Friday, July 9, 2010

PREDATORS: a fanboy perspective

Finally, a worthy sequel to John McTiernan's 1987 classic, Predator.

"Worthy sequel" is not meant to suggest that 1991's direct sequel Predator 2 was somehow unwatchable. P2 offers up an intriguing premise: dropping the iconic alien hunter into the middle of a Los Angeles heatwave that coincides with a rivalry between the police and two prolific street gangs. The gang aspect is the one aggravating misstep that prevents P2 from achieving greatness.

At a time when directors like the Hughes brothers were giving us realistic glimpses at the brutality of real LA gang violence with films like "Boyz N Tha Hood" and "Menace 2 Society," the hyperbolic Jamaican and Columbian gangs represented in P2 offer a cartoon substitute for our Predator to slaughter.

Trivial side notes: P2 is significant to film history in that all films to follow would be digitized. Also, the 7'2'' actor who played the Predator died of AIDS shortly after filming was completed.

I, like every other sci-fi fanboy on the planet, speculated at great length about battle between aliens and predators when Danny Glover's character boarded the Predator spacecraft in the final act of P2 and discovered the unmistakable 'Alien' skull in the trophy case.

12 years later, Hollywood insulted us all with Alien vs. Predator and then insulted us again by saying, "in the sequel, we've fixed the problems… we made sure there was blood."

How about a compelling story? Is that too much to ask for? Alien, Aliens, Predator, and even Predator 2 had solid stories… STORIES!

With Predators, finally someone has written a compelling story. Correction: the WHOLE TIME there existed a story worthy of Predator's audience! A little known guerrilla filmmaker from Mexico, Robert Rodriguez, had written a screenplay for Predators. Where Aliens linked to Alien, Predators would link to Predator.

Of course, Rodriguez' script (like Tarantino's Halloween 6 script) would go ignored.

Finally, largely due to piracy and the great risks and losses that the studio system is facing, 20th century green-lit Rodriguez and his Troublemaker studio to just deliver a Predator movie and they would distribute.

I won't go off onto a rant BUT capitalism has never, and will never, be good for art. Piracy has kept music and film honest. In the realm of music, if you want to write disposable pop fodder, your single will be downloaded for nothing (its approximate value) but bands with integrity command a loyal audience willing to SUPPORT their art. Same with filmmaking.

Huge detour but here we are now… PREDATORS.

Most of you know the premise: A group of human Predators are abducted and dropped onto an alien planet to be hunted by our iconic movie Predators.

Let's talk about all that is right with this movie.

First, no sloppy exposition. The audience drops right into the film with our lead. Like him, we're given no indication as to how or why this has happened. He has to think fast as more bodies fall from the sky. Luckily, he has the training to walk the rest of us through it without any sloppy, Back To The Future "so what you're saying here doc…" dialogue.

Once we meet all the players, we watch them negotiate various tests and, with each test, we learn a little more about the characters' back story. The group learn about the Predators by their hunting techniques--one such scene involving "sending the dogs in" illustrates this brilliantly; there is another scene involving a wounded man left as bait. The characters are able to read the scene because, as we will learn, they are predators themselves and use such dirty tricks regularly.

I probably shouldn't say much more. The movie is all about the hunt; using elements of the hunt to reveal things about the characters and about the Predators lurking in the trees.

The human characters are mostly bad. The film's morality really hinges on whether or not each character recognizes their evil, feels remorse, feels empathy, or seeks redemption.

Adrian Brody's character is mostly a mystery. We know he's a mercenary. The movie singles him out for us to follow because he's capable of reading the situation. He's not your typical reluctant hero, rather, a bad guy who (at times) is willing to gamble on other people's lives to learn about who is hunting him.

There is tension between him and Isabelle, a sniper, who feels a great deal of guilt for getting her spotter killed and very much feels that she is in hell for her sins.

Topher Grace, "doesn't fit" among the killers. He is a doctor… and maybe that is all he is to them, a field medic of sorts.

The real scene stealer is a mass murderer played brilliantly by The Shield's Walton Goggins. It's easy to see his character on the page as being absolutely reprehensible but Walton provides much of the film's levity. His role is downplayed in the trailers so I thought I'd mention him here.

I won't get into too much about the other characters. You know there is a Yakuza hit man. You know he's going to sword fight a Predator. Nothing in the trailer can take away from that scene. I'd just like to point out the filmmaker's restraint in not cutting it super-tight and fast like some ridiculous over-choreographed matrix fight scene. Rather, it is treated like a series of real attacks, with pause and tension before the next move. I don't claim to know much about sword-fighting or the practices of the yakuza but I was sold on the authenticity, as I imagine sword fights aren't all slice-and-dice, close-quarter bullshit.

I can say for certain that the movie didn't really sink in until a few hours after the viewing. I feel that my brain had simply shut down from the action and violence, it needed to reawaken and process what I'd just seen.

Certainly no movie will ever take the place of the original Predator for the simple fact that you can't unlearn all that you know about the creature itself: the cloaking device, the shoulder-mounted laser cannon, the voice mimicry, and of course what it looks like unmasked. But this movie does every thing it can with what we know and still manages to cast uncertainty on everything.

If the Predator franchise is now in Rodriguez' hands then he's the best thing to happen to Predators since Christopher Nolan to Batman.

- Samuel Farmer
Chance In Hell Productions

No comments: