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.
Ill admit that the film succeeds adequately at what it tries to do probably more so than several of the films Ive 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 theres something wrong with any director who cant manage to make a jungle seem eerie and haunting. The Predators design is cool, but not as much so as the xenomorphs, and its 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 (lets face it, Arnold Schwarzenegger is not exactly in Sigourney Weavers league as an actor). Moreover, the plot in Alien is complicated with a subplot about corporate perfidy. Theres a governmental-perfidy plot in Predator too, but its 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 theres that.)
In addition, its 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. Theres a diegetic reason for this Predators prefer a fair fight, if only because its 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 Predators preference for fighting armed antagonists also creates an obvious plot hole, nicely dramatised by the following spoof:
The Predators infrared vision, at least as its 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) cant tell a Schwarzenegger-shaped mass from a tree-root-shaped mass unless theyre different temperatures, its 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 doesnt help here. In any case, its not clear that mud would reduce someones infrared visibility that much anyway. A similar scene in Predators, likewise involving mud to mask the human bodys heat signature, makes a bit more sense, since the Predators vision is also distracted by fire.)
The dvd has a couple of deleted scenes on it, but theyre 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 dont get to know any of them apart from the top two (one of whom is Adam Baldwin so its not just the Alien side of this franchise that has a Firefly connection), and we dont get to know them especially well. Moreover, this military force is as much governmental perfidy as we get, which isnt much. So this is no Aliens.
Its better than the first Predator, though, if only because theres 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 ones going to hail this as one of Glovers best performances, nor does the script give him much more to work with than angry cop. And María Conchita Alonsos 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 theyre 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 partners necklace (Wikipedia incidentally gets this wrong, confusing two entirely different scenes) is more compelling than almost anything the Predator did in the first movie.
Theres been controversy as to the possible racist implications of the Predators having dreadlocks though this concern usually seems to get raised only about the second movie, even though the Predators look was established in the first. I actually think its a breath of fresh air to have an alien modeled after African cultural styles, as opposed to the usual European and Asian designs.
The Predators 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 wasnt enough of a menace on the first movie, perhaps I shouldnt grouse that hes too unstoppable now. Im still going to, though; bullets should fail against the Predator because hes 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, its 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 Schwarzeneggers character can run 300 city blocks worth of rain forest in a few seconds. (Okay, strictly speaking more like 10 blocks its 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 Alonsos character is being carried to the ambulance, wes suddenly told out of the blue that shes 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 its okay to punch reporters raises its ugly head here. Im still waiting for McClanes wife to be prosecuted for tasering the reporter in Die Hard 2.
The scene at the end where we see a xenomorphs skull in the Predators 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 doesnt seem to be any intended analogy.)
I suspect that the opening scene, with the camera zooming over what were 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 its just the theatrical version no extra scenes.
Next: Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection.