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My overlords at AMC asked me if I plan to do a "best of" look at the science fiction movies of 2008, and I replied that of course I would, because if someone in my position doesn't do that sort of thing, they come to haul him away to the re-education camps, and that's just wrong (Santa doesn't deliver to re-education camps. Santa doesn't like re-education camps. Santa doesn't want to talk about it).
But before I go there, I want to go to the opposite end and talk about what I think was the worst science fiction movie of the last twelve months (you'll note I said "last twelve months" instead of "2008" because in fact the thing was released on Christmas Day 2007, and I'm sneaky like that). And which movie is that? If you guessed Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, give yourself a prize. Unless you actually watched it, in which case give yourself a hug.
Here's a brief synopsis (and accompanying spoiler alert): The movie starts off where the first Alien vs. Predator ended, with an Alien bursting out of a Predator on a ship out in space. This causes the ship to crash, unleashing a horde of aliens on the citizens of a peaceful Colorado town. But then a Predator shows up and starts fighting the aliens, though it's also not really above slaughtering a human or two when they get in the way. So the humans run like scared bunnies, to be picked off willy-nilly by aliens and/or predators. Eventually the whole town gets nuked by the government to contain the menace (it's the only way to be sure!), and mostly everybody dies. The End.
Let me note that I knew going in the film was going to be bad. The first AVP movie was terrible. It was written and helmed by Paul W.S. Anderson, a director of such general hackery that I've actually instructed my film agent to demand I get an extra $2 million if he's attached to direct a movie based on one of my books. And as bad as that film was, it's a rare sequel of a terrible movie that's actually better than the original. But there's bad, from which campy enjoyment can still be wrung (see: Speed Racer), and there's joyless, depressing bad, which this movie oozes.
First there's the technical badness. The Brothers Strause, who directed it, don't have much of a grip on pacing, editing or lighting. It's not a good thing when all the interesting stuff in your movie is impossible to see, and all the stuff you can see is impossible to find interesting. As much as I loathe Paul W.S. Anderson, at least he has a measure of technical know-how. The Strauses don't seem to have much of a clue.
To be fair, it doesn't help the Strauses that their script (from Shane Salerno, who also graced us with Armageddon) is chock full of cardboard characters hastily given minor identifying tics, presumably so we'll be able to set them apart once they get slaughtered. It doesn't work, and what you end up with is a Friday the 13th-like situation where you can simply check off the people who are going to get it: Teenage girl who wants sex? Doomed. Genial husband? Doomed. Jerks who beat up the second lead? Doomed, doomed, doomed. Even the film's Predator doesn't have a clue what he's doing -- the thing comes to Earth to clear out the aliens and remove all trace of their existence, but when some dude discovers him in the act, he leaves the skinned, deboned corpse for the local sheriff to find. To quote myself when this happened in the film: Bwuh?
Now, if this had just been some generic science fiction flick, all would have been fine -- well, not fine, but at least not offensive. But the fact of the matter is that AVP comes out of two decent franchises that began with decent directors (Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher for Alien; John McTiernan and Stephen Hopkins for Predator). Now we have Anderson and the Strauses, who have not only made bad movies in their own right, but have desecrated source material that's so vastly superior. What's next for this franchise, Uwe Boll? Both aliens and predators deserve better.
The good news is that while this franchise went swirling down the tubes, science fiction movies in general had a pretty decent year. I'll talk more about that soon.
Your thoughts on the worst of science film in the last year? Tell us in the comments.
Winner of the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, John Scalzi is the author of The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies and the novels Old Man's War and Zoe's Tale. He's also the editor of METAtropolis, an audiobook anthology on Audible.com. His column appears every Thursday.