Archive | June 22, 2012

For Whom An Alien Heat Makes Festival, Part 2: PREDATOR and PREDATOR 2


Predator (1987):

Now we come to one of the two rankings of mine that are most “deviant” relative to general opinion: the majority of fans rank the original Predator the highest among the three Predator films, and just behind the first two Alien movies, whereas I rank it at the bottom of the three Predator films, and second from the bottom in the franchise as a whole, below even Resurrection and the first AVP.


I’ll admit that the film succeeds adequately at what it tries to do – probably more so than several of the films I’ve ranked higher – but what it tries to do is very simple and unambitious.

The plot follows fairly closely the model laid down by Alien: an extraterrestrial threat picks off the main characters one by one, until the last survivor turns the tables. But Alien had eerie and haunting settings, while the jungle in Predator is never particularly visually interesting (at least until the end, when it becomes a bit more so during the final duel); and there’s something wrong with any director who can’t manage to make a jungle seem eerie and haunting. The Predator’s design is cool, but not as much so as the xenomorph’s, and it’s also less original (face aside, the personality and body silhouette are essentially Boba Fett in dreadlocks). The characters are less interesting, owing partly to script and partly to acting (let’s face it, Arnold Schwarzenegger is not exactly in Sigourney Weaver’s league as an actor). Moreover, the plot in Alien is complicated with a subplot about corporate perfidy. There’s a governmental-perfidy plot in Predator too, but it’s much less central to the plot and is sidelined fairly early. (This is – so far – the only entry in the series to feature not just one but two future governors in its cast, though, so there’s that.)

In addition, it’s in the nature of the story that it be less scary than Alien. The Alien films each feature either many unarmed humans versus one alien threat (Alien, A3) or many armed humans versus many alien threats (Aliens, Resurrection). Predator features the less frightening (for humans) scenario of many armed humans versus one alien threat. There’s a diegetic reason for this – Predators prefer a fair fight, if only because it’s a greater challenge, while xenomorphs have no such concerns – but from the standpoint of audience emotional investment, a greater challenge for the alien threat means a lesser challenge for the human protagonists.

The Predator’s preference for fighting armed antagonists also creates an obvious plot hole, nicely dramatised by the following spoof:

The Predator’s infrared vision, at least as it’s portrayed, poses a plot problem as well. If he (I say he, but of course we have no idea whether the Predators we meet are male, or whether their race is even sexually dimorphic) can’t tell a Schwarzenegger-shaped mass from a tree-root-shaped mass unless they’re different temperatures, it’s a mystery how he can find his way around in the jungle so well (even avoiding tripwires) – or tell the skulls in his trophy collection apart. (In later films, the Predators have more sophisticated enhancements for their vision, but that doesn’t help here. In any case, it’s not clear that mud would reduce someone’s infrared visibility that much anyway. A similar scene in Predators, likewise involving mud to mask the human body’s heat signature, makes a bit more sense, since the Predator’s vision is also distracted by fire.)

The dvd has a couple of deleted scenes on it, but they’re nothing memorable.

Predator 2 (1990):

Just as Predator imitates Alien, so Predator 2 imitates Aliens – this time by introducing an elite, high-tech military force that seeks to capture rather than kill the alien, and is overconfident in its ability to do so. But we don’t get to know any of them apart from the top two (one of whom is Adam Baldwin – so it’s not just the Alien side of this franchise that has a Firefly connection), and we don’t get to know them especially well. Moreover, this military force is as much governmental perfidy as we get, which isn’t much. So this is no Aliens.


It’s better than the first Predator, though, if only because there’s more going on, more variety to meet the eye. Casting Danny Glover, rather than going with a more typical Schwarzenegger-style action hero, was an interesting choice – but no one’s going to hail this as one of Glover’s best performances, nor does the script give him much more to work with than “angry cop.” And María Conchita Alonso’s acting is frankly terrible. Still, even if most of the characters are neither especially likable nor especially well-acted, and many of them are tired ethnic stereotypes to boot, at least they’re more interesting than any of the characters in the previous film; and the scenery offers more variety too. (Schwarzenegger was almost in the movie, but wisely turned it down in favour of the much better Terminator 2.)

The Predator is more interesting as well; in fact, the scene where he taunts Harrigan with his dead partner’s necklace (Wikipedia incidentally gets this wrong, confusing two entirely different scenes) is more compelling than almost anything the Predator did in the first movie.

There’s been controversy as to the possible racist implications of the Predator’s having dreadlocks – though this concern usually seems to get raised only about the second movie, even though the Predator’s look was established in the first. I actually think it’s a breath of fresh air to have an alien modeled after African cultural styles, as opposed to the usual European and Asian designs.

The Predator’s invisibility shield now seems to make him bulletproof too (at least he takes several direct hits with no effect), which is not so obviously an improvement – though inasmuch as I complained that the Predator wasn’t enough of a menace on the first movie, perhaps I shouldn’t grouse that he’s too unstoppable now. I’m still going to, though; bullets should fail against the Predator because he’s too fast and too invisible, not because they bounce off – since if bullets just bounce off, then his being fast and invisible seem superfluous.

In a reference to the events of the first movie, it’s mentioned that “when trapped, the creature activated a self-destruct device that destroyed three hundred city blocks’ worth of rain forest.” I have a couple of problems with this. First, it suggests that Schwarzenegger’s character can run 300 city blocks’ worth of rain forest in a few seconds. (Okay, strictly speaking more like 10 blocks – it’s the radius he has to run, not the area – but still.) Second, it raises the question why those who know this are so cavalier about the risks of trying to corner a second Predator in a major metropolitan area.

In a perplexing sequence, when Alonso’s character is being carried to the ambulance, we’s suddenly told out of the blue that she’s pregnant. By whom? Are we supposed to know? Is it supposed to matter – given that we never see her again after that?

The creepy Hollywood trope that it’s okay to punch reporters raises its ugly head here. I’m still waiting for McClane’s wife to be prosecuted for tasering the reporter in Die Hard 2.

The bone garden

The bone garden

The scene at the end where we see a xenomorph’s skull in the Predator’s trophy collection might seem to be the first suggestion that the Predator and Alien franchises share a common universe; but it is only the first such suggestion in the films, as the idea of Predators hunting xenomorphs had already been established in the associated comic books, to which the trophy scene is a nod. (One of the characters shares the name “Lambert” with a character from Alien, but there doesn’t seem to be any intended analogy.)

I suspect that the opening scene, with the camera zooming over what we’re supposed to think is another jungle until skyscrapers suddenly come into view, may have inspired the opening scene of the Battlestar Galactica finale.

My dvd is labeled “Special Edition,” but it’s just the theatrical version – no extra scenes.

Next: Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection.

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