AvP Movie - Production Notes

by Prezes
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General Information on the AvP movie. The iconic monsters from two of the scariest film franchises ever battle each other on Earth in ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. The discovery of an ancient pyramid buried under the Antarctic ice sends a team of scientists and adventurers to the frozen continent. There, they make an even more terrifying discovery: two alien races at war. No matter who wins, we lose. An incredible and horrific adventure begins when billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland gathers an international team of archaeologists, scientists and security experts, led by environmentalist and adventurer Alexa "Lex" Woods, to investigate a mysterious "heat bloom" emanating from deep under Antarctica. What they witness 2000 feet below the frozen surface at first excites, and then terrifies them. They discover a pyramid bearing a mixture of Aztec, Egyptian and Cambodian cultures. Inside the pyramid they find a matrix of chambers so technologically advanced that it becomes obvious that an extraterrestrial influence has been at work there for thousands of years. The chamber walls reconfigure unexpectedly, trapping members of the team and cutting them off from their colleagues. Moving from chamber to chamber, the horrific truth finally reveals itself: Predators have been keeping alive a captive Alien Queen who lays eggs at 100 year intervals. Young Predators warriors are tested by fighting the Alien offspring. The team stumbles into the middle of an incredible rite of passage – and a war between Aliens and Predators. In 1979, Twentieth Century Fox released director Ridley Scott’s "Alien," which was hailed by critics and audiences worldwide as a seminal work of science fiction. The film’s success spawned a film franchise for the studio, with three more adventures in the saga: James Cameron’s "Aliens," David Fincher’s "Alien3" and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s "Alien Resurrection." In 1987, Fox introduced another creature from outer space, "Predator," directed by John McTiernan and produced by John Davis, about an invisibility-cloaked extra-terrestrial warrior that wreaked havoc in the jungle. (Among the film’s cast members were two future Governors: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura.) PREDATOR 2, which followed three years later, raised hell in the urban jungle of Los Angeles. Now, nearly a quarter-century after the debut of "Alien," comes ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, one of the most anticipated face-offs in sci-fi film history. Bringing ALIEN VS. PREDATOR to the screen has been an almost decade-long journey. Twentieth Century Fox considered various storylines until writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson came to the studio with the idea of setting the story on Earth, in contemporary times. The story would take place between the events of "Predator" and "Alien." "Putting humans in the middle of the maelstrom really ups the stakes in an Alien/Predator battle," says AVP producer John Davis. "Over the years, I had heard story pitches from over 40 writers, until Paul approached us with his take. His story really drew us in." Anderson had been nurturing that idea since the beginning of his career – long before the studio called him to present his concept. "Almost nine years ago, just for fun, I came up with an idea for an Alien/Predator film," Anderson recalls. "Then, I was at Sundance with my very first film ["Shopping"], a European, independent film, and I thought I would never get to make a movie like AVP. "Fast forward to eight years later," Anderson continues, "and Fox is trying to make the movie – and they called me in to talk about it. I basically pitched the same idea I’d been thinking about at Sundance years earlier. And this time I got to make it." According to Davis, it was essential to have a director who was plugged into the worlds of both the Aliens and Predators, and no one knew the films better than Anderson. "In addition to being a talented filmmaker, Paul is the ultimate Alien and Predator fan," says the producer. "He’s seen the original ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ hundreds of times, and he can recite virtually every scene by memory. The way to make an exciting movie is to begin with a director who’s passionate about the material and has to do it. Paul had to make ALIEN VS. PREDATOR." Anderson’s encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Alien and Predator was critical in his efforts to avoid contradicting elements of previous Alien and Predator films. (For example, a quick shot of an Alien "trophy skull" in "Predator 2" suggested previous encounters between the two species.) At the same