It began as an in-joke. Stan Winston enjoyed much success as a creator of monsters, having brought to life the titular antagonists in the stunning #Aliens and #Predator. While shooting #Predator2, his crew thought it would be a nice little gag if they put the skull of one of the creatures from #Alien on the Predator's trophy case in reference to a recent crossover comic. Little did they know that piece of set dressing would legitimize the comic's premise, and start a war that still rages twenty-six years later.
For those who don't know, Alien tells of a future where mankind runs afoul a creature that gestates inside humans and reproduces itself in great numbers, threatening to drive us to extinction should they ever reach Earth. Predator tells of a race of intergalactic hunters seeking quarry to test their skills, and find it on Earth in the form of man. Both proved to be unexpected hits, revitalizing the monster movie in ways no one could have foreseen. For the two to square off eventually seemed like a match made in heaven. Though many many regard the crossover as a failed experiment, it was for a time as big a titan as the two great stories that spawned it.
The War Begins
The eventual pairing of Alien and Predator was something of an inevitability. Both series had the stamp of monster master Stan Winston, both were distributed by #20thCenturyFox so there were no issues with rights, and both achieved high esteem among fans of science fiction and horror. By the end of the 1980s the pair had become the unquestioned champions of the monster movie, much like other icons from forty years past.
Films like Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man helped lay the ground work for what the Alien and Predator crossover would eventually become. In the 40s and 50s, #Universal created a series of highly successful gothic horror films featuring characters like #Frankenstein's monster, #theWolfMan, #theMummy, the Gill Man, and many more. Given they were all under one banner, this allowed these rising horrors to mingle freely in many films. 20th Century Fox found themselves in a similar situation in helming both Alien and Predator. They had the keys to the gate. It was just a matter of whether or not they should open it.
They started with a peak.
The waters were tested first by #DarkHorseComics when they released a crossover between the two that ran from November of 1989 to February of 1990. It told the story of a space colony caught in the middle of a bitter conflict between the Aliens and Predators. The four month series proved to be a cult favorite, and has since been reissued numerous times and was subject to novelization and figure merchandizing. Still, the comic may well have come and gone, becoming nothing more than a curiosity among fans. There had to be something more than a comic in order to see if this idea really had any water. It was time to move from comic books to video games.
The first game in the crossover series was released in 1993, and told of a Predator ship going to a space colony to hunt humans, only to find a deadlier game is waiting for them. In the game, the character took control of a Predator and fought hoards of Aliens. This was what the first few installments in the series would be, a Predator taking on a more heroic role to fight the more villainous Alien. Carrying over this theme from the comics, multiple games were created using this formula. Then something happened that shook the series up.
The 1994 game for the #AtariJaguar at first glance appeared to be a retread of the previous game, though with updated graphics. But those who picked up the controller found a very different game waiting for them. Rather than just control a human or even a Predator, this new game had a third story where you could play as the Alien.
Now the player could not only take control of the Predator and its exciting gadgetry, but also be a creature with an entire body that could be considered a lethal weapon. This mechanic effectively gave the player three games for the price of one, each with their own unique plots, perspectives, and gameplay. For that reason, the Jaguar game was a bigger hit than previous entries.
Many felt another sequel was warranted, but progress was slow. Though the comics continued to sell well, the game series unexpectedly vanished for five years, leaving many to call the crossover's future into question. This was a time before the internet, when for any news on any game you had to wait for an advert in a newspaper or a magazine. By 1999, the idea of another game in the series seemed doubtful. Then, this single cryptic image found its way into print.
No one could have known at the time that this was the beginning of something marvelous. A very fruitful time was on the horizon, a time when this crossover series would become more than just an experiment, but one of the defining moments of either series.
The Prime For The Primal
#AliensvsPredator was released for the PC in 1999. Immediately, a crucial change in the narrative was evident in that it tried to further incorporate the worlds of the first three Alien films. The game was full of recognizable locations and icons, including ships modeled after the Nostromo and Sulaco. We were even given an opportunity to visit and explore the mysterious derelict craft from the original Alien. But this was just the beginning of the game's many virtues.
Like the last game, it featured three independent stories. One was of a lone Marine's desperate fight to escape an Alien and Predator infested planet. Another was of a Predator's quest to avenge the death of a fellow hunter. The third story told of a relentless Alien pursuing a clutch of stolen eggs all the way to Earth. The game featured state of the art 3D gameplay, perfecting several elements of the #FirstPersonShooter including better AI, re-spawning enemies, and the now popular hoard combat mode allowing players to fight an unending swath of foes.
