Alien Invasion: On Set For Alien Vs Predator

I have seen Alien Vs Predator. Yes, all 139 scenes of it - as storyboards stuck on the wall of an old warehouse in downtown Prague.

The fanboy-fantasy blend of two killer franchises is shooting in the Czech capital until the middle of February. For two days I was ferried around to see sets, miniatures and creature costumes, and chat to the cast, crew, and director Paul WS Anderson.

I admit I was quite worried when I heard Anderson was in charge of this project. After all, he made Mortal Kombat and Soldier. Mind you, he also made Resident Evil, a great game-to-movie adaptation, and the enjoyable Event Horizon.

And, from what I've seen, AVP looks set to be very exciting.

THE PLOT:

In present day Antarctica, billionaire robotics honcho Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) is leading an archeological expedition. Finding a way under the ice through an abandoned whaling station, they discover a massive pyramid decorated with hieroglyphics unlike anything they have ever seen.

The deeper they go, the more strange artifacts they find, until stumbling across a sarcophagus fitted with some sort of clock mechanism. As humans always do, they fiddle with things and open a "world of hurt"...

The peculiar pyramid is a training camp for Predators. As part of their preparation they hunt Aliens...

As the tagline has it: "Whoever wins... we lose."

THE CAST:

Lance Henriksen (Near Dark, Aliens) is Weyland, the father of advanced robotics.

The idea is that some of his androids look like their dad - hence Bishop in Aliens. Weyland Yutani, meanwhile, is the corporation in the Alien universe. Maybe Yutani looks like Bilbo Baggins (aka Ian Holm, Ash in Alien)?

Colin Salmon (Resident Evil, Die Another Day) plays Max Stafford - a tough, practical security guy.

Sanaa Lathan (Blade, Out Of Time) is the sexy, smart and ultra-tough Alexa 'Lex' Woods. She knows the Antarctic and knows how to kick ass... but is she a Ripley?

Raoul Bova (Avenging Angelo, Under The Tuscan Sun) is archeologist Sebastian Wells.

Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting, Black Hawk Down) is Graham Miller, a chemicals specialist.

Others cast include Tommy Flanagan (Gladiator), Agathe De La Boulaye (Jefferson In Paris), Joseph Rye (Mean Machine), and Sam Troughton (Sylvia), and the tall, blond, Carsten Norgaard (Gods And Generals) as Quinn, the Drill Team Leader.

THE LOOK:

Anderson and production designer Richard Bridgland (who did Resident Evil and was art director on Ian McKellen's fabulous Richard III) both agree that the original Alien and Predator movies were scary because we didn't get a good look at the creatures until halfway through.

They also love the originals because they were shot tightly, with a lot going on in shadows and dark spaces. OK, Predator was set in the jungle, but it was still claustrophobic.

Looking over Bridgland's bookshelf, I spotted work by original Alien designer HR Giger, famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and many other great artists and designers. There was even a copy of the book detailing the Jubilee Line London Underground extension. "You get influences from everywhere," says Bridgland.

One thing's for sure, AVP will look great. Like him or not, Anderson has always made a lot of his sets. Resident Evil looked incredibly slick, and even people who can't stand Event Horizon agree it looked fantastic.

The detail on the pyramid sets is incredible, and hopefully it'll be lit well enough to show up on celluloid.

There are wonderful ten-foot-tall sculptures of Predators, while in the pyramid's largest chamber sit unnerving representations of charging face-huggers. Scary stuff.

The Antarctic scenes also look amazing and the Whales Graveyard set reminded me of the massive ribcages in Pitch Black.

I was also lucky enough to look over the sets of the whaling station with the miniatures team. The detail is incredible, and it's great that it isn't being done using CGI (John Bruno - Terminator 2: Judgment Day - is in charge of visual effects and he dislikes CGI immensely. Hurrah!).

We even got to see some tests of the station collapsing into the ice... Oops was that a spoiler?

Well, let's get some of other set-related spoilers out of the way here, then. Audiences can expect to see deeper into Alien eggs, some great new weapons, and some shots inside a Predator ship.

THE CREATURES:

Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff are leading the creature effects crew, calling on their experiences on Tremors, two Alien movies, Starship Troopers, and many more movies under their mentor, Terminator genius Stan Winston.

Their company is called ADI (Amalgamated Dynamic Industries...) but, well, they can't be good at everything. They were put through a long pitch process to get AVP, but won it largely because Woodruff was the Alien in Alien³ and Alien: Resurrection. Yup, I met the actual guy in the rubber suits... Neat.

It was great to walk around a room full of Alien and Predator heads, rubber suits, Alien Eggs, and Predator weapons - look out for the cool Shuriken. We also got to see a few things we shouldn't - in a big box marked Hybrid - but enough of that. I don't want Fox's lawyers on the phone.

Again, the level of detail was impressive. ADI has developed an amazing articulated robotic body for the Alien, which can be moved around with hydraulics until the performance is just right. It's then played back on computer, so it can be tweaked to make it smooth and natural looking, before the model reenacts the movements exactly.

Apparently this is most complex unit ever built: fitting that it should portray the wickedest bug ever!

A Predator. Oooh!

Another highlight was seeing the Predator in the flesh. At 7'9", he is tall. Very tall. And very mean looking. Mind you, I then got to see the mild-mannered Ian, the 7'1" Geordie inside the costume. He plays the part very well and is destined to be the David Prowse of the AVP world.

THE FILM:

The whole team has really stamped its own look and feel on the film, but has also made it fit well with what all the fans know and love from the movies, games and comics.

I know more than I can reveal here. I know the end - I have seen what was in Anderson's head and translated to the storyboards. We'll just have to wait until 22nd October to see if the movie matches my expectations.

Louis Savy is the festival director of Sci-Fi London.