Early high definition home video adopters have been waiting on pins and needles in anticipation of H.R. Giger’s Alien design to make its first appearance on Blu-ray Disc, preferably in either Ridley Scott’s Alien or James Cameron’s Aliens. Rather than turn back the clock for the sake of nostalgia and frankly superior cinema, Fox opted instead to bring the latest Alien entry, Alien vs. Predator, to Blu-ray first on a BD-50 disc including both the theatrical and unrated versions.
The co-existence of these two characters has already been established by a brief appearance of an Alien skull aboard a Predator ship in Predator 2 and in numerous comics dating back decades which, ironically, is roughly how long this film bounced around in development hell. It makes sense that Predators, a species whom hunt for sport, would be interested in tracking Aliens, considered the most deadly creatures alive. These two species sparring on distant worlds devoid of humans would have been a courageous treatment and filmmaking challenge. Following the formula of previous films, Paul W.S. Anderson and his cohorts tossed originality by the wayside and fitted a story around a band of stereotyped humans fighting for their lives within confined spaces.
A redundant problem with most modern monster-on-monster movies, especially those with lofty budgets requiring mass release, is the human story often overshadows the title characters. In Alien vs. Predator, half the film crawls by before an Alien and Predator rumble, sharing a whopping five total minutes of screen time together. Those humans are comprised of mostly no-name actors save for Lance Henriksen in yet another precursor nod to the Aliens Bishop character. Any human story interest is washed down the drain in the opening scenes when the human lead is presented as a rip-off of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character minus heart, soul and charisma. It’s hard to care about any of the humans, especially as each of them meets their ultimate clichéd demise.
I had hoped Anderson could return to his Event Horizon vision and deliver a B-movie concept in an A-movie package. Like several of his latter efforts, in Alien vs. Predator he has relied on cribbing heavily from other genre films in lieu of exploring new ideas and territory. The result is a fun mindless ride at times, even more-so in the unrated director’s cut that includes some extra gore, but in no way even approaches the novelty of its predecessors.
Bringing Alien vs Predator to Blu-ray isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as most transfers due to the large amount of dark and hazy sets. The majority of scenes take place either at night in a snowy camp or beneath ground in a dimly lit ancient Predator training temple. Roughly 95% of the MPEG-2 transfer is able to handle the darkness nearly flawlessly without compromising sharpness or detail. In other instances the light becomes the transfer’s worst enemy, most notably as the exploration team first lays eyes on the temple. In these scenes grain is offensively pronounced. Similar drops in clarity occur within the temple but on a much smaller scale.
The Alien vs. Predator DVD sported a thunderous DTS 5.1 audio track which unsurprisingly is taken to another level of appreciation with DTS HD Master Lossless audio. We may not care about human characters dropping like flies, but their demise sure sounds good when the Grim Reaper comes calling. Surrounds and .LFE are pronounced and used often through the score, ambient noises and combat/hunt scenes. Also included for the first time on a Fox Blu-ray title is a track for D-Box Motion Control Systems, which I am unable to take for what promises to be a theme park-ish bumpy ride.
Apparently the inclusion of lossless audio, D-Box support (who actually can take advantage of this?) and seamless branching of the unrated cut left little room for additional material, even on a BD-50 disc. While I support an upfront menu prompt to select between the theatrical and unrated versions and am notified during the unrated version what scenes have been added back in, I question why a series of 480i deleted scenes and a making-of documentary found on the DVD version could not be fit onto the supposedly massive storage capacity of a BD-50 disc.
What are offered is a pair of Audio Commentaries, one with director/writer Paul W.S. Anderson and actors Lance Henrickson and Sanaa Lathan, and a second with visual effects supervisor Alec Gillis and creature effects designers Tom Woodruff Jr. and John Bruno. The cast/director commentary takes a light approach with an infusion of commentary to break up the dryness of film talk. The crew commentary, while far more informative, is hampered by long dry spells. Also included is a standard Pop-up Trivia Track that is exclusive to this Blu-ray release.
The upcoming Alien vs. Predator sequel no doubt had some influence in Fox choosing to debut H.R. Giger’s Alien on Blu-ray with one of the weaker entries in the series, but certainly not the weakest (Alien 3, anyone?) If Fox still has kinks to work out or simply needs more time in order to produce a BD-50 title that holds both a definitive version of the film and a myriad of extra features, I’m glad Alien vs. Predator was the guinea pig.
– Dan Bradley