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What rough beasts, their hour come round at last

People are caught in the crossfire as Alien and Predator clash

What a way to wind up the summer blockbuster season!

Just when you thought it was safe to go to a science fiction movie, along comes “Alien vs. Predator” to remind us all of past glories never to be regained.

When Ridley Scott shocked the movie-going public with “Alien” a quarter century ago, the science fiction movie was just emerging out of often deserved obscurity to claim a place as a major genre. Like “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Star Wars” before it, “Alien” took the ostensibly juvenile and made it interesting and engaging for a wide variety of audiences.

“Alien vs. Predator,” on the other hand, comes at a time when the science fiction movie has been totally co-opted by the most mendacious forces in Hollywood.

Today, science fiction equals boffo box office and little else to the type of people who are just as happy to greenlight “Runaway Bride” or “Soul Plane” if they think they can squeeze a big opening weekend and respectable video sales out of such dreck.

That’s not to say that “Alien vs. Predator” is all bad. This movie has almost seemed fated to be, since the story has made the rounds of several other media, including comic books and video games, before landing back where it began.

Set in the present day, the film is a prequel to the events in “Alien,” although to just what extent that is true isn’t revealed until the final shot.

Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) – founder of the company that would eventually employ Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo in the first film – finds a secret pyramid under the ice of an island off Antarctica. He employs a bunch of experts and adventurers, including a mountaineer named Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) and a scientist named Graeme Miller (Ewen Bremner), to go with him to check it out.

Of course, they find more than they expected, in the form of an imprisoned queen alien, her eggs and a few predator aliens who are there to complete some kind of ritual hunt with the aliens as prey.

Sadly, there’s not much in the way of plot beyond the above. Nor is there nearly as much action as the trailer seems to promise. Predictably, most of the humans are alien chow within the first few minutes of contact with the aliens. The predators, apparently too proud to simply complete their task and get back to the ship, allow things to get way out of hand before stepping in to finish the job.

It’s unfortunate that director Paul W. S. Anderson had to follow up his amusing and relatively suspenseful “Resident Evil” with something this pedestrian. Fans and critics alike expected something a bit cooler from this long-awaited matchup.

The real highlights of the film come when Lathan’s character goes into Ripley mode and starts getting tough with the aliens. But this transformation takes place too late in the film, and is too expected to have the same resonance that Sigourney Weaver’s rage and fear had in the original film.

On the level of special effects, “Alien vs. Predator” isn’t so bad. With one tiny exception, however, there are no new types of aliens, so there’s nothing here that fans of the two series haven’t seen before.

As with many big-budget sequels then, we’re left with a film that will appeal most to the completists and the 12-year-old boys who see it. There’s definitely something wrong when the machinations of unseen executives are scarier than the killing prowess of two different species of aliens.

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