the major Commentary is from director Paul WS Anderson and actors Lance Henriksen and Sanaa Latham. First off, it's good to see that a couple of the actors have made it into the recording studio for the yack track and the commentary the trio provide is certainly an interesting insight into the production. Director Anderson talks enthusiastically throughout, and he's equally excitable during the featurettes on the second disc, and he talks about his influences and provides some handy references to the other films. Henriksen joins in with the discussions, after all he's already been involved has plenty of scope for chatter, whilst Latham provides a more light hearted commentary with some interesting on set quips.
The second commentary track is provided by the Special Effects Team of Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff and John Bruno. Technophobes will probably want to avoid this one, but those who are more interested in the technical feats behind the special effects used in the film will be more than happy with the chatter on offer here. Although there are a few pauses too many, the group give plenty of information on various challenges involved in bringing the aliens to the screen, be it CGI or good old fashioned blokes in costumes or using animatronics. Interesting stuff, which will also be improved by watching the effects featurette on the second disc.
The first disc is rounded off with an Inside Look at the forthcoming releases of Hide and Seek, Elektra and Robots. It's bit of filler material, but the Robots feature is certainly worthy of a look in. I've also skipped over mentioning the extended cut of the film being the main extra as it's all a bit of a con. All you get for your money is a pre-credit flash back to when the Predators last visited Antarctica and laid waste to the whaling community which was living on top of the pyramid site. Quite way this couldn't have been left in the film is beyond me, and given that it's only about two minutes long it kind of makes this "extrem"; edition a bit of an over statement!
Moving onto the second disc, it is crammed full of features and documentaries on the making of the film. Split into Pre-production, Production and Post-production sections, each section has a number of featurettes or galleries to keep even the fussiest of fan occupied for hours on end.
In the Pre-production section, the twenty five minute Conception Featurette looks at the origins of the picture via the Predator and Alien movie franchises plus the AVP comic book from Dark Horse. Fans of the comic book and film will probably already know most of what is mentioned here, but for everyone else (myself included) it's an interesting look into its world. In the seven minute ADI Workshop featurette, the various costumes and impressive animatronics are put through various screen tests. There's no commentary from anyone, just various people talking in the background whilst doing their job, but it's all rather fascinating stuff to watch. The section is rounded off with well over a hundred Storyboards from Brent Boates, Phil Norwood and Richard Bennett plus a Concept Art gallery.
The Production section has the meat of the extras in the form of the hour long Making of AVP. Whilst some of the detail is repeated from the Conception featurette, it is bursting at the seams (or should that be chest?) with on-set footage filmed in Prague and interviews with the various cast members, production crew and director. I was particularly impressed with the miniatures and the amount of fake snow used during production. It certainly highlights where a big budget film spends its money and it's well worth watching. The only issue would have to be that, given its length, there are no chapters and if you need to come back to it you're a bit snookered at finding where you left off.
Staying on the set, the seven minute Miniature Whaling Station featurette goes to prove that CGI effects, whilst an important part of the majority of action films, aren't quite yet the holy grail of special effects. The fourteen minute Facehuggers and Eggs feature looks at the animatronics and their "drivers" during the filming of a particular scene. Again, there's no commentary so you'll just have to listen to the various people talking in the background as they go about their work. Finally, the four minute Trouble at the Mouth of the Tunnel featurette looks at the problems of firing a sledge out of a tunnel and how to go about breaking camera equipment and setting fire to your set.
The Post-Production section starts off with the thirty minute Visual Effects Featurette. This looks at the various CGI effects used to help enhance the film and produce the effects that a bloke in a rubber suit simply couldn't manage to recreate. I always love these sort of features and techno fans will be very happy with this very interesting featurette, especially the section on recreating the flash-back scene to the ancient pyramids and the attacking aliens. Although it has titled sections, again there are no chapters so you can't skip or replay anything of interest. The section is completed with eleven Deleted Scenes. Running for around eight minutes they also have an optional commentary from the director and Lance Henriksen. The images are clean and the special effects are fully rendered, so in what is already a rather short film, why they couldn't have been used as part of a director's cut is beyond me.
The final sections Licensing the Franchise and Marketing are pretty self explanatory with a ten minute featurette on the Dark Horse comic book and expensive miniature models which you're not allowed to play with. Rounding things off is the ten minute HBO Special and the teaser and theatrical trailers. All in all, it's quite a good selection of extras indeed.
Alien Vs. Predator is directed by Paul WS Anderson, the same director behind the rather poor Resident Evil and Event Horizon films. As a result, whilst expectations for these two films were high, the end results were rather disappointing. And to be honest, after the media hype and high expectations from the dedicated fans of both Alien and Predator films, and not forgetting the comic book and computer games which essentially spawned this film, the final result is also a big let down.
However, it's not all bad. The special effects are worthy of note, with excellent animatronics and the good old bloke in the rubber suit getting the nod ahead of the complex and false looking CGI. Sure, there are still plenty of CGI effects, and where used they blend in wonderfully with the more traditional effects. If anything, it actually goes to prove the superb quality of the animatronics.
There are also some nice touches via its references to the Alien films, such as billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland looking remarkably like the future android Bishop. And does the name sound familiar? Well fans should instantly recognise it as it forms part of that future behemoth of a company known as the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. It's a nice touch and it helps give the impression that when Ellen Ripley and the rest of the crew of Nostromo were sent out into space into the first Alien film, the corporation knew what was waiting for them.
Although Twentieth Century Fox made a incomprehensible mint at the box office with Alien Vs. Predator, there is the serious question of those all important sell through sales. And what better way to bolster a flagging film by supplying a mass of extras to keep even the most fussy of fans happy. As a result, if you plan on purchasing this film then you really should be opting for the Extreme edition reviewed here as the second disc really bolters the value stakes. If you do opt for the cheaper single disc version then you'd only be left with a film that is as scary or as involving as The Teletubbies. One thing is for certain, in a blow to fans of the main films, this in no Alien or Predator.
- Commentary by Director Paul WS Anderson, Lance Henriksen & Sanaa Latham
- Commentary by Special Effects Team Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff & John Bruno
- Inside Look Feature: Hide and Seek
- Inside Look Feature: Elektra with Jennifer Garner
- Inside Look Feature: Robots with Chris Wedge
- Conception Featurette
- ADI Workshop
- Storyboard Gallery
- Concept Art
- The Making of Alien vs Predator
- Miniature Whaling Station
- Facehuggers and Eggs
- Trouble at the Mouth of the Tunnel
- Visual Effects Featurette
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
- Alien vs Predator: The Comic Book
- Monsters in Miniature
- HBO Special