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Interview: Paul W. S. Anderson for "Alien vs. Predator"

By Garth Franklin Monday August 9th 2004 10:24AM
Paul W. S. Anderson for "Alien vs. Predator"

When it was revealed that Paul W. S. Anderson was going to direct this film, all sorts of debate was stirred up amongst fans of the franchises and of cinema in general. The handsome Newcastle-born man has made several big budget FX-heavy films for studios over the years including "Mortal Kombat", "Event Horizon", "Soldier", FX series "The Sight" & "Resident Evil", all are interesting on a visual level but reaction has been varied to the films themselves.

Anderson's selection for this project at first sounded odd but does make sense - AvP is mostly well-known for being a video game and Anderson's "Kombat" and "Resident" are cited as two of the few successful film adaptations of a game. Going in I was quite sceptical about whether he could steer this project the right way and within a few minutes all my fears were allayed. Anderson has surrounded himself with a very experienced crew who understand and respect not only the franchises but this type of filmmaking (many of these people worked on James Cameron's pre-Titanic movie greats), he himself knows how to handle visuals well and most importanly he 'gets' both franchises, understands them and is doing something here that will add to them rather than take away. Here's what he had to say in his own words on the set in Prague last year and you'll get an idea of what I mean:

Question: How does it feel to be taking on not one but two large franchises? Paul: Humongous pressure. In one way, it's absolutely a dream come true. I saw ALIEN when I was a kid at school. Every day I can't fucking believe I'm on set with an alien, you know every time I see Tom Woodruff in the suit, I'm like: "Wow, it's an alien, excellent!" I'm a huge fan of PREDATOR as well, I had the idea for the movie literally nine years ago, so the idea of being able to make a movie that you've been thinking about for such a long period of time is really a dream come true. At the same time, trying to follow in the footsteps of some of the best filmmakers in the world is incredibly intimidating and keeps me awake many nights. Question: There were a lot of scripts for this film that were set in space, but yours was set on earth. Why did you make that choice? Paul: I didn't, at least not as a response to the other scripts. Fox have been developing scripts for this movie literally for a decade ever since the first AVP comic book was done and I think the first script was kind of based on that comic book and that was in space and I think Alien was always considered the bigger franchise, so I guess like the natural thing was to set AVP in the world of the Alien; the world of those movies rather than the world of the Predators. I always liked the idea of it being on earth. I guess I got so fired up, like most people, when I saw the teaser trailers for ALIEN 3, it said: This winter - even though they missed the release date and ended up releasing the following summer- "This winter, you'll discover that on earth everyone can hear you scream", and like me and all my friends went: "Fuck yeah!" You know the aliens on earth and that, cause with ALIENS you kind of suspected that was what was going to happen, so you thought that the alien was in the cat and it was going to get to earth. ALIENS was a brilliant movie, but you still wanted to see the alien come to earth and then that teaser for ALIEN 3 kind of suggested that was what was going to happen and I think people wanted to see the idea of an alien on earth. I mean, I have for such a long time. Question: What was the genesis of the screenplay? Paul: When I saw PREDATOR 2, one of the things that really struck me was the design of the interior of the predator spaceship. It was very Frank Lloyd Wright, it was very Aztec, because Wright was very influenced by Aztec culture and those designs. So that really made me think that if predators have been visiting earth clearly for a long time, and if their spaceship looks like something on earth, they haven't been influenced by us, we've been influenced by them which started me thinking what effects predators as an alien species have had upon the earth. Particularly the Aztec feel of the interior of that spaceship linked with what the Ron Cobb designs they never used for the pyramid in Alien. I thought that was a very interesting kind of interface there. That's where the basic idea of the script came from. And then, having read the AVP comic book as well ten years ago, that's where the idea of a very strong female lead came from; which is also in keeping with the Alien films. One of the other people it was a real pleasure to work with on this movie was Phil Norwood who is actually the artist on that first comic book. It was just fantastic. Question: Have you read them all? Paul: I have them all. I've read all the graphic novels. I haven't waded through all of the books