I am not a big believer in grading films on a curve, but there is something to be said about looking at what the Director was trying to achieve. In this case, it was pretty obvious that the Director was looking to make a fun, slightly cheesy action movie where rubber-suited Aliens fought leather-suited Ninjas, spilling tons of fake blood in the process. And in that respect, Seiji Chiba succeeds and then some.
But the film manages to succeed even a bit more through its attention to detail and the way that the Director scavenges bits of pop culture from everywhere he can. The film is set in a very specific time in Japanese history. The Ninjas are from the Iga clan, paranoid that the ball of fire that they witness (the crashing Alien spaceship) is some kind of weapon created by the Koga clan of Ninjas. Since the Iga clan still lives in their villages and they are still arguing whether they should support Oda or Tokugawa, the film must take place before 1581 when Oda Nobunaga invaded the Iga province and destroyed the villages where the Iga clan trained and raised their families.
The Ninja costumes are fantastic if a bit on the fetishtic side. Mika Hijii looks especially fetching in her leather cat/ninja suit inspiring lust even from the Alien. Speaking of lusty Aliens:
Monty Prime would be wrong. Mika remains unmolested, although not from lack of trying on the Alien's part. Mind you, in this case "rape" is more like "cop a feel of Mika's incredible breasts", because even non-mammalian Aliens are breast obsessed. Mika's strategy for fighting off gropers is pretty awesome though since it involves brass knuckles and a moment designed to reference The Monster Squad
The other cultural reference that I was not expecting was the four main Ninjas who are essentially Ninja versions of the Warriors Three. Mika is Lady Sif, the super-competent female warrior who can be both compassionate and deadly; Yamata is Hogun the Grim, who would rather kill everything in sight than sneak around; Yamata's rival and best friend is the vain (and possibly gay) Fandral the Dashing and comic relief is provided by the fat, older Ninja who is both cowardly and gadget-obsesssed, a fine, if slightly insulting, doppleganger of Volstagg, the Lion of Asgard. Hogun the Grim's mustache even makes a caneo appearance though not sadly on the baby-face Yamata. I am not actually arguing that Seiji Chiba read Walter Simonson's run on Thor, but based on the characterization it certainly felt like it. It may just be that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were drawing on cultural references that were a lot more universal than we imagined
Compared to the Ninja's stylish gear, the Alien costume is a little bit rougher, looking like someone molded an H.R. Giger Alien from memory, left the mold out in the sun and it got gloopy before hardening again. On the plus side, the Alien life cycle is well thought out and distinct from the original franchise.
And I suppose, now would be a good time to give a warning that here there be spoilers lurking
The Ninjas' motto for the film is "Anything that bleeds, Ninjas can kill." Fortunately for the Ninjas, the Alien blood is not acid. The Aliens do have a few other unpleasant quirks that make them harder to kill though.
Rather than eggs, the Aliens have a series of holes from their head from which the first cycle of Alien life emerges. I have no idea if all the Aliens in the film have these or just from a Queen - all the Aliens appeared identical to me - but there is clearly an alpha-dog Alien leader of the pack. What emerges from the holes is not a face-hugger but a... well, the best description is a nose shrimp.
As the shrimp grows in its victim's esophagus, they control their victim's movements turning them into automatons, making the Aliens a bit like Starro the Conqueror. In this stage, the Aliens are actually a bit cute looking like bright pink hairless baby rabbits. Finally the pink rabbit stage migrates down the esophagus to the stomach where the traditional chest-bursting occurs.
In case you were wondering about who is better Alien or Ninja, the Aliens throw in the towel about 2/3 of the way through the film when the pink-bunny throat Aliens animate a group of dead and dying Koga clan Ninjas to fight off the remaing Iga clan Ninjas. If you have to create Zombie Ninjas to fight live Ninjas, you are conceeding the supremacy of Ninjas over Aliens. (Admittedly, the Aliens are piloting the Zombie Ninja bodies.)
Not that the Aliens have anything to apologize for when it comes to their fighting skills. They don't fight much like Aliens though. They are fast as hell and fight more like a weird mutant combination of Predators, the burrowers from Tremors, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario (the Gooba Stomp is a move used by both sides in the conflict), a boxing kangaroo and a female Gelfling from the Dark Crystal.
Ultimately, AvN is a great hoot and holler exploitation action comedy that succeeds at being the low-brow entertainment that it aspires to be.
(edited by Llakor on 11.7.10 2216) "Don't Blame CANADA, Blame Yourselves!"