AVP vs Golden Compass!
By Kurt Kuersteiner © 2007 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards

Christmas time is big business time for everyone, including movie makers. This holiday season was no exception. What was unusual was that two of the Christmas films that became card sets had themes that were very ANTI- Christmas! But that doesn't mean you wouldn't enjoy finding them in your Christmas stocking. They were both exciting movies and made into equally fun card sets by Inkworks.

The first was Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem. Their holiday ad campaign raised eyebrows (and caused some frowns) with a tagline that read: "This Christmas, there will be no peace on Earth." The movie is the latest sequel combining the monster from one of the all time best science fiction movies--Ridley Scott's Alien --with one of Arnold Schwar-zenegger's most popular sci-fi flicks (besides Terminator): Predator! Unlike the Terminator franchise, Arnold didn't appear in the sequels of Predator. That's because the real hero (if you can call an ugly alien who skins humans alive a hero) was the Predator.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Predator was no Alien. Sure, it had good special effects, plenty of creepy moments, and a wide assortment of gore, but while Predator was exciting, Alien was far more suspenseful and therefore, more terrifying. The director took inspiration from two classic sci-fi flicks; It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) and The Thing From Another World (1951). It! provided the basic plot (a blood thirsty monster stowaways inside a spaceship and stalks the trapped crew) while The Thing contributed a creepy subplot and the claustrophobic atmosphere that made Alien so effective.

It! had a scary looking creature (played by Ray "Crash" Corrigan), but showed too much of him in his rubber suit. Once the monster starting killing people, the rest of the movie was basically their retreat further up the rocket until they were out of room to run.   There was no subplot, just a hungry creature eating edible humans. The Thing was also a monster on the loose thriller, only the victims were trapped inside an ice station instead of a rocket. What provided the interesting subplot was that one scientist actually fought to save the murderous monster. Why? 'Coz the alien was the biggest scientific discovery of the century, and he didn't want it destroyed! Remember, as far as science is concerned, there are far more replacement employees than there are aliens.

Even though make-up artist Lee Greenway spent five months designing a magnificent make up job for the monster (played by the towering James Arness before his Gunsmoke days), they never showed much of him! You just saw a terrifying glimpses of his arm here, or a split second of his horrific face there. The victims knew when he was close because their Geiger counter would start clicking away widely. It was hair-raising!

So Alien combined the creature trapped aboard a spaceship idea from It, with the monster collaborator from The Thing (plus the "less is more" technique of never showing much of the monster). Instead, we had to let our imaginations run wild to fill in the gaps! The same held true for the advertising campaign. It showed an egg against a star background, with an ominous warning, "In space, no one can hear you scream."

Aliens Vs. Predator shows a lot more of the monster than Ridley Scott ever did, but the quick edits, chaotic action and dark, rainy atmosphere keep us uncertain of just what we're seeing. There isn't much of a subplot, but you still cheer for the humans and hope the Aliens who crash landed on Earth all get killed by the Predator who came to recapture them. (They hunt Aliens for sport, don't you know.) Since the Predator is trying to kill our enemy, that makes him our friend, right? Well, not really. He still skins a few humans and impales the sexy love interest with metal spikes. But other than that, he's a good enough guy.

And other than the simplistic plot, it's a good enough movie. It was like going on a roller coaster ride: There isn't much of a story, but it's exciting, and that's the reason you bought the ticket in the first place.

If you're a dedicated Alien or Predator fan, you should enjoy the cards as well. Unlike the movie, the 81 card set shows more than just glimpses of the creatures. And that's a good thing. While I like using my imagination for a suspenseful movie, I feel rather cheated when I have to use it to view photographs. (What's the point of collecting pictures if you can't see much?) Inkworks was also generous with the chase cards, providing one (of 10) autograph cards, one (of 11) pieceworks cards, and one (of 16) artist sketch cards in every box. Granted, none of the actors or artists are big name stars, but that can always change with time.

There is also a 9 card "Battlefield on Earth" foil puzzle set (1:11 packs), six "Massacre on Main Street" special cards (1:17 packs), three "Deadly" foil cards (1:24 packs), an "AVP Unleashed" case loader card, and a "Fighting Back" dealer multi-case pre-order incentive card. (It's a two part pieceworks card, PW12A, and PW12B.)

My second non-Christmas holiday movie and card series was The Golden Compass. It's based on the 1995 novel by Phillip Pullman called His Dark Material 1: Northern Lights . It caused a ruckus with Christians and especially Catholics, as it was said to be an atheist spin-off of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. But whereas Lewis was a devout Anglican who used his fiction to create an analogy of the Bible, Pullman is a self-proclaimed agnostic who told the Sydney Morning Herald, "My books are about killing God." That message isn't as brazen in the film, but his general dislike of organized religion is clear enough to see. In his alternate universe, Earth is technologically stunted, in part because there was never a reformation and the Vatican (or Magisterium) still rules with an iron fist, executing those it deems are heretics.

With all the brouhaha, I was rather indifferent about seeing the movie. I guess I don't like being preached to, especially about religion (pro or con). But I'm glad I changed my mind because it is a delightful film. The sets, costumes, and scenery are a feast for the eyes. The music is fantastic and the plot is both interesting and fast paced.

The previews looked a little corny, what with the talking animals and all. In this universe, a person's soul lives outside their body in a companion animal, called a daemon. These familiars talk a lot like the Geico gecko, complete with British accents! It looked silly at first, but then you quickly get used to it. In fact, you soon become as fond of the animals as you do the main actors.

Nicole Kidman plays the evil Mrs. Coulter. Daniel Craig (the latest 007) plays the benevolent Lord Asriel. The Magisterium is headed up by a committee of evil priest-like figures, including Christopher Lee and Derek Jacobi. Lee had a long and illustrious Hammer horror career, playing numerous monsters and villains. Jacobi was superb as the crippled and stammering Roman emperor in the BBC production of I, Claudius. Both of their roles are limited here, but they provide overall gravitas. Sam Elliot plays a heroic hot air balloon pilot. The real star of the movie is Lyra, played by 13-year-old Dakota Blue Richards. She's plays a determined girl out to solve a mystery and find her lost friend.

The 72 card set profiles characters and relates the story. Insert wise, there are 11 different pieceworks cards (1:24 packs). There are six different "Truth Telling" lenticular cards (1:9 packs, showing images of the golden compass) and six more "Lyra's World" 3-D lenticular cards (1:9 packs). There are six "Fight To The Death" foil cards (1:7 packs) depicting the battle between the giant polar bears. There are three "Daemon Forms" lenticular cards (1:23 packs) that show the lead characters vs. their animal Daemons. There is also an "other worlds" case loader card.

Both the film and the cards have plenty of cool images. The majestic atmosphere of the alternate universe is awesome. It's filled with hovering zeppelins, lofty palaces, ornate architecture, and vast landscapes. The uncle is a professor at "Jordan College", which was actually shot on location at Christ Church college (in Oxford). In fact, many of the film's scenes were shot throughout Europe, including Switzerland and Norway. The flick was big budget all the way!

My advice is to check out the new DVD release, and if you like it, you should like the cards as well. Just don't expect either flick to bring you much holiday cheer... unless you happen to be watching during Halloween!



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