Monday, December 31, 2007

ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (vs.) I AM LEGEND











ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM
I thankfully missed the first one when it balled theatres, and when I eventually did get around to seeing the thing it was like being whipped raw with a Nintendo controller; something you love most dearly being used to cause severe pain against your person. I was at work a few months ago when someone barked out: "Holy shit, have you guys seen the preview for the new Alien Versus Predator?" to which he was harrangued with a hurricane chorus of boos and fuck thats. He pressed, and we eventually caved and summoned Youtube and to the entire test team's mutual surprise it looked pretty good. It was basically 2 minutes of people dying, and it seemed that they finally figured out that the humanity's struggle in the midst of the opposing alien forces was not interesting in the least, and that humans should pretty much just get murdered for 90 minutes. Make the fans happy. Well, they didn't quite get there, but it was a hell of a lot closer than the first movie...


















I AM LEGEND

When I heard that Richard Matheson's short story was being chopped, blended, and vomited into a movie spiced with a big budget, my immediate reaction was absolute euphoria. I'll save the details for later, but simply put I Am Legend is hands down the best vampire story ever committed to paper. It doesn't have the legacy of the uber vampire champions like Nosferatu and Dracula, but at face value it is brutal and chilling, and the concept it presents at the story's conclusion is completely original to the genre. Fucking read it, you will hail me with praise. When I found out that none other than the Fresh Prince, Will Smith, would be cast as Robert Neville, my skepticism swelled but I held fast and waited patiently beneath the information spout, my mouth open, ready to digest whatever bullshit they were about to pour out. "Welcome 'uh' urf, bitch!" True anger seeped freely once I found out it was not going be a vampire movie, but that the enemies were actually going to be rabid, infected, plague victims that turn into angry, screeching, soccer hooligans. I unleashed angry jerk and condemned the movie to Hollywood self stimulation. I actually had every intention of boycotting the movie all together, until Maria said "I feel like watching I am Legend" and I said ".....Ok." So, while they pretty much swatted away potential perfection by ignoring everything that made the book a monumental chapter in vampire lore, the movie was actually pretty painless. Actually, it was awesome...

BODY COUNT:
  • AVP wastes no time whatsoever in stacking the body count highly in it's favor, farting out a paper thin plot of a crashed Predator ship that happened to be experimenting on aliens and face huggers, creating an alien/predator hybrid thing and then unleashing them on earth to the collective shagrin of mankind. Predator arrives to investigate his comrade's distress call, sees that the aliens are loose and eating whinos in the sewer, and therefore with some mysterious sense of cosmic justice decides that they need to be hunted and killed. We are not privy to why this predator feels the need to throw man-kind a bone, and it's pretty inconsistent for his character considering Predator and Predator 2 were both spent annihilating the human race for sport. I mean, dude is called Predator, not Gracious Savior. But his actual 'saving grace' is that in his efforts to knock out the invading aliens, he invariably destroys any people that get in his way like shooing flies. The aliens maintain quality kill numbers by doing their thing and pretty much eating and/or impregnating every person they come across. Combine this with the fact that Predator is also killing aliens in addition to people, and the body count is enough that just about every scene involves events that include or lead up to the death of something. The amount of on screen deaths definitely earned AVP honors and helped keep the shit fest of actors squashed into the back of your mind while relishing their merciless doom. Extra points for killing little kids, infants, and pregnant women, and they almost went over the top with an "everybody dies" ending, but they allowed a mother and daughter to escape last minute and so lost that particular medal, but more details on that later. (WINNER for blowing up the entire city!)
  • The actual body count in I Am Legend is hard to ascertain. The drive for the entire story is that the whole world is dead, so technically that's a pretty astronomical kill count, but all it is is a technicality and I prefer to judge a film's body count by the number of tangible deaths on screen. Implied kills will not suffice, they must be presented to the viewer so that we may rejoice. Following this guideline, IAL falls drastically behind AVP in the body count. Neville relies mainly on firearms as defense and most kill scenes involve one or two infected creatures that go down in a flash of quick editing and shakey cam. (Can we be done with shakey cam soon? Please?) The death rate rises towards the end of the film when Robert Neville has a brief road rage scene, offing a good amount of infect-oids with his SUV, and then again bumps when they invade his house and he sets off an arsenal of explosives to keep them out, but the slower pacing and actual suspense never really lets the movie come close to the carnage depicted in AVP.

