In ALIENS VS. PREDATOR – REQUIEM (AVP-R), the iconic creatures from two of the scariest film franchises in movie history wage their most brutal battle ever -- in our own backyard.
The science fiction-action-thriller captures the magic of the “Alien vs. Predator” comics, novels and videogames that established the “AVP” brand – while paying homage to the hallmarks of the film series that preceded it: Ridley Scott’s seminal work of science fiction and horror, “Alien”; James Cameron’s masterpiece of intense action, “Aliens”; and John McTiernan’s thriller about an extra-terrestrial warrior wreaking havoc in the jungle, “Predator.” At the same time AVP-R, introduces an intriguing element new to the franchise, by having the Aliens and Predator wage war in a small American town.
Bringing these elements together are directors The Brothers Strause, Colin and Greg, whose visual effects house, Hydraulx, is renowned for its computer-generated wizardry on films such as “300,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and “Fantastic Four.”
It’s no accident that the Strause brothers are making their feature film helming debut on a story featuring Aliens and Predators – they’re unabashed fans of both film series. “Colin and Greg live Aliens and Predators,” says John Davis, who produced this film, as well as the original “Predator” and 2005’s “Alien vs. Predator.” “They’ve seen the movies countless times, know the [AVP] comics and played the [AVP] videogames. They really understand these characters.” Adds AVP-R screenwriter Shane Salerno: “The Strause brothers live, eat and breathe these films. The specificity they’ve given AVP-R is remarkable. They’re passionate about this material.”
The brothers’ passion extends to the film’s central notion of placing warring creatures in the middle of a small American town. To them, this idea heightened the stakes – and the scares. “What’s more frightening – a menace happening millions of miles away, or a threat in your own backyard,” says Greg Strause. “Obviously, we thought it was time to bring the Predator and Aliens into the thick of things here. It gets very primal; you’ve never seen anything like it on film. No one is safe in this movie!”
“The creatures are literally on our streets,” adds John Davis: “The idea to set the story in ‘Anywhere, U.S.A.’ – in a nice, recognizable town that is suddenly thrust into the middle of an epic battle and mounting carnage they can’t begin to fathom.”
The town under siege is Gunnison, a real-life locale situated in the mountains of central Colorado. “It’s small – but not too small,” says Shane Salerno who set the story in Gunnison after searching a U.S. map for a fresh take on the warring creatures. (Vancouver, British Colombia stood in for Gunnison.)
AVP-R exists in a familiar landscape – a town’s dark sewers, its rain-soaked streets, the concrete jungle of its electrical plant, and a hospital maternity ward – that become battlefields beyond the townspeople’s worst nightmares.
“While writing the script, I was constantly thinking about how regular people respond to the most extreme situations,” Salerno continues. “I looked at things like hurricanes and fires, where ordinary people – firefighters, police officers, teachers – become heroes.”
“We wanted to explore the lengths to which people would go to protect their families,” elaborates Colin Strause. “Who would they fight for… and die for?”
Another element new to the long-running franchise is the Predalien. The Predalien’s film debut in AVP-R, along with its look, had been the subject of much fan speculation, and tight security surrounded the creature’s concept and design. The creature is not really a Predator/Alien hybrid. It is an Alien that incubated inside a Predator, taking on some characteristics of the host body. (It’s about 80 percent Alien, 20 percent Predator.) It has the Alien’s exoskeleton, acid blood, scorpion-like tail and inner tongue/striking mouth. On the Predator side, it has an additional Predator-like mandible, and an Alien-ized version of Predator “dreadlocks.”
More significantly, its Predator DNA has changed the Alien’s method of procreation. Forgoing the creature’s traditional Queen – egg – face-hugger – chest-burster – adult cycle, the Predalien has an even more aggressive and efficient breeding system.
The only thing stopping the onslaught of the Aliens and Predalien is a sole Predator. Unlike the hunter Predators seen in previous films, the AVP-R version is a “cleaner” whose sole purpose is to erase any signs of an Alien or Predator presence on Earth.
