“I heard that Fox was gonna do Alien vs. Predator, which really depressed me, because I was very proud of the movies. I’ve nothing against building a movie on a video game, but at the time it was, as Jim Cameron said, I think publicly, ‘Why would you want to do that’? It’s like making Alien Meets the Wolfman.”
The above quote comes from actress Sigourney Weaver (who portrayed the heroic Ellen Ripley throughout the Alien franchise) while speaking at London Film and Comic-Con in 2015, but it certainly isn’t the first time Weaver has spoken out against the concept of an Alien vs. Predator film or expressed her disdain for such a possibility. As a passionate and long-time fan of the Alien franchise myself, I have a great deal of respect for Weaver and her knowledge of what’s right for the future of the Alien films, but on this one occasion, I disagree quite strongly with her. While an Alien vs. Predator film might seem, at first glance, to have the packaging of a Godzilla vs. King Kong-style slugfest, the stories and characters created through comics, novels, and video games over the years have proven that the concept is ripe with potential for a cinematic translation that could not only seamlessly merge with the universe of the Alien franchise, but could live up to the quality of the original films themselves.
That’s why it’s time to reboot AvP.
Why we need to wipe the slate clean.
There are those who dislike Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, and Prometheus, but, among most fans of the franchise, AvP and AvP: Requiem are the definitive unwanted and unaccepted members of the Alien family. While the first AvP film, helmed by British director Paul W.S. Anderson of such films as Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil, does feature some interesting concepts (such as the Predators’ maze-like temple that pitted the young hunters against the vicious xenomorphs in tight and terrifying quarters as a cultural rite of passage) and makes an attempt to avoid violating the continuity of the other films in the Alien and Predator franchises (despite the unfortunate choice to set the story on Earth in the year 2004), the final product is a movie that feels neutered by its PG-13 rating, weighed down by its creature-fodder cast, and completely out of sync – in quality and tone – with either franchise in the crossover.
AvP: Requiem made even further missteps by continuing the tale started in AvP. The Predator spacecraft audiences saw leaving Earth at the end of the first film ends up crash landing in small-town America due to some nasty xenomorph shenanigans that the Predators really should have seen coming. Part AvP film, part teen slasher flick, AvP: Requiem gives us another set of unmemorable human characters to be chewed and sliced through, as well as something no one asked for and few wanted: a xenomorph inside a high school, inside a hardware store, and a modern-day maternity ward. Ultimately, AvP: Requiem was the lowest-grossing Alien film in the domestic box office, scored a measly 12% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and effectively put the final nail in the coffin of the AvP film franchise.
Trust the source material.
The most frustrating thing about the underwhelming AvP films is that the the blueprint for how to make a great Alien vs. Predator film was always within their grasp. The cinematic origin of AvP may be the appearance of a xenomorph skull in the extraterrestrial hunter’s trophy case in 1990’s Predator 2, but the Aliens vs. Predator comic series released by Dark Horse Comics in 1989 is the true root of the crossover.
Many high-quality stories have been told under the Aliens vs. Predator banner, but that first five-issue limited series started it all, weaving its story out of threads from each franchise with skill and grace. Written by Randy Stradley and illustrated by artists Chris Warner and Phil Norwood, the idea of combining the mythologies of these two powerhouse franchises was apparently conceived in a brainstorming session between the creators behind the comic (Dark Hose Comics was already publishing both Aliens and Predator comics separately at the time.), and the rest is history.
The original Aliens vs. Predator limited series tells the story of an ill-fated colony on the planet Ryushi. Part of the Chigusa Corporation, the colony’s main purpose on Ryushi is the raising and exporting of the planet’s native, cattle-like livestock known as Rhynths. Unfortunately, Ryushi also turns out to also be a traditional hunting ground for a group of Predators who routinely seed the planet with a controlled number of xenomorphs and hunt them in a rite of passage for young hunters in a similar fashion to Anderson’s AvP film. A handful of mishaps lead to the colony being overrun with a full xenomorph infestation and a leaderless bunch of young Predators going on a rampage, and slaughtering everything in sight, ignoring the traditional restrictions the hunters honor toward unarmed and innocent prey, all in their eagerness to prove themselves through the accruing of trophies and kills. It’s only through the unlikely partnership of a wounded Predator elder, attempting to set things right, and Machiko Noguchi, the tough and resourceful administrator of the colony, that the xenomorph threat on Ryushi is defeated. Having bonded in battle and recognizing the honor and courage present in Noguchi, the dying Predator elder’s final act is to use the xenomorph’s acidic blood to leave the mark of his clan on the human woman’s forehead. When the colony is evacuated after the incident, Noguchi stays behind, the lone inhabitant of the planet. Eventually, the Predators return to hunt again, encountering Noguchi, and, upon inspecting her mark from the Predator elder, allow her to join the hunt and their clan.
The Aliens vs. Predator comic series is, in many ways, the perfect “origin story” for a film franchise based on the same concept. Setting the story in a similar timeframe to the previous Alien films allows for the potential of visiting alien worlds, running into Colonial Marines, and more elements that audiences truly desire to see. The time spent on building the symbiotic “relationship” between the xenomorphs and the Predators is well worth it, showing the respect and knowledge the hunters have of the vicious “bugs” they hunt and how the xenomorph species functions as a vital and important part of the Predator culture.
