Sunday, March 4, 2012
Prometheus Versus Alien Vs. Predator (AVP)
Last week, 20th Century Fox's promotional campaign for the upcoming release of the Alien prequel Prometheus moved into the area of viral marketing. Fox launched the Weyland Industries site, which features a video clip of its fictitious founder Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce) providing a TED Talk in the year 2023. I included the video in the window below.
Alien fans will notice nods in Weyland's speech to a few entries in the franchise--particularly Alien and Aliens, with brief mentions of androids and terraforming. Weyland also recites the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus, the namesake of this movie. From what I've pieced together from other sites that have covered this video, Weyland's TED Talk predates the events in Prometheus by 50 years, although Pearce will appear in the prequel as well. Whether he will play Peter Weyland's grandson, Peter Weyland himself in flashbacks, or something else entirely remains to be seen.
Regardless of exactly where and how this clip fits with Prometheus, it supports a theory that I've had since I first read the plot summary of the movie a few months ago. Between the idea of ancient astronauts and the involvement of one of the key founders of what will ultimately become the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, I think that Prometheus will be Ridley Scott's rebuttal of Alien Vs. Predator (AVP), which was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Read on for more thoughts as to why the new entry in the Alien franchise might remove one of the more recent Alien movies from series' continuity.
According to the early plot summaries of Prometheus, a team of space explorers (presumably supported by Weyland Industries) travel to a distant planet to better understand the origins of human life on Earth. As early teaser footage shows (see below), the explorers encounter a race of ancient astronauts whose space craft bear a strong similarity to the derelict craft that was seen in Alien. It is assumed that these same beings are also the creators of the acid-bleeding, bio-mechanical parasites seen throughout the Alien franchise, and that these origins will be explained in greater detail in Prometheus.
2004's AVP had a similar premise. That film also featured a team of explorers who were supported by Weyland Industries as they went on an expedition involving ancient astronauts, except that the explorers never left Earth and the ancient astronauts were the titular monsters from the Predator franchise. In AVP, the founder of Weyland Industries was identified as Charles Bishop Weyland; Weyland accompanies the explorers on their expedition, and he was played by Alien franchise vet Lance Henriksen as a nod to the characters he played in Aliens and Alien 3.
I was a fan of the Alien and Predator crossover idea since Dark Horse Comics started it in 1989, and it later expanded into video games, toys and novels. Having two sets of monsters tearing each other apart with humans stuck in the middle presented a narrative dynamic that was different than most other monster tales, where it's just humans fighting against one monster or one kind of monster. The most entertaining Alien/Predator crossovers were the ones that kept it simple, with the conflict between the two creatures taking center stage and only vague references are made (if any) to the characters and events from the stand-alone franchises. That's why Dark Horse's first Aliens vs. Predator miniseries worked so well: It took place on a space colony where the Predators showed up for a ritual hunt with a few Alien eggs in tow, and the narrative simply flowed from that premise. Nothing happened in the miniseries that would call into question the characters and events in the Alien or Predator movies.
Given how he has gone on record before stating his admiration of Alien franchise directors Scott and James Cameron, I can see why Anderson would jump at the chance to make his mark on the Alien franchise by setting up AVP as the story that would link it to the Predator franchise--namely, to have it as a sequel to the Predator movies and a prequel to the Alien movies. Unfortunately, his attempt at doing this fell flat for a number of reasons. First, his story felt contrived and uninspired, most likely due to the fact that it was a retread of his own 2002 Resident Evil movie. All Anderson did was replace the underground Umbrella Corporation research lab with an underground pyramid in the Antarctic, replace the zombies with Aliens and Predators, and replace the Licker monster with the Alien Queen for the final confrontation, and Resident Evil becomes AVP. (It should also be noted that Anderson did quite a bit of franchise tinkering in his Resident Evil movie, which featured many characters and plot threads that never appeared in the video games of the same name.) Even the inclusion of Charles Bishop Weyland seemed lackluster, since the reasoning behind his character's direct participation in the expedition doesn't make much sense outside of using an appearance by Henriksen as a way to further appeal to Alien fans.
Another problem with AVP was its attempt at giving the Predators an "ancient astronaut" back story. Anderson said he got this idea from Predator 2, particularly how the inside of the Predator ship in that movie looked similar to the architecture of Mesoamerica. Yet it made no sense to have space creatures who like to hunt people for sport and then skin and/or decapitate them for trophies as being the same space creatures who taught the ancient Egyptians, Mayans and Cambodians. If anything, this plot device only serves to explain why the movie takes place on Earth in the Antarctic; it doesn't add anything interesting to the Predator mythos, so it's no surprise that it's never mentioned again in subsequent Predator stories and Alien/Predator crossovers.
That said, I actually enjoy AVP and its 2007 sequel Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem. Both films have great special effects and intense action sequences, and I find them to be much more entertaining than many other franchise and genre mash-ups (such as Cowboys and Aliens). Yet Anderson is not as creative and talented Scott, and I think that Prometheus will greatly exceed AVP in terms of telling an epic story about the beginnings of the Alien universe. Then again, if Anderson's decision to write AVP as a prequel to Alien was what prompted Scott to return to the Alien franchise to tell his own origin story, who am I to complain?