yet. I've read PREDATOR: COLD WAR, but none of the others. But I look at the covers regularly. (laughter) They're really trashy and entertaining. Question: What was the genesis of having the alien skull in the predator ship at the end of Predator 2? Paul: I'm not sure whose decision it was to do that, but it was pretty inspired-- probably the only inspired thing about PREDATOR 2 was that scene. I don't think that's a controversial thing to say, I mean everyone's deeply disappointed with that movie. Question: You definitely add a mythology to both franchises, are we going to see an origin in this film of where exactly the aliens come from or the predators? Paul: I wouldn't fuckin' dream of that, no, I mean that's beyond me. The movie is designed to be a sequel to the predator movies and a prequel to the alien movies so that in no way does it kind of contradict or go against anything in the alien franchise; and we've been very careful about that-- although it's set present day on earth so it's like 150 years before Sigourney Weaver's in space. It really makes sense when you see this movie and you see those movies you go: "Oh, well I understand why she was completely - and most people were ignorant of the existence of aliens but the Weyland corporation did have awareness of them." In that respect, there is a mythology to it and there is a lot of mythology in the movie, but it's more related to earth history rather than the history of aliens and predators. I'm not trying to explain away their genesis or anything like that. In fact, what we're doing is very much inspired by something Ron Cobb did for the very first Alien movie. I don't know if any of you have the original Alien book which was done ages ago, but it had some original artwork from Alien for the pyramid that was never built. The idea was that when they were returning from the derelict, they weren't going to find the eggs in the derelict, they would see a building, which was a pyramid and they'd go inside and that actually had the eggs inside them, so it kind of suggested the eggs were actually on the planet already. Ron Cobb did some really cool designs which were hieroglyphics showing the kind of eggs and that was very much an inspiration for this movie. That's where a lot of the ideas for the pyramid setting came from, so it was actually a strand of alien mythology that existed already it just never quite made it into Ridley Scott's movie. Question: Could you talk about casting Lance Henriksen in the role of Weyland? Paul: The role was written for him because I wanted some casting continuity with the Alien franchise even though that franchise is set a hundred years after our movie. The only person that it could be was Lance, because he, of course, was an android in the other movies. I also knew that I wanted to use the Weyland Yutani corporation in some respect. I mean, it's not Weyland Yutani - it's Weyland. Do you know where Weyland-Yutani comes from by the way? I just found this out - Weyland & Yutani were Ridley Scott's neighbors in London and he hated both of them and so he named the corporation after them. Charles Bishop Weyland is like Bill Gates, but his area of expertise is robotics, he's made his money in high tech industries and he's like the father of modern robotics so that when the Bishop android is created in a 150 years time, it's created with the face of the creator, the maker. It's kind of like Microsoft building an android in a hundred years time that has the face of Bill GaTes. Question: That's scary. Paul: Yeah, but the idea with Weyland was also that his character is a man who is dying and like a lot of rich men who are facing the end, they realize that money and power aren't enough, what they want to do is leave something behind them. So it's his longing for immortality that precipitates a lot of the events in this film, but also explains why his corporation would build something with his face in a 150 years time. Question: You're a big video game fan, you enjoy them a lot. How does that form your directing, or does it? Paul: I don't know. I'm definitely of a generation that's very influenced by video games. I just play a lot of them. I think maybe the way I shoot things is slightly influenced by the way video games are cut and shot. I do a lot of point of view shots because in most first person shooters, you get in there and you feel like you're in there and if you look at the AVP video games, that's what they tend to be and you get a little more immersed that way. Question: Is there a game tie-in with this film as well? Paul: Not specifically, no. They're doing a Predator video game that's going to come out probably Christmas of next year, but it's not related to this film. Question: Are there a lot of battles between the aliens and the predators in this film? Paul: Yes! Yes, there are. Question: (laughter) Is it all throughout the film or more towards the end? Paul: It's not from minute 1 to a minute 120 because I think that would be a disappointment in itself as well. I'm