CREATIVE DEATH SCENES:
  • Of course AVP is the obvious winner here, being that Predator is essentially an ornary intergalactic James Bond combining forces with the indifferent slaughter stylings of the rare-to-disappoint aliens. There is a wealthy color pallet with which to paint the pain picture in this film, from bionic shoulder lazers and crazy blades of all kinds, to acid blood and thrusting mouth-mouths. Predator excelled in kills, tearing the aliens into fillets and rampaging all over the humans. I gladly place the golden kill crown 'pon his dreds and drink to his continued savagery. Notable kills are the double lazer blast with which he simultaneously vaporizes two heads at once in a fountainous splash of wet brain, and the moment in which (to my delicious surprise) he dispaches the promiscuous blonde love interest (I expected her to survive! Eeeee! Delight!) with his boomerang-blade-ninja star thing, catching her mid run and pegging her into the wall. No slumps themselves, the aliens had a few shining moments to their credit, mostly involving the acid blood. One of the first kills in the movie shows a man lose his arm at the elbow to acid blood, and we are also treated to a visually thirst quenching close up of a douche bag teenager's face getting melted to the skull by spilled alien gore. Predator-Alien hybrid rages in an all new way, reproducing not through goopy eggs and facehuggers but via vomiting eggs down pregnant women's throats so that the baby aliens can eat her infant in the womb and then skuttle out of her swollen belly. Yeah that's right, pregnant women hosting multiple litters of chest bursting babies. AVP makes gore history with a sweeping shot of the maternity ward featuring dead mothers in all the beds, their pregnant stomachs torn open with volley ball sized holes. W00T! Chest bursting is not reserved for the preggers either, and amongst many others a 10 year old kid goes down in the first ten minutes of the movie with a baby alien exiting his stomach before he even grew pubes. AVP gets big points for trodding into the taboo territory of little kids, infants, and pregnant women. All they needed was to off a few down syndrome inflicted individuals and they pretty much would have trampled over the trifecto of most offensive demographics available in America. While AVP was the winner by a long shot here, some of the normal alien kills were a bit "stock", with the slow creep of the drooling alien, lips twitching, just to mouth-mouth into someone's face. I don't think we need anymore of that, or the leg-grab-pull-through-the-floor maneuver, and considering their capabilities there could have been much more creativity in each alien moment. (WINNER for face melt and pregnant chest bursts!)
  • In the interest of realism, most of IAL's deaths are not very over the top or "creative". Neville primarily uses firearms to drop the infected dogs and/or people, and since most deaths take place during frantic action sequences they are quick shots of the enemies going down while Neville is running or driving or yelling or something. During the road rage scene there are a few good shots of infected dudes getting slammed and tossed by the car, and a notable scene where he pins one against a lamp post. The best death occurs when the audience finds out that the infected things die in sunlight, when one leaps at Neville and goes out the window only to writhe and sizzle on the pavement. But really, there aren't any "shout an expletive out loud" quality deaths in IAL, but surprisingly it doesn't really detract anything from the film experience.

TRUTH TO SOURCE MATERIAL:
  • AVP wins almost too hard, if not by default, in the source material contest. It is pretty much text book alien and predator scenery, homage after homage, whorring itself to the genre fans in a fit of "remember this?"s. Aliens are seen crawling on ceilings, emerging from shadows, drooling right up next to scared women, all the familiar shit that we remember from the other 5 movies. Other than adding a few new gadgets to his arsenal, Predator does all the same moves we know him for as well, including the "turn invisible and flash your eyes before you impale someone" move, the "slow ascension from the water as the invisibility shorts out", "skin the dude and hang him from the branch", the "heal your injured leg in a tree with neon blue acid and then yell real loud because it hurts" scene, and of course the "slowly remove your face mask before the final fist fight against the alien boss". They even tossed in the "What the hell are you?" line into the script, although thank Zeus it's not actually predator who says it. I like my intergalactic sport hunters silent and sans catch phrases, thanks. As I left the theatre, I almost felt a little cheated because looking back on the movie it just seemed like their answer to the wash of anguish the first AVP caused was just to reshoot the classic moments of both films frame for frame in a new medium and tie it together with a sub par plot and call it good. (WINNER for unabashed regurgitation of the classic moments from both series.)
  • IAL strayed long and far from the original story written by Richard Matheson. Essentially, the only thing that remained intact was the concept of the last man on earth sharing the world with monsters. In the book Robert Neville is an alcoholic ex family man living in a non-descript residential suburb who spends his nights drinking out of pure fear as vampires try to break into his house and eat him. The females try to tempt him out by making sex noises because they know he's alone and sans lady, his neighbor he used to be friends with harrasses him endlessly trying to incite anger and get him outside, and he can hear them crawling all around the house while he drinks himself into a stupor. During the day he hunts them out of their hovels and kills them while they sleep, hoping that if he can kill them all then he'll finally be able to rest. The book follows very traditional vampire rules: they won't go near garlic, he kills them with wooden stakes and by dragging them into the sun, they are sentient, etc. The film doesn't incorporate any of this. Neville is a military bio chemist, he lives in New York, he is haunted by scores of savage humans infected by a virus he helped spread, and his source of anguish comes from trying to find a cure during the day and not getting eaten at night. I'm really sick of the "virus that turns people rabid and angry" plots that have been circulating since 28 Days Later, and it seemed a huge cop out when the original story worked so well with just vampires. They're vampires! No need to invent a scientific explanation, to create a plausible theory. Vampires are so engrained in horror culture they don't need plausibility, the audience will accept it and it saves the writer the challenge of making it really real. They suck blood, make new vampires, and eventually they'll run out of people: I am Legend the book! For me, the biggest bummer in this area was the implication of the movie's title. The words "I am legend" are essential to the book in a very clever way, and as it is the core plot twist in the final moments of the story. I won't spoil it here, because it's so good it's worth not spoiling on the off chance someone checks it out after reading this rant (God bless you, you tolerant tolerant soul). In the movie, all it means is that Robert Neville's blood is the cure for the virus, which he doesn't discover until his final moments. So he dies, but his blood contains the anti-body that cures the virus and allows humanity to start over. Yeah, I spoiled it, because when it unveils at the end of the movie, it's what you've been thinking for the last hour.