In a way, the Predator becomes a kind of eco-warrior. “He doesn’t want to leave any carnage behind on Earth that could upset the planet’s balance,” says Davis. “That gives the character a certain dignity.” But this is not a kindler, gentler Predator; in fact, he is the most ruthless of that species. Unlike the cleaner’s predecessors, it does not follow the Predator’s hunter’s code of pursuing only armed prey; in AVP-R, many innocents fall victim to its relentless pursuit of the Aliens that have overrun Gunnison.
The Predator also differs physically from previous screen incarnations. “It has a very different life experience from the hunter Predators,” says Greg Strause. “It’s leaner and meaner.” Creature effects creator and designer Alec Gillis, who with his partner Tom Woodruff, Jr. worked on several previous “Alien” and “Predator” films, elaborates: “Our idea was that this Predator is a battle-scarred veteran who uses his brains more than his brawn. He carries scars of previous campaigns [of ‘cleaning’] – one of his mandibles has melted off from a previous encounter with an acid-blooded Alien.”
Adds Colin Strause: “You can tell he’s been through a lifetime of battles. And he wears no armor – he doesn’t need it!”
The Predator’s cleaning tasks require an arsenal that surpasses that of its hunter predecessors. He carries not one, but two shoulder cannons; an implosion bomb that can disintegrate a crashed Predator spaceship; a canister of dissolving fluid that in seconds can turn an Alien into dust; and a bullwhip made from pieces of an Alien tail, with ultra-sharp serrated edges.
Working within the fresh setting of Gunnison, while adding intriguing variations on Aliens and Predators long familiar to fans of the series, The Brothers Strause strove to return to the gritty, horror roots of “Alien,” “Aliens” and “Predator.” Moreover, they were determined to respect the timeline established in the previous “Alien” and “Predator” films. “AVP-R serves as a bridge from the Predator franchise to the Alien films,” says Colin Strause. “It’s set after ‘Predator’ and ‘Predator 2,’ and before the events of ‘Alien.’” Strause promises that the story’s timeframe will pay dividends to the enthusiasts of the film series. “There are a few treats in AVP-R that will tip off hardcore fans how we get to ‘Alien.’”
The brothers’ love of “Aliens” led them to ask Twentieth Century Fox to digitally remaster the original tracks of the creatures from James Cameron’s classic film. The directors used the remastered tracks for their Alien sounds in AVP-R.
Similarly, Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. saw themselves being what Gillis calls “caretakers” of the franchises, preserving key traits of the original Alien, designed by the legendary H.R. Giger for Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, as well as some of James Cameron and Stan Winston’s creature design work on “Aliens,” and Winston’s work on “Predator.” The Strauses also integrated into the film some aspects from the comics’ and videogames’ incarnations of the creatures. “We’re standing on the shoulders of giants,” Gillis notes.
The shared vision of the Strause brothers and Woodruff and Gillis was evident as early as their first meeting. “When we heard that Colin and Greg were directing – we hadn’t met them yet – our first thought was, ‘Oh, it’s going to be all-digital creatures, all the time,’” Gillis acknowledges, referring to the brothers’ formidable reputation as visual effects specialists. “We were concerned that the creatures wouldn’t be as tactile as they needed to be.”
The fears of the creature creators-designers were quickly assuaged when the Strause brothers visited their shop, Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. “We were thrilled when Colin and Greg came to our shop, and we saw how much they appreciated the previous versions of the characters. We all agreed that merging practical effects and digital technology made for better creatures.”
While Gillis and Woodruff finalized their creature designs, the Strause brothers, producer John Davis, and the studio began the casting process – and populating their version of a besieged Gunnison, Colorado. The townspeople are working class characters, unlike the millionaires, explorers and adventurers of the first “Alien vs. Predator.” “You care when something happens to them,” says John Davis.
John Ortiz (“American Gangster”), who portrays Morales, the town’s sheriff, notes that the human characters, even in the midst of fantastical and horrific situations, remain recognizable and relatable. “What drew me to Morales is that although he’s an authority figure, he doesn’t have all the answers. And though the stakes are extreme for him and everyone in town, at their core, the characters’ struggles are ones known to everyone – survival and family.”