The diverse gameplay that all three characters offered made this game one of the biggest First Person Shooters of the decade, with a success comparable only to the #Nintendo64 game #Goldeneye. This was aided by its superb use of multiplayer, where players could control all three species in relentless and bloody death matches in environments inspired by the films. The series had spawned its first mega-hit.
The game garnered critical acclaim from critics and fans alike, catapulting the crossover series into the mainstream. From the success of this game alone, people were talking about a film. But that would still be a few years. The success of this game demanded an immediate sequel, and we didn't have to wait very long to see that become a reality. But could the success of the 1999 game be re-captured, or was it merely a fluke?
#AliensvsPredator2 was released in 2001 under the watchful eyes of #Sierra, who published the stellar #HalfLife series. It featured an updated engine and new state of the art gameplay, but more importantly, it told an amazing and terrifying tale filled with memorable characters, hair raising suspense, and stories more than worthy of the Alien and Predator titles.
In Aliens vs. Predator 2, the science outpost LV 1201 has been established to study and exploit a recently discovered Alien hive, but soon finds itself overrun with the slimy killers. The rising conflict draws a clan of Predators looking to test their blades, but they also seem to be looking to settle a score with a general running the facility. An unfortunate squad of space marines finds themselves thrust in the middle of the war, and now one of their number, Corporal Andrew Harrison, must help his team to find a way off the planet alive.
What set this game apart from the last installment was its complex and well thought out narrative. The stories didn't exist independently of each other, but were instead intertwined. The Marine, Predator and Alien occasionally cross paths with one another, often inadvertently helping the other along. It also took a big risk in bringing the Alien and Predator both out into the light and fleshing them out into likeable, identifiable protagonists.
The Predator's story told of a lone warrior who comes to the planet seeking lost glory. Instead, they are put to the test when they are subject to a game of cat and mouse by a ruthless human general who had escaped the Predators in his youth. It was a variation on the classic tale of Moby Dick. The general was man driven mad by his need for vengeance, and the Predator was his white whale. The Predator hero and the general share a strong rivalry, one that carries the two through the dark world this game creates and eventually into the depths of an Alien hive where they end their feud once and for all.
The Alien story was no less fascinating, taking us from the creature's birth as a facehugger and all the way to adulthood. After escaping from a human run facility, a lone drone wages an effective war against the human intrusion on its homeworld. Soon though, its Queen is abducted by a corporate scientist looking to exploit the species, and the creature relentlessly pursues the man across the planet to rescue its maiden. It was a knight's tale, with the Alien as our knight in slimy armor. The journey takes the Alien hero across many exciting locales, so the monster may rescue its Queen and return home.
Aliens vs. Predator 2 did the impossible, it made a verses crossover where both fans walked away happy, content that their favorite star beasts had come out on top. Both characters were treated with great respect and affection, sentiments that were returned by countless fans of the films. The game was an even bigger hit than the previous entry, and showed once and for all that this formula had something more to it. The demand for a movie based on the series was higher than ever, and a mere two years after this game was made, the welcome news finally came that one was in the works.
Surely it would be a masterpiece like these two games. Surely it would take this story off the small screen and into the theater and usher in a new glorious age for one of the darkest universes in science fiction.
Decline On The Silver Screen
#AlienvsPredator was released worldwide in summer of 2004. Set on modern day, Earth, it told of a group of scientists and archeologists studying an ancient pyramid in Antarctica, only to find a war between the Aliens and Predators waiting for them. Taking less inspiration from either series and owing much more to John Carpenter's #TheThing, the film took fans out of the universe they had grown accustomed to and instead put the characters on Earth in a world of snow and ice. This was actually a very interesting idea. Environments of snow and ice have always proven effective in horror films like The Thing and of course #TheShining, and putting the Alien and Predator in such a setting had the potential to create a very spooky atmosphere.
The film featured the return of Stan Winston's team to the series, several of his pupils taking charge of creating the creatures. It also starred Alien series veteran Lance Henrisken, who portrayed the heroic android Bishop in Aliens and #Alien3. However, many elements that fans loved, such as the unsettling sexual imagery of the Alien series or the brutal kills the Predator was known for, were significantly downplayed. Some of this could be attributed to the film's rating. A PG 13 rating was pushed for in an ill advised attempt to appeal to a wider audience. But its biggest crime wasn't that it was light on gore. It was light on terror.