SPECIAL EFFECTS:
  • "Not bad, but not great." is what I would say for AVP's special effects. I love that they stayed pretty far away from relying on digital effects for that movie. The costumes in both the Alien and Predator series were pretty groundbreaking and believable for their time. They stay true to it and use digital effects as enhancement rather than a crutch. No complaints here. Party on.
  • While IAL uses digital effects pretty heavily, they are pretty good and do some amazing things for the ambience of the film. As stated throughout, my skepticism for this movie was at the boiling point and I expected to be pawing to the arcade after 25 minutes. However, from the first open shot of Manhattan as a desolate, uninhabited wasteland, I was grateful that I got to the theatre to see it on a big screen. The digital rendition of the infected humans worked pretty well in low lighting scenes, but closeups and brighter scenes betrayed obvious digital effects and pulled me out of the moment. It's not hard to take a good physical actor and paint some rotting skin and scabby mouth sores on them for a realistic antagonist, and I wish they had gone that route as opposed to the digital paint job. Regardless, the overgrown tundra of Manhattan totally won me over. (WINNER for an entirely believable "forgotten" Times Square.)

ACTUAL QUALITY / "WATCH IT AGAIN" POTENTIAL:
  • Sadly, AVP's entertainment value comes to a sharp stop beyond the visceral carnage and I found myself bored beyond measure at the parts when someone wasn't dying. I was hoping that the story would involve just aliens and predator with humans getting caught up like sheep grazing at a shooting range, but unfortunately a sad, pathetic human story got wound into the mix and left me gagging for blood. The typical Hollywood love story is present, featuring underdog skinny dude, fawning after hot blonde with low cut v necks, thwarted by her overprotective jerk boyfriend. They also spin in an ex-military mom just back from Iraq, reunited with her family, only to have her husband mash faces with an alien, prompting her to kick ass, drive armored vehicles and fly helicopters to save the day. LAME. This is never, ever, what horror fans want to see, EVER, but for some reason it plagues pretty much every film that comes from a major studio. If you can't afford good actors or screenwriters, don't rely on them! Drop the "story", and show us some brutal shit! It's what we paid for, so deliver. I don't think I'll make any effort to see this movie again, but I would allow it as background noise while writing, playing DS, shitting, or playing triumphant riffs on my Fender. As long as I have something to do when Predator is not on screen or an alien is not eating it's way out of a pregnant stomach, then we're cool. It was good, a marked improvement on the last one, but the Hollywood formula hobbles the momentum and will keep it well out of my DVD collection. While the deaths and gore were great, it was all very rehash and could've used some more inspiration.
  • Maybe it was because I expected to hate it, but IAL pretty much blew me away. Will Smith was a big part of the formula, as he left his "witty bad ass" character from Bad Boys and Independance Day that I was so loathe to watch destroy my favorite vampire story at the door, and really pulled the thing off. His relationship with his dog is downright emotional, and he is extremely believable as a guilt racked dude completely alone in the husk of the biggest city in America. He is not a hero, he is flawed, he fucks up, he gets hurt, and he gets really scared. It wasn't the story I wanted, but it stands alone as a good movie thematically based on the book and the scenery and ambience are tense and compelling. I wish they had incorporated the same message that the title "I am legend" implies at the end of Matheson's book, but at the same time the further they went from it the more sacred and intact it remained in my eyes. It's hard for me to say they ruined it in the movie, when thhey barely even touched it in the first place. I just wished they would've picked a different title for the movie, but if I was involved in production I would probably use it anyways. It's a fucking great title. All said and done, the movie was great and I would absolutely watch it again. (WINNER for making that hurty lump in my throat when the dog dies.)

WINNER:
The winner is I am Legend. If you can stomach some sub par digital closeups on the bad guys, then I recommend it highly over AVP. AVP is a rental. Buy I am Legend the book and read it between the bloody parts. I'm betting your TV will be on mute after 10 minutes.

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