Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on August 13, 2004, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when I go to a movie called Alien vs. Predator (or AVP, as these brand-name-fixated days have dictated), I wanna see Aliens vs. Predators. I wanna see the extraterrestrial enemies have at each other in scene after scene, with a constantly escalating level of intensity, the more sophisticated Predators strategizing against their animalistic foes and a real sense of the stakes involved. What Paul W.S. Anderson has written and directed (and which Fox has released without benefit of press previews), amazingly, skimps on its own selling point. There are perhaps 10 minutes of Alien-vs.-Predator action in the 88 minutes of actual movie (plus a little over 12 minutes of end credits), and while several pretty cool moments are contained therein, the question becomes: Given today’s ticket prices, will fans feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth paying about a dollar a minute to see this stuff?

Anderson’s approach of holding off on revealing the creatures to build mystery until about the halfway point would be laudable under other circumstances, but it’s hard to imagine anyone attending this movie without having seen at least a couple of its predecessors. His challenge was to show us something surprising or new about these monsters, and his best invention is the ancient pyramid, buried beneath the Antarctic ice and visited by a scientific team, where the action takes place. Designed as a proving ground for young Predators, it contains constantly shifting walls and passageways, and a captive Alien Queen that is revived from cryostasis to lay eggs which will hatch new xenomorphs for the warriors to battle, delivered by conveyor system into a spawning chamber to which human hosts are lured every 100 years.

The mechanics of the pyramid are, in fact, more interesting than the mechanics of the plot. After a couple of elaborate opening scenes that are designed to introduce the lead characters but mostly give the impression of being unnecessarily expensive, the investigating team is gathered together by scientific industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen). Weyland’s organization, as those familiar with the Alien mythology can recognize, will go on to become the infamous Company determined to capture an Alien no matter what the human cost, and the man himself will be the model for the Bishop android played by Henriksen in the second and third entries. Yet there are no hints of any of this in Anderson’s story, and Henriksen is criminally underused—given a couple of monologues about his ambition, then resigned to wheezing (Weyland is dying, which should build more compassion for his character than it does) before he’s dispatched way too early.

The other principals don’t do much to compensate. Sanaa Lathan’s expert climber Lex is supposed to fill in the Sigourney Weaver category, but the role as written is so colorless that she engenders little of that rooting interest. Archaeologist Sebastian (Raoul Bova) is mostly on hand to translate hieroglyphics found inside the pyramid and thus provide the necessary exposition. The rest of the crew are barely defined and pretty unexciting—this ensemble desperately needs a shot of the juice provided by Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein in Aliens—and their inevitable deaths are handled in such a rushed, offhanded manner that by the time there are only two survivors left, you’ve hardly noticed the rest of the group have died. Up until then, they’re left to skulk around dimly lit (and murkily photographed) corridors with big flashlights, getting leaped on by facehuggers and adhered to walls or pierced by Predator lances.

Sigh. Been there, seen that. The only excitement comes with the confrontations between the creatures themselves, and those scenes, it must be said, are pretty well-done. Anderson knows how to sell these moments, giving the audience a rush as the monsters claw and slash and Predator steel meets Alien acid blood. Best of all is a flashback in which thousands of Aliens swarm the pyramid as the Predators fight them off, a sequence boasting an epic imagination and energy the rest of the movie sorely needs. The fact that, by default, the Predators are the good guys in this battle leads to a moderately interesting plot turn in the final act, but the climactic action, while well-staged, is essentially a rehash of the finale of Aliens without half the fire.

Much has been made of the fact that this merging of two previously R-rated franchises is rated PG-13, but watching the film, it’s not explicit gore that’s missed; the violence doesn’t seem noticeably watered down, and plenty of Predator and Alien blood is spilled. What’s lacking is a sense of taking these film series a new step further, into heretofore unexplored territory. The bottom line is that there’s little here that Alien and Predator fans haven’t already seen (there’s also an early setpiece that’s far too reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing), and the humans do almost nothing to command interest when the extraterrestrials are offscreen. Alien vs. Predator should have been the be-all and end-all merging of the franchises, but winds up feeling like the coming attractions for the real movie yet to be made.

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