time, "ALIEN VS. PREDATOR introduces a lot of mythology," says Anderson, "but it’s more related to Earth’s history than to the previous films." Anderson’s new mythology for AVP posits Predators visiting Earth thousands of years ago, when they were worshipped as gods, exerting a strong influence on certain cultures, like the Aztecs and Mayans. "This notion actually began with a brief glimpse in ‘Predator 2’ of the Predator spaceship interior, which had an Aztec design," Anderson recalls. "It led me to think about the effects that Predators, as an alien species, would have on primitive human cultures." While establishing this new mythology, Anderson created an important character and casting connection with the Alien film franchise. The character of billionaire industrialist Charles Bishop Weyland was written for actor Lance Henriksen, a veteran of "Aliens" and "Alien3." "Alien" film fans will recognize the character’s middle and last names: "Weyland" derives from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, the multi-national conglomerate that sent the Nostromo on its ill-fated voyage to retrieve the Alien in the first film; and "Bishop" is the name of the android played by Henriksen in the second and third Alien installments. Says Anderson: "Weyland made his money in high tech industries and he is the father of modern robotics, so when the Bishop android is created 150 years later [in the timeframe of "Aliens"], it’s in the image of his maker." Another franchise link, this one to the original "Alien," is found in the character of Alexa "Lex" Woods, the explorer, adventurer, and environmentalist, played by Sanaa Lathan. "Alien" was pioneering in making a female character, Sigourney Weaver’s Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, the film’s principal hero, and Anderson pays tribute to that tradition by creating the equally fearless Lex. In another nod to the first two "Alien’ films and to "Predator," Anderson decided not to reveal the creatures and the battles early in the story. "That’s what made ‘Alien,’ ‘Aliens’ and ‘Predator’ so effective," says Anderson. "Those films made the audiences wait to see the creatures. Audiences know they could ‘pop’ at any given moment, which heightens the fear. I wanted ALIEN VS. PREDATOR to build slowly, like the original ‘Alien,’ and then have the last 45 minutes be relentless action, akin to ‘Aliens’ and ‘Predator.’" Anderson wanted to make the creatures as "real" as possible – which meant keeping the computer-generated effects to a minimum and using the considerable talents of Creature Creators and Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Visual Effects Supervisor John Bruno, who shared Anderson’s vision of "less is more" when it comes to CG. Approximately 70 percent of the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR effects are physical and not CG. "Today’s audiences are sophisticated and can sense the sometimes ‘unrealness’ of even the best CG," says Anderson. "We wanted audiences to accept that these two powerful creatures are going head to head. And the best way to do that was for real." The work of Woodruff and Gillis, veterans of "Aliens," "Alien3" and "Alien Resurrection," was essential to Anderson’s mandate to keep it real. Building upon their work in the previous Alien films – and on H.R. Giger’s original Alien design and Stan Winston’s Predator creations – Gillis and Woodruff were careful not to change the look of the Alien and Predator so radically that fans would be upset. "Giger’s and Winston’s work is brilliant," says Gillis. "What we tried to do in AVP is advance the creature effects with new construction and articulation technology, as well as streamline the creatures to make them look more powerful. For AVP, Woodruff and Gillis created their most ambitious creature ever: an animatronic Alien Queen, the most sophisticated animatronic ever put on screen and a massive leap forward from previous incarnations of the Queen. The body parts of Gillis/Woodruff’s Alien Queen were powered by hydraulics, which enabled fast, controllable movements. The motion sequences were run through a computer that recorded the Queen’s every action. "Once we got a movement that Paul Anderson liked, we could play that back repeatedly, giving a consistency of ‘performance,’" says Gillis. They also gave the Alien Queen, who made her screen "debut" in "Aliens," a slimmer look, keeping her enormous head while reducing her waist. Several of the Alien and Predator performances were enhanced by radio-controlled animatronic heads created by Woodruff and Gillis. Depending on the requirements of a given scene, animatronic Alien puppets, cable-operated Aliens, or an Alien suit (occupied by Woodruff himself) were used. "If the creature were shot from the waist-up, or just glimpsed in a scene, I was in a suit," says