a huge fan of both franchises, but I think everyone would agree there are movies that work better than others within the franchises. One of the things that makes Alien and Aliens and the first Predator movie work so well is the fact that the filmmakers deliberately held back the creatures for as long as possible. Whether intentionally or not, that's what they did and I think that's why those movies work so well. I mean you don't see a predator until 58 minutes into the first movie, you get a hint with predator vision, but you actually don't see one until almost an hour into the film. The same with ALIEN. You don't see the face-hugger come out of the egg until 45 minutes into the film. In the director's cut of ALIENS, you don't have that big battle with the aliens until an hour and ten minutes into the film. Those movies benefited from the fact that they just made the audience wait a little bit. I mean certainly when I saw Aliens for the first time I was terrified from minute one 'til when the aliens turned up and I think I was more scared because the aliens weren't in the movie, I was expecting them to pop at any moment. In PREDATOR 2, the predator's in the movie from the opening credits onwards, ALIEN 3 you see the alien, again, in the opening credits. ALIEN RESURRECTION, you see the alien queen precisely ten minutes into the film and I think you just get to see the creatures too much. Certainly, what I felt on Resurrection is that it kind of demystified the alien and they had lots of shots where you just looked at it and after a while if you do that to any creature, you stop being scared of it. There is tons of alien-on-predator action in this move, I mean tons and tons of it-- but it's not two hours of them slugging it out, I don't think that would be entertaining. Question: It sounds like you've actually timed the other movies to see when certain things happen. Paul: Yes, if I brought my homework I could tell you exactly when. I mean, I don't really need to because I've seen the movies so many times, but just for fun, I went through them and I did time when the creatures appeared. The other thing it does is - I mean both Alien & Aliens give you time to establish character, so when the people start dying you actually care about them, Alien3 and Resurrection did that less so, you've got less time to know the characters, you like the characters less and you cared about them less when they died. I wanted to try and give this movie and the actors enough time to establish character so that when they start dying; and of course-- they have to start dying-- you care about them a little bit more. Question: In the monster shop, they were telling us all about the new technologies they've introduced, the articulation of the aliens, etc... Are you satisfied with this new direction they've taken filmmakers and what it represents now for films of this sort? Paul: The _ is probably the most. I mean, it is the most sophisticated animatronic ever put on screen. It's got double the points of articulation of the T-Rex that was built for JURASSIC PARK, so in terms of what it can perform and do, it's a massive step forward. This is much more sophisticated, it's really state of the art, it's as good as you can get and hopefully that will mean that we will use it more and rely more on the real thing rather than on CG. I think the more we can do that, the better the movie will be. Question: We've heard that you're very dead set against having too much CGI. Was that a conscious decision from the very beginning? Paul: Absolutely. I think Cameron and Scott's movies are masterpieces and I think one of the reasons why ALIEN is so good, and you can watch it 25 years after it came out and it still scares the beejesus out of you, is you believe that monster and you believe that monster because fortunately for Ridley, he turned up on the set and he looked at his monster and it was a guy in a rubbish rubber suit and he thought: "Oh fuck, I can't show that." So, he had to hide it in the shadows, he had to show very little of it and as a result...he allowed the audience's imagination to work and that movie is still terrifying. The same with Cameron, he constructed a war movie, quite brilliantly, where you just didn't see the enemy. I mean, it was like Vietnam in space, they would just suddenly pop up and they attacked and they were gone. That made it really scary. That's definitely been our approach on this movie. Yes, there's tons of creatures in it and lots of fighting, but we've tried to model the way we shoot that on Alien and Aliens and also on the first Predator, where definitely "less is more" and the less of a reliance on CG images - the better. People are just smart. Even with the best CG, audiences kind of know that it's fake and we want them to be really scared and really buy the fact that these two creatures are going head to head and we thought the best way to do that was to do it for real. And by we, I mean Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff and John Bruno