Furthermore, Machiko Noguchi, the story’s lead character, is a complex and charismatic female lead, hardened and motivated by her father’s dying words to “regain” her family’s honor and determined to follow her rule to “never align yourself with a loser.” While Noguchi may share some traits with the iconic Ellen Ripley, she is clearly her own distinct character and never comes off as a pale clone of the hero of the Alien franchise (a pitfall that some of the other films in the series have not avoided). In addition, the comics that continue her tale as she integrates herself into the Predator tribe and attempts to adapt to their harsh, rigid, and obviously inhuman form of life, offer enormous potential in regards to providing the basis for audiences to follow her story through multiple films that could further explore and expand the world or the Predators, the xenomorphs, and beyond.
Where’s my Aliens vs. Predator cinematic universe?
There world has changed since the release of that first AvP film (and I’m not just referencing the growth in the size and power of corporations in their race to become the monolithic “Company” of the Alien franchise). With Disney’s success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU) and their world-building with the Star Wars franchise, the game has changed and cinematic universes, for the time being, are the wave of the future when it comes to big, blockbuster film franchises. While many have struggled to get their version of Marvel’s model off the ground, the framework of a shared on-screen universe was built into the DNA of the Alien and Predator franchises ever since that first xenomorph skull was revealed in Predator 2. Now, as we approach the release of next month’s Alien: Covenant and Shane Black’s The Predator film in August of 2018, the franchises have never been more primed to take this step into a larger world. If the recent trend of serialized cinematic entertainment is a sign, audiences are more ready now than ever to make the jump from Iron Man vs. Captain America and Batman vs. Superman to the epic clash that could be the much needed reboot of Aliens vs. Predator.
Should Alien: Covenant and The Predator open successfully with audiences, a cinematic adaptation of Dark Horse’s Aliens vs. Predator comic would be the perfect way to re-introduce the concept to audiences as a more mature, more intelligent, and more seamless addition to the Alien and Predator cinematic universe that, frankly, already exists between the films that current exist in both properties. In addition, simply dropping the branding of the concept as AvP, and embracing Dark Horses’ original Aliens vs. Predator title, would probably be enough for moviegoers who are now keyed into differentiating between rebooted properties like Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Speaking of comics book films, 20th Century Fox would be wise to mind the examples set by the MCU (such as trusting the source material without being too slavish in adaptation, working with great directors who have their own voice, and allowing the tone of each film to change with them, employing an individual, or a “story group” a la LucasFilm, to oversee and focus on the continuity, canon, and connections between all the films, etc.), for once this door is swung open by an easily imaginable rebooted Aliens vs. Predator film, the studio could be lucky enough to jumpstart an ongoing sci-fi franchise that could run for years and match the output of something like Marvel’s fourteen-film saga that continues to add multiple pictures every year. Marvel Studios and LucasFilm are also in the business of building legacy films that will continue to be profitable for decades to come, both from the continuing, serialized storylines and in the form of the quality and care taken crafting each movie, and this is not something that can be ignored. While Prometheus may be a film that’s hindered by its flaws, the movie is visually stunning, a great amount of care was taken matching the pre-established world and tone of the original Alien film, and the film does include some standout, memorable moments that will stay with you long after it’s over. None of these things can be said about AvP or AvP: Requiem, which feel sloppy and rushed when compared to the rest of the franchise’s approach to the material. That approach may payoff in the short term, but it’s not something a studio can afford when building a cinematic universe that’s meant to endure for years to come.
While patience is needed in this kind of approach, the payoff could be amazing for both the studio (in the form of profits) and the fanbase (in the form of a multitude of cinematic adventures set in the Alien-verse). While there’s plenty of source material in the pages of Dark Horse’s various Aliens and Predator comic series released over the last few decades to deliver multiple Alien, Predator, and Aliens vs. Predator films, the real treat would be to see the unexpected hits that could arise from the existence of a cinematic universe like this. At a time when we’re getting films based on Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad, is the idea of a military drama focused on the Colonial Marines or a sci-fi corporate espionage thriller set in the heart of Weyland-Yutani really that unbelievable?
Will we ever witness the existence of something like this shining vision of an Alien cinematic universe? Currently, Ridley Scott is rumored to have plans for six more films following Alien: Covenant, and the buzz is also that Scott’s plans for those future films is what killed Neil Blomkamp’s proposed sequel to Aliens, which would have ignored Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection in order to reunite Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn once again as Ripley and Hicks. If Scott’s plans for the Alien franchise include the elimination of any films outside his vision for the series, then the future may be bleak in regards to any stories set in the Alien-verse beyond Scott’s Prometheus-spawned plot line for at least the majority of the next decade. While Scott can be respected for his work on Alien and his contributions to the sci-fi genre (and while the want to maintain the purity of one’s own creative vision can be understood), it’d be an utter shame to miss out on the opportunity of a thriving Alien/Predator cinematic universe that could expand the narrative of the franchises in unprecedented ways, in favor of multiple prequel films that may end up completely unraveling the last bits of mystery surrounding the xenomorphs and their origins.
No matter what the future holds for a cinematic universe for the Alien series, the indisputable fact is that Aliens vs. Predator has not yet been done justice on film and deserves a cinematic representation that matches the quality and elegance of Dark Horse’s original comic series and the previous films in the Alien franchise. Whether you’ve read it or not, do yourself a favor this Alien Day and check out or revisit this pop-culture classic. If you consider yourself an Alien or Predator fan, I promise that you won’t be sorry that you did. The trade paperback might be available at your local comic shop, or you can find it on Amazon. You can also find it available digitally on ComiXology (where all Alien comics are discounted until May 22nd, 2017).