Woodruff. "But for specific actions like the Alien’s tongue striking out, animatronics were employed." One of the Predators, Scar, emerges as a "lead," so Gillis and Woodruff made the necessary enhancements to the original creature design to set him apart and create a true performance. "We had to approach Scar as being capable of carrying scenes dramatically, without speaking," says Alec Gillis. Adds Woodruff, "Scar’s sculpture is more subtle with a wider range of movement to convey emotions." Just as Woodruff donned an Alien suit for several scenes, the lead Predator Scar was played by 7’1" Ian Whyte, an ex-professional basketball player from the United Kingdom. (Kevin Peter Hall played the creature in "Predator" and "Predator 2.") Whyte’s powerful physique and athleticism were invaluable in creating Scar’s performance. While the creature effects were a critical part of Anderson’s vision, at times they had to be enhanced by state-of-the-art computer effects supervised by John Bruno. The veteran filmmaker’s ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day," "Titanic") biggest challenge was making sure the practical Alien Queen and Bruno’s CG Queen worked together seamlessly. The Queen, in fact, was realized in three methods: a full-sized, 16-feet tall, practical version; a puppet version, measuring about four feet; and a computer-generated version. In addition to creating a CG Queen that had full mobility (unlike the Queen in "Aliens"), Bruno enhanced the full-sized practical Queen by creating a computer-generated, whipping tail that could easily skewer human and Predator alike. The Alien face huggers, while mostly practical, required Bruno’s digital touch for scenes of them flying and attacking anyone caught in their path. Bruno worked closely with Production Designer Richard Bridgland and Director of Photography David Johnson. As with the creatures, the filmmakers created physical sets as much as possible. "If we couldn’t create them physically," says Bridgland, "then and only then would we use visual effects." Bridgland’s ambitious set designs combine a futuristic look with input from the present and past. His sets have a distinctive Mayan, Aztec and South American touch, reflecting Anderson’s back-story of Predators visiting those regions thousands of years ago. So, his design is heavily weighted toward a Predator-influence. But designing and inventing Predator architecture and technology was no easy task, as little of it was revealed in previous Predator movies. The aforementioned glimpse of the Predator ship with its Mayan look, in "Predator 2," gave Bridgland a starting point for creating the designs of AVP. Bridgland’s impressive sets include a turn-of-the-century Antarctic whaling station; an ice grotto located 2000 feet beneath the Antarctic surface that opens up to reveal an enormous pyramid; a sacrificial chamber with sacrificial slabs containing mummified corpses and bizarre ancient imagery chiselled into its walls; the Hieroglyphic Chamber that tells the film’s back-story; the Chamber of the Gods; the Fight Chamber, home to an epic fight between Alien/Predator battle; and the Predator "mothership" – an enormous set that goes far beyond the ship glimpsed in "Predator 2." Perhaps the most memorable of Bridgland’s designs is the Alien Queen’s Chamber, which was built as a large miniature with plenty of room to move about. The Chamber contains a combination of Aztec and Predator technology, indicating that an ancient civilization built the Chamber with adapted Predator technology. Inside the Chamber, the Alien Queen is held captive by a machine that resembles a medieval torture device. The Queen is manacled in place by metal rods with giant probes sticking out. A great iron girdle holds her legs and arms in place, while vicious spiked Predator chains keep her imprisoned. She has neck bolts through which chemicals are injected to keep her alive and an electric stimulant ensures that she lays eggs – the future prey of the young Predators for their rites of passage. Like the creature effects, the film’s weaponry has advanced since earlier Predator and Alien films. The Predator still has the weapons he used in the two earlier movies, including a telescoping spear, which has been streamlined and made more decorative with a ceremonial look. The Predator throwing knife has been given outboard blades which extend and retract, not unlike a six-bladed Shuriken throwing star. The Predators also have an ornamental dagger in a leg scabbard that they use to skin an Alien to remove its protective hide. A significant alteration was made to the Predator shoulder-mounted gun. Anderson wanted it bigger, and it is now about 20 inches long with a fat barrel that recoils when fired. All of the weaponry is of the same texture and quality as past Predator armaments, but is