Still, Ortiz wasn’t immune to the otherworldly designs surrounding him every day on the set. “I remember the first time we shot a scene with an Alien. It was on top of a car, and I’m watching it and thinking, ‘What the hell!’ And my mouth just dropped open. I thought, ‘Holy s**t, I’m in an ‘Alien’ movie!’”
For Steven Pasquale (“Rescue Me”), sharing the spotlight with the cinema’s most famous xenomorph was the fulfillment of a longtime goal. “The original ‘Alien’ was my father’s favorite film,” he explains. “One of the reasons I wanted to appear in AVP-R was because I knew he’d be over the moon about it.”
Pasquale portrays Dallas, an ex-con just out of prison. His reunion with younger brother Ricky, played by Johnny Lewis, is interrupted by the catastrophe shattering their town. “Dallas sees right away that Ricky is headed down the same path that he was,” says Pasquale, “and he tries to turn that around. He’s always trying to protect his brother.”
Dallas, like Morales, is capable and tough, but no amount of street smarts and inner strength can measure up to the threat posed by the warring Aliens and Predator. “What I like about the characters is that they have no training that could prepare them for this phenomenon,” Pasquale adds.
Pasquale’s on-screen sibling, Johnny Lewis, expects his role as a troubled high school student who battles and, at least for a moment, triumphs over an Alien, to be one of the more memorable of his career. “No matter what I do in my life, the fact that I got to kill some of those creatures will be my little claim to history,” he laughs. “Not many people can make that claim.”
Another family in crisis is a mother, Kelly, and her daughter Molly. Kelly has just returned to Gunnison from a tour of duty in Iraq. “She’s trying to reestablish a relationship with Molly and must re-learn how to be mother,” says Reiko Aylesworth (“24,” “E.R.”), who portrays the warrior-mom. But as she’s trying to reconnect with Molly (Ariel Gade), Kelly must also return to combat-mode to deal with the escalating Aliens and Predator horrors. “Kelly gets very ‘Ripley-esque,’” says Aylesworth, referring to Sigourney Weaver’s heroic Ellen Ripley, the central character of the Alien film franchise.
“We’re paying homage to Ripley in that sense that both she and Kelly are strong female characters,” Aylesworth elaborates. “What I loved about Sigourney’s work in those films is that she wasn’t trying to emulate a male action hero. She was very female and very maternal. Molly shares those traits.”
As if battling Aliens and a Predator cleaner weren’t challenge enough, the actors did so during six weeks of freezing nights and rain on the AVP-R set. Steven Pasquale sums up the experience of working in daily torrential downpours: “In the first week or so of production, I was excited to shoot at night, in the rain, and battle Aliens. When we arrived on the set and got soaking wet for the first time, it was exhilarating and fun; we were laughing and having a good time. By two weeks into the filming, all that remained was complete misery – and a brutal and constant struggle to stay warm.” Pasquale celebrated his thirtieth birthday on-set with a case of hypothermia.
While posing challenges to the actors, the weather was a boon to the directors’ vision for the film. “The grittiness, steam, rain, haze fog – it all enhances the action,” says Greg Strause. “These elements reflect our philosophy of ‘less is more.’ We didn’t want to show too much of the creatures, so we hid them in the shadows and in the rain,” a strategy employed by two of the brothers’ cinematic touchstones, “Alien” and “Aliens.” Additionally, the Strause brothers sprinkled subliminal elements throughout the film to amp up the scares. In their Gunnison, even a small pizza shop can look as threatening as a desolate planet.
After wrapping principal photography, the Strause brothers set up post-production headquarters at their Santa Monica, California–based effects house, Hydraulx. There, they worked on not only the film’s digital magic, but also on other critical post work. At the same time, Brian Tyler composed the film’s score, creating what he calls “gritty, scary, adrenaline-pumping” music that reflects the mood of scores from the previous films in the franchise.
“The Alien themes use screeching strings, atonal furor, and wailing brass,” explains Tyler. “When I conducted the Aliens themes, the sound wave created by the orchestra nearly knocked me on my [behind].” Tyler contrasts these with the Predator themes: “The Predators have an intelligence lacking in the Aliens, but they’re equally as brutal. For them, I merged tribal-style percussion and stern brass.
“It was important to have the music sound epic and true to its science fiction roots,” Tyler concludes.