who's a genius at visual effects, he's made the best movies, TERMINATOR 2, THE ABYSS, TRUE LIES, his films have genius visual effects in them, and the visual effects are good because John hates visual effects. John's had a big influence on this film, I've never seen one of his movies that has bad visual effects in it and the reason why I was so keen to work with him on AVP was because of the influence he will have on the CG we use looking fantastic and also just not being seen. That's the idea...to make these creatures real. Unlike Resurrection where you could see when there were CG creatures and when they weren't. We all sat down and we discussed how we were going to mount the picture and for a man who makes his living out of doing visual effects, he never wants to do anything CG. He'd rather do it for real or what we're doing a lot of in this movie is images that are 80 or 90% real. You know, a real alien and a real predator, but because of the fight they're engaged in, you just can't puppeteer the alien tail, so you'd have a CG alien tail kind of whipping through the shot. Which is a lot better than Cameron could ever do, because he didn't have that ability, but I'd be damned if you know it's a CG tail because the majority of the image will be real, and we're just talking about 10 or 20% CG enhancement. Question: The first Alien was really horror oriented and the subsequent ones were more in the action/adventure area. What are you trying to do with this one? Paul: It's really a combination and it's not because of ALIEN, it's because of PREDATOR, which is more action-oriented. This movie has a slow build, which is more akin to ALIEN, but then the last 45 minutes is a pretty relentless action ride which has much more to do with ALIENS or PREDATOR. Question: Could you talk a little about the predator hero and whether or not the humans relate more to it in the movie? Paul: He's more humanoid. I'm a big fan of an old Lee Marvin/Toshiro Mifune movie called HELL IN THE PACIFIC. It's the second world war, two fighter pilots end up on the same island and they hate each other. They're enemies, but ultimately they have to cooperate against a greater evil to survive. That's pretty much the model for this movie. By the end of the film ,you end up with humans and predators having to work together before they get overwhelmed by the alien threat. Question: It won't be Enemy Mine. Paul: Fuck, no! (laughter) There will be no predator babies. Predators may give birth to things, but it won't be crying babies...no. Also, in many ways, the predators are kind of cool characters that you can sympathize with because they clearly have a code of honor, they're kind of like samurai-- it may not be the way you and I would behave, but they live by their own value system and I think that's something you can appreciate. They're very noble characters. In that way, it's easier to get into them than the aliens. Question: What made you do the online featurette (explaining the concept of the film) and teaser trailer? Paul: I was excited to do it so I did. I guess after thinking about it for 9-10 years, I wanted to talk about it a little bit. Also, we had such a huge amount of reference material that it kind of just seemed like a good idea-- I was just overexcited, I just couldn't contain myself any longer. And Fox are quite happy from me not containing myself. (laughs) Question: There are hints that there may be an alien/predator hybrid in the film. Can you comment on that? Paul: Maybe. Well, yes, I mean I already said that anyway, yeah predators do give birth, but not in the ENEMY MINE sense. Question: What'll the rating be on this? Paul: We're not making any specific rated movie. We're making the movie that we're making and it'll get the rating that it gets. There is so much unpleasantness in this movie. I mean, it's pretty gruesome, it's got all the traditional stuff, the face-huggers and the eggs. Just looking in the eggs when they open and normally you'd just see the face-hugger come out and a bit of tripe in the egg, but the ADI (Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.) guys have done such a fantastic job that when the eggs open up, you see tons of movement in the eggs and the placenta and these tails writhing and it's just "blech". Question: What's the running time you're shooting for? Paul: I don't know. The script is like 110 pages, I mean, it's not going to be ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, but it's not going to be 90 minutes either. Question: You can make one half and release it as two... Paul: Well yes, I'm terribly inspired by that having seen Volume 1 (Kill Bill). Question: Do you have any thoughts on where this franchise is going to go? Paul: Yes, we talk about it every day. Everyone is terribly interested. Question: Will it be kept on earth do you think or --- Paul: I can't give that away, because then Fox wouldn't need to employ me. They could just hire somebody else. (laughter).

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