When `Alien' met `Predator'

Director makes film after a 10-year fight

Movies: On Screen/DVD/Video

August 19, 2004|By John Horn | John Horn,LOS ANGELES TIMES

For more than a decade, filmmaker Paul W.S. Anderson felt compelled to write and direct Alien vs. Predator. It took 20th Century Fox and the film's many producers almost as long to share his passion.

After several false starts, a studio management shakeup, years of negotiations between feuding producers, a near derailment by a proposed fifth Alien movie and a last-minute assist from another studio's hit slasher film, Anderson finally got his wish, and his Alien vs. Predator movie debuted last week.

"It took a long time to try to figure out how to make it work," producer John Davis says with understatement.

Combining two of Fox's best-known science-fiction titles, the film seems a natural fit for today's craving for recognizable franchises. Yet Alien vs. Predator's road to movie theaters has proved as perilous as an abandoned spacecraft, and, in an unusually defensive step, Fox decided not to show its nearly $70 million investment to critics before its release.

Even without reviews, the movie can deliver plenty to Fox. The film can take advantage of the Alien and Predator name recognition to launch not only itself but also, if it sells bushels of tickets, potential sequels. New Line Cinema is thinking about a follow-up to its 2003 Freddy vs. Jason hit, a spinoff from the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th films. Warner Bros. has toyed with (but recently abandoned) a Batman vs. Superman project.

Fox furthermore believes audience interest in Alien vs. Predator's antiheroes will reinvigorate DVD sales for its six previous Alien and Predator films, and the studio is now releasing a two-disc "collectors' edition" of 1987's Predator. (Vivendi Universal Games also has a new Predator video game.) Finally, a well-received movie might also give fresh energy to Predator and Alien sequels well into the future.

What sounds like a no-brainer on paper, though, wasn't so easy when it came to bringing Alien vs. Predator to life.

A series of screenwriters struggled to find an effective way of marrying the futuristic Alien creature with the modern-day Predator. There were any number of storytelling decisions. Should the movie be set in space, where the Aliens reside? Or back on Earth, where Predators dwell? What time period would be best? Which species would ultimately prevail?

Plus, former Fox studio chief Bill Mechanic believed there was some mileage left in the original Alien and Predator movies and felt a combination sequel might kill off both. And Alien star Sigourney Weaver didn't want "any part" of a joint movie.

As delays mounted, Anderson went on to make a number of popular genre films, including Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon and Resident Evil, yet he never stopped thinking about AVP.

Meanwhile, circumstances began working in Anderson's favor. "The last Alien was a bit of a disappointment. Either the movie was not up to snuff or the franchise had run its course," says Hutch Parker, Fox's production chief, adding that another Predator sequel looked equally unlikely. "As individual franchises, they were likely not to have next chapters."

Anderson was finally summoned to Fox's Century City studios, where he pitched his idea to Parker.

"We really liked his approach, and what he had to say about the movie," Parker says of Anderson's presentation. "It felt like a perfect end-of-the summer picture. It all felt right."

Not that it would be easy.

Even though Fox made all of the earlier Alien and Predator movies, each film was produced by different people, and not all of them were on common ground, or even speaking terms.

"The hardest part of the movie was getting all of the producers together and then getting rid of all of them," Davis says. "Because it was just too many cooks in the kitchen." Davis says it took two years to close all of the producer deals.

Then another problem reared its ugly head. Ridley Scott, who directed the first Alien in 1979, and James Cameron, who directed 1986's sequel, Aliens, considered joining forces for a fifth version. Fox wanted to see if anything would come of the possible collaboration between two of Hollywood's most successful filmmakers. When nothing did, AVP was back on track.

Davis and Anderson faced one more snag. Fox initially didn't want to spend much more than $40 million on the movie, which Anderson and Davis thought would be ruinously cheap. But then New Line's lightly regarded Freddy vs. Jason opened to a stunning first weekend of $36.4 million, and AVP had some much-needed momentum. The budget climbed toward $70 million.

"You often need one last push to get a movie over the top," Davis says. "I won't say that [Freddy vs. Jason] was the deciding factor, but any help you can get ..."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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