Wednesday, February 23, 2005

DVD Review - Alien v's Predator

The uncensored review of AvP as opposed to the sanitised THIS IS one. I'm no MJ, but I get the films for free and I'll give owt a go when I'm bored...

“…putting the franchise to bed.”

Arguably science fiction’s most eagerly anticipated battle is hitting shelves across the UK this month with the release of AVP: Alien vs. Predator. A movie, which takes the two most iconic extra-terrestrial bad-asses ever created, and hurls them against each other in a fight to the death. Bad news for mankind. We’re trapped in the middle so, “whoever wins...we lose”. It's been 8 years since the Aliens last bothered poor Ripley, and 15 since the Predator tried to gut Danny Glover like a fish.

The meat and 2 veg: A sudden rise in heat alerts people monitoring Antarctica that something is buried deep within the ice. The Weyland Corporation, run by CEO Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen), get together a crack international team to investigate what appears to be a giant pyramid structure deep under the surface. This team of explorers, led by hardy outdoors type Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), set out in the hopes of making history. Instead they find themselves in the middle of a war between these two sci-fi legends. Ooops. Turns out that the pyramid is home to the right-of-passage ritual in which teenage Predators are sent to prove their manhood. The enemy is (naturally) the Aliens, primed, psyched up, and ready to slaughter having been recently laid by a captured Queen and gestated in a nice warm Weyland Corporation employee.

Newcastle born writer/director Paul W. S. Anderson is a massive fan of both franchises, so perhaps he overworks them rather than ignores them. Unfortunately the end result shows, what appears to be, a lack of acknowledgement for the films that came before. A Predator in the snow? I thought they only appeared in hot climates. “But we gave them more armour to keep them warm” cries Mr. Anderson. Yes, and changed the Predator costume in the process, alienating the fan-base further. The list of these “errors” is legion and, as the film is made for the fans, should have been better considered and not shelved within the blanket remit of trying to improve on what wasn’t broken. Oh, and where’s the gore? This wasn’t the director's fault, we’re lacking this essential Alien/Predator trademark because of the studios. Aiming for the PG-13 was a mistake for the fans and the rumoured directors cut has yet to surface.

The film has a really nice use of CGI, using guys in suits (in the majority) instead of computerised effects gives it a certain “je ne sais qui”. Mixing this with the obsidian black temple, hiding the classic black Aliens of the first James Cameron film, and some impressive and beautiful Czechoslovakian set building (inspired by Mr. Anderson, who has always been a visual director). To be honest, this movie’s worth the price of admission for the art direction alone, massive caverns and labyrinths woven with a nice of Von Daniken mythos and buckets of cross cultural symbology are pretty damn pleasing on the eye.

There are some nice, if a little condescending, “making of’s” and commentaries on the DVD. The “extended edition” (as it’s called) defiantly ads to the movie, I’d now not consider watching it otherwise, giving us extra opening scenes and scattered goodies throughout.

Basically, AVP is probably a good sci-fi film, but not a good sequel. I liked the extended edit more than I though I was going to and I feel somehow that this has rounded off my sci-fi DVD shelf by finally putting the franchise to bed. Anyway, it was free. I didn’t want to like it as much as I did. Aliens and Predator come with a lot of baggage. Would any film have been truly worthy of the name and the history such a brand affords? In all honesty, perhaps not, but AVP does step up as being brave enough to give it a try and for avoiding being the computer graphics toy advert and “no brainier” that it could have been. In short, buy it if you know nothing about either franchise and need a good sci-fi/adventure romp to fill a miserable rainy evening. Buy it if you’re a completist or a fan (but hide it at the back and don’t admit it to your friends).

Movie: 2.4 out of 5

Extras: 4 ot of 5

Friday, February 11, 2005

DVD Review - Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow

I got asked, at work, to write a review on a freebee DVD. It's incredibly biased, obviously. Why they give a shite what I think I've no idea but, sod it, it's a potential source of free DVD's so here goes -

If you love the spectacle of cinema, you’ll love Skycaptain and the World of Tomorrow”. For 106 minutes I was 7 again; fifth row centre of the ABC cinema and it was Saturday morning. I was a kid again with my nose in cheap Asimov and radio sci-fi, watching Boy’s Own cinema re-runs of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, overexcited by the world of Fritz Lang and Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons.

This is classic pre-war pulp adventure. The film oozes style, as pulses of radio waves emanate from the RKO transmitter to call Sky Captain into the fray and angular cities bristle with searchlights and German expressionist airships. Stunningly colourised Himalayan ice caves and Lost World jungles brush shoulders with cold ocean-bed seascapes. An unpretentious visual treat and yet surprisingly still glorious even on the small screen (all be it essential wide screen fodder).

Okay, so the plot is so shallow you couldn’t exactly drown in it. After New York City falls prey to a barrage of attacks by (wait for it) giant flying robots, ace reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) teams up with two-fisted pilot Captain Joe Sullivan (Jude Law, in his best role of ‘04) to fight the stylishly robotic forces of the ever-mysterious Dr. Totenkopf (Laurence “entirely made of computer graphics and stock footage” Olivier) and they bicker their way across the globe to the Mysterious Island (style) secret base and rocket ship finale. Iconography a go-go. We even get an appearance by an underused Angelina Jolie (as Captain Francesca "Franky" Cook) complete with accent crisper still than her Lara Croft and a character so cool that she gets better toys than Sky Captain himself. All the performers do a cracking job of holding character, an accomplishment itself as the entire film was unashamedly made in front of a blue screen with no physical sets and never denies it.

Surprisingly, Skycaptain also ends strongly. Action and adventure films are so common of structure nowadays that I find I can usually guess the last line and final shot. I just don’t expect directors to break formula any more, and while Skycaptain don’t exactly snap the mould it does offer up a solid ending that gives everyone a good chuckle before brushing the popcorn from our laps. Yes there is cheese, but don’t fear the cheese, embrace the cheese. In the world of ten storey robots and Wizard of Oz villains, the cheese is your friend.

All in all, good family entertainment. Even for the younger kids, who may not get the style and genre cross-references, will love the unashamed seat-of-the-rocket-pants action. Don’t forget to check out the deleted scenes and the gag reel, plus a couple of obligatory audio commentaries and a 2 part making-of featurette.

Skycaptain was a ten-year project by writer and first time director Kerry Conran, now rumoured to be in pre-production on “John Carter of Mars” and appropriately bringing his style to this Edgar Rice Burroughs classic. His original six-minute short, which he used as a promo (to convince Hollywood he could do it) for Skycaptain, is included with the DVD extras.

Movie: 5 out of 5
Extras: 4 out of 5