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Hard to kill

Championed by a director as relentless as its characters, 'Alien vs. Predator' took a perilous path to the screen.

August 11, 2004|John Horn | Times Staff Writer

"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 Parker his idea, which hadn't really evolved that much since Sundance. To help tell the story, in which present-day scientists unearth a creature-on-creature battleground deep inside an Antarctica pyramid, Anderson shelled out thousands of dollars of his own money on five giant "AVP" conceptual illustrations by designer Patrick Tatopoulos.

"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.

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Too many cooks

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

In particular, the two "Predator" movies were produced by Larry Gordon and Joel Silver, and in the years since those films were made, the former colleagues had gone their separate ways and famously feuded. If Davis were to get "AVP" in front of cameras, he had to mend some fences first.

"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. There's no way this could be done with seven major egos trying to manage the process." Davis says it took two years to close all of the producer deals.

Then another "AVP" problem loomed. Although "Alien: Resurrection" was a financial disappointment, a fifth "Alien" movie suddenly seemed possible. Ridley Scott, who directed "Alien" in 1979, and James Cameron, who directed 1986's sequel, "Aliens," considered joining forces for one more "Alien" production. Fox naturally wanted to see if anything would come of the possible collaboration between two of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood history. When nothing did, "AVP" was back on track.

Davis and Anderson faced one more snag. According to one account, disputed by Fox, the studio initially didn't want to spend much more than $40 million on the movie, a budget 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 production 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" is critical.

By shooting the film in Prague and filling the cast and crew with enough Europeans to qualify for incentives and tax credits, Fox was able to save millions.

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Respect for history

In a Chatsworth warehouse, creature designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff show off full-scale Alien and Predator models, both of which are a bit nicked up, having battled one another so violently.

"Both the characters are icons," Gillis says. "So we felt a great responsibility to not change them."

There's new weaponry for the Predator, more functional articulation for the Alien. But Anderson has tried to make a movie that doesn't overturn the precedents laid down by the six films before him, and he has memorized every scene in those earlier movies.

"You want to kind of reinvent, but always while paying homage to the original designs," Anderson says. "I didn't want 'Alien vs. Predator' to put some kind of mythology out there that in some way contradicted [the earlier movies]. It's a pet peeve of mine when you see franchises over the years that contradict themselves. Because all the hard-core fans say, 'No!' And we really care about those things."

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