If you take two beloved franchises that originated with gory and terrifying scenes of graphic chest explosion and skinning corpses and decide to enlarge your audience by making a PG-13 crossover with all the horror elements excised and replaced with mediocre action, you’re gearing up to disappoint fans of both series. And Paul W. S. Anderson proved that Resident Evil wasn’t just a fluke when he gave us this poorly-written and more poorly-acted waste of one hundred minutes of my life. Re-watching both Alien and Predator in preparation was an enormous mistake, as it just highlights more clearly that this film is an utter betrayal of two sci-fi classics. Even the unrated version simply adds some C.G.I. gore and a few more scenes that try and fail to better explain the plot.
Discovering an anachronistic pyramid in the Antarctic, industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (a returning Lance Henriksen) rounds up a crack team of mercenaries, archaeologists and Spud from Trainspotting (Ewen Bremner). Admittedly his title of “chemical engineer”, despite never becoming the least bit relevant, does raise a chuckle when you think about his past cinematic experiences with certain “chemicals”. The other important members of the team are the aptly-named protagonist Alexa “Lex” Woods (Sanaa Lathan in a timber-worthy performance), Bishop’s right-hand man Maxwell Stafford (Colin Salmon) and Sebastian De Rosa (Raoul Bova), resident genius, who serves to advance the plot with his vast knowledge of the script. Meanwhile, a ship belonging to the Predators enters Earth’s orbit, firing laser to drill down to the pyramid’s location, a convenient entrance used by the exploration team to avoid having scenes of weeks of tedious drilling. Venturing down, they discover that the building is far more advanced than anything from that time period, and various pieces of machinery spring to life, transporting the eggs from a captive Alien Queen into the sacrificial chamber, where several of the team are infested by Alien facehuggers, who hatch within minutes and mature to adulthood in minutes more. The rest of the team find the Predators’ weapons, and are hotly pursued by three “chosen” Predator warriors, tasked with surviving this temple as some kind of rite of passage. The pyramid begins to transform around them at ten minute intervals, conveniently separating the group into “no-hopers” and “main characters”, and everyone but Lex, Sebastian, and Weyland are soon killed by a rampaging swarm of Aliens or the Predators hunting them. Within five minutes two of the three Predators have been killed by Aliens, for no more apparent reason than that the writer couldn’t think of anything better to do with them. Heading back towards the entrance pursued by the remaining Predator, attempting to recover the weapons the team found earlier, who manages to kill Weyland despite his terminal lung cancer, after his ill-advised attempt to attack it from behind with a makeshift flamethrower. But even our surviving Predator isn’t competent enough to avoid being infested by a facehugger when he momentarily removes his mask.
Escaping the pursuing monsters for a time, Lex and Sebastian find the entire history of the lost civilisation set out in hieroglyphs on the wall of a chamber. They read of how the Predators taught the earthlings about certain advanced technologies, and in return were worshipped as gods, with humans acting as hosts to breed Aliens for the Predators to hunt. Rather oddly, this account also includes the reason that this civilisation vanished, as if the Predators were overwhelmed they would activate a huge bomb to kill every living thing within miles. Quite who survived this to chisel the story into the wall is never specified. Apparently the heat bloom picked up by Weyland’s satellite was to lure humans to act as hosts, though this seems to be an enormous stroke of luck on the part of the Predators – otherwise they would only be fighting tiny facehuggers. Sebastian is soon picked off by an Alien, and Lex comes face to face with the Predator, returning his weapon in an attempt to make peace. An Alien attack leads to Lex killing one of the creatures by sheer chance, though this is enough to gain the respect of the Predator, who fashions her a spear from the tail of an Alien, and a shield from the head. In the lowest chamber the Aliens use the Queen’s own acidic blood to break the chains, freeing her only to presumably be killed as Lex and the Predator escape the underground chasm having left one of the Predator’s bombs behind. Somehow the Queen does survive, and attacks the surviving pair on the surface, impaling the Predator right through the chest, and trapping Lex underneath a water tower. Lex and the Predator manage to attach the remaining chains to the tower and push it over a cliff, plunging the Queen into the icy deep below. The Predator dies from his wounds, and a huge space-ship rematerialises, showing a huge number of Predators who decided that and Alien Queen escaping from their temple didn’t merit their involvement. Alexa is left with a retractable spear and no jacket in the wastes of Antarctica, though luckily the temperature only merits a “mildly chilly” on the Lex-o-meter. Our final shot is of the Predator’s body aboard the ship, with the Alien embryo bursting from his chest, bearing characteristics of both Aliens and Predators, and setting up the obvious (and equally disappointing) sequel.