The characters were bland an uninteresting, and their adventure was no more engaging than watching them explore the sets which looked suspiciously like just the same corridor over and over again. Though the film boasted a high budget, it certainly didn't look like it. The film offered audiences very little apart from a show of impressive animatronics, and though it was a success at the ticket booth, critics and fans were far less kind. Many hoped that a sequel would right the wrongs. When fans heard the new film would be an R, there was hope.
It didn't last very long.
#AlienvsPredatorRequiem followed the Predator ship from the first film crashing near a small town and unleashing Aliens on the unsuspecting populace. A lone Predator comes to clean up the mess, while a group of humans attempts to escape the infested town. It featured a hard R rating with buckets of blood and language to boot, but that wasn't enough. If the game Aliens vs. Predator 2 was the crowning example of everything done right with this premise, Requiem was everything done wrong.
Requiem failed at everything from its world to its characters, even to the animatronics and practical effects fans of both monsters had grown to love. The effects were shoddy at best, and were photographed in hard to see environments in order to hide the chipping paint and dangling wires. This is a common technique in monster films as hiding a magic trick is the mark of a skilled filmmakers. There was no skill here. In spite of all the darkness, it was obvious we were playing with a trick deck.
The film also broke the unwritten rule of vs. films in favoring one creature over the other. The Predator was very clearly favored while the Alien's strength and intelligence was significantly downplayed. Seeing a creature that could break down steel doors and sabotage complex electrical systems struggle to break free of a chokehold left many who favored the slimy killer feeling alienated (pun intended). Fan service is certainly welcome in a film such as this. The problem is diminishing one character effectively removes any tension from what should be an impressive fight scene. Where is the fun if there is no challenge? As Dutch so eloquently put it in the original Predator, "No sport."
What was supposed to be a clashing of two titans among the stars looked more like a fight scene from #SpaceBalls.
Gone was the tension, gone was the suspense, gone was absolutely everything a title like Alien vs Predator promised. Though it made some money, fan reaction was swift and merciless. The movie is now viewed as the ruination of what could have been, and should have been, a great series of films that complimented both series, took its viewers to the most frightening places in the universe. Plans for further installments in the series were subsequently shelved, and there have been no talks of renewing the crossover series on the big screen since.
These films not only damaged the crossover franchise, but also the standalone series they were based on. Neither the Alien or the Predator have fully recovered since.
What will the future bring for the Alien and Predator series, and what will that mean for the crossover franchise these two juggernauts have spawned? At this point, it's hard to say for certain. Years since the cataclysmic release of AvP R have been wrought with trouble. Standalone films like #Predators and #Prometheus made decent money, but fan reactions were mixed. Even the return of both monsters to the world of games did little to help, from the bland third entry in the Alien vs. Predator game series, to the disastrous release of #AliensColonialMarines. It wasn't until the release of the stunning #AlienIsolation that a glimmer of hope began to shine.
The next few years will be very busy for this pair of killers from beyond the stars. Ridley Scott is directing #AlienCovenant, a prequel to the original classic, and there are talks of an #Alien5, which will supposedly conclude the tale of #EllenRipley. #ShaneBlack, who played Hawkins in the original Predator has become quite an accomplished screenwriter and director, with credits including #TheNiceGuys and #IronMan3. He is set to write and direct #ThePredator, the fourth standalone film in the Predator series.
It is plainly visible that both these titans of science fiction and horror have fallen on hard times, thanks in large part to the bungled Alien vs. Predator films. Some have called for the two to be shelved so no more damage can be done, but that is unlikely. Alien and Predator will never go away, for they have penetrated the public consciousness to become cultural icons. Asking for them to stop is like asking for there to be no more werewolf or vampire films. These two are genies that, for better or worse, can never be put back in the bottle.
They both have a lot of recovering to do before they can once again wage war. Sooner or later a worthy film may come along. Until that time comes, we will just have to wait. Those that once again take the reins will need to not only look to where the series succeeded in the games from 1999 and 2001, but also look where it failed, and understand why. These characters both have a proud legacy to preserve and carry on so future generations can enjoy them just as those first waves of fans did back in the 70s and 80s. Only when the filmmakers realize that will the time come that we just may see a film worthy of the title Alien vs. Predator spread before us in a glorious forty five by fifty feet.
Who did you favor in Alien Vs Predator?