now much more impressive. While ALIEN VS. PREDATOR’s designs, weaponry, and creature and visual effects are critical components of Anderson’s vision, the characters and actors make up the film’s heart. "We establish the characters as individuals, so that when they start dying – and they do start dying – the audience cares about them," says Anderson. The filmmakers searched the globe to find the right actors for each part. "There’s a truly international flavor to the cast, and gives the film a lot of character," says producer John Davis. The studio and filmmakers auditioned hundreds of actresses for the coveted lead role of explorer and adventurer Alexa "Lex" Woods, who finds herself caught between the warring alien races. Sanaa Lathan, who recently was nominated for a Tony® Award for her supporting role in the hit Broadway production "A Raisin in the Sun," portrays Lex. The lengthy audition process and Lathan’s eleventh-hour casting left her little time to be daunted by the task of playing an action lead. "I auditioned for the film about a week before I got on the plane for Prague, and two days later we were shooting," Lathan recalls. "Sanaa’s going to be a big movie star," says John Davis. "She’s done wonderful work in her previous films and in ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ but I think AVP could be her big break. She’s believable as an action hero and relatable emotionally, and you just fall in love with her on screen. She has an intensity, intelligence and warmth that are integral to the movie." Despite the similarities between Lathan’s Lex and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, the AVP actress insists there are also important differences. "I didn’t build Lex to be a copy of Ripley," says Lathan. "Lex is very strong, like Ripley, but that’s where the comparison ends. Lex is an environmentalist and a loner who finds herself in an incredible situation and realizes she has a strength she never knew she possessed." Raoul Bova, who appeared opposite Diane Lane in "Under the Tuscan Sun," portrays Sebastian De Rosa, an archaeologist pursuing a buried civilization in Antarctica, only to make an even more terrifying discovery. One of the most popular actors in contemporary Italian cinema, Bova was also featured in a series of provocative GAP ads. A lifelong fan of the Alien films, Bova vividly recalls his first memory of "Alien," when at age 10, he sneaked into a cinema to catch a showing, despite his parents’ vigorous objections. Bova, a former Olympic-calibre swimmer, was ready for the film’s demanding stunts and action sequences. He also came prepared for some more intimate on-screen activities. As the story progresses, Bova’s Sebastian begins to get close to Lex. But it was an Alien that got "romanced" by Bova, albeit off-screen. "In the film, during my first encounter with an Alien, the creature is seen creeping up behind me, ending up right at my back and ready to attack," says Bova. "After it turned, we were face to face. When the director yelled cut, I planted a kiss on the Alien!" While Sanaa Lathan was cast late in the process, Lance Henriksen, whose Charles Bishop Weyland provides a critical piece of connective tissue to the Alien film franchise, was the very first to join the AVP ensemble. "Paul Anderson called me, we met, and he literally told me the whole story – how he envisioned Bishop, why he was so important to the film," remembers Henriksen. "I never expected to return to this universe, but I couldn’t resist Paul’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the Alien and Predator films." Even after working on two Alien films, plus "The Terminator" and many other genre titles, Henriksen was impressed with the pace and action of ALIEN VS. PREDATOR. "I’ve worked on some high-velocity pictures," he notes, "but AVP is like nothing I’ve experienced. Audiences are going to need seatbelts for this movie." AVP also stars British actor Ewen Bremner as Graeme Miller, a chemical engineer who is brought onto the team to calculate the age of the ancient structures. Previously, Bremner played a wayward pilot in "The Rundown," and co-starred in "Black Hawk Down" and "Trainspotting." The supporting cast includes Colin Salmon, who appeared in "Resident Evil" and the James Bond film "Die Another Day," Carsten Norgaard, Joseph Rye, Agathe de la Boulaye, Tommy Flanagan and Sam Troughton. With such a formidable cast and team of artists behind him, writer-director-Alien and Predator film fanatic Paul W.S. Anderson realized a dream by helming a picture bringing the two screen icons together. "I first saw ‘Alien’ as a schoolboy and, of course, it made an indelible impact on me," says Anderson. "Now, finishing up AVP, I have to pinch myself every day to prove I’m not dreaming."

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