The ineptitude of this production is incredible, as it manages to mangle the facts of both franchises and commits simple research failures simultaneously. The Predators’ sense of sportsmanship wavers greatly, so on one occasion they are happy to murder an unarmed man and on another Lex can attack one with an ice-pick with no consequences. The Predators weapons are either badly written or spectacularly unfair, since at least one of the Predator has weapons that are completely melted by the Alien’s acidic blood, while the last surviving warrior’s weapons are utterly unaffected by it. But the Predators get off lightly when it comes to errors, as the Aliens are so badly handled that its an affront to the entire mythos. We have Alien embryos maturing to adulthood in mere minutes (we know thanks to the handy ten minute shifting of the pyramid), when it has been established clearly that the gestation period is at least 24 hours, and it takes about another few hours at least for the creature to mature to full size. The incredible trailer image (indeed, the image that the film was sold on) featured thousands of Aliens attacking three Predators, though quite how the Predators found thousands of victims without wiping out the worshipping population is unclear – after all, one body can only host one Alien. Outside of ruining the canon, this film incorrectly claims that the Aztecs had a metric calender, that the Mayan “Long Count” was a feature of this same Aztec calender, and that summertime in Antarctica would be as dark as night despite perpetual sunlight from around October (when the film takes place) to February.
As a piece of cinema, this film never rises above “pedestrian” and frequently sinks below “wretched”. It seems to be stuck between an ensemble cast and focussing on a few characters, which means we have a large number of “red-shirts” who are never named on-screen and exist only as fodder for the alien monsters. Both Alien and Predator made the effort to flesh out even the minor characters, which is an essential part of any horror film – if we don’t have any connection to the characters, why should we care when they are killed? Outside of the Lex and Sebastian, the most well-developed character is Ewen Bremner’s Graeme Miller, and the entirety of our knowledge about him is that he has two sons, and therefore we are expected to feel extra sad when he is inevitably killed. The only good performance we are given is Lance Henriksen, who avoids the usual trope of being an obsessive and money-hungry corporate dictator with some scenes of genuine humanity. Everyone else is either competent, boring or just incredibly wooden, exacerbating the problem that the bit players have absolutely no personality. While the film can be credited for some good practical effects, so many of these effects are shrouded in half-light that they’re hard to make out. Especially impressive is the animatronic Alien Queen, which was actually a 4.8 metre version, a 1.2 metre version and a C.G.I. version., as well as an Alien puppet created to be more realistic than a man in a costume. But these effects are not enough to save this film, and at least one of the miniature shots (of the pyramid) is so badly made that the “enormous” pyramid looks about four storeys tall.
This film was at least 14 years in the making, ever since an Alien skull appeared in the Predator’s ship at the finale of Predator 2, with comic books and games galore. Realising a concept this hotly anticipated was never going to be easy, but writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson proves that he can go above and beyond the call of disappointment. Admittedly this is not the only weak addition to the Alien-Predator series, but it takes a special level of idiocy to manage to ruin a crossover between these two creatures. Given the largely non-sentient status of the Aliens, there wasn’t even the usual backlash from fans to deal with, where a crossover must strive not to give an advantage to one side or a clear winner. Alas, the finished product feels unnecessary, devoid of the spirit of its predecessors, and reeks of an attempt to cash in rather than make a memorable product. A disappointment to fanatics and laity alike.