Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Predators" Review

I was always an “Alien” guy. Wretched from the opium dreams of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, that phallic chest-burster is the most imaginative space creature ever devised. It’s a Superman/Batman debate, but by comparison, the “Predator,” who was introduced to moviegoers almost ten years later—Didn’t seem to bring anything interesting to the table. Like Batman, he had gadgets to spare—But where’s the creativity in that? He was a villain that better reflected a decade of machismo action than the seventies’ horror boom that begot Ridley Scott’s film—Look no further than the casting of his foil, eighties icon Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So “Predator” and I parted ways. And though the two franchises would go on to literally duke it out in the miserable “Alien vs. Predator” films, the argument still seemed to me pitifully one-sided. But then, three days ago, something clicked. “Predators,” a pseudo-sequel to the original, finally won me over.

I’m as surprised as anyone; in an attempt to emulate a film I disliked, director Nimród Antal made one I did. However, his intention was not, as others have hastily criticized, to parrot what worked in 1987 verbatim. In fact, the influence of “Alien” on his film is just as apparent as that of its namesake (it even borrows the other series’ pluralized sequel title gimmick), and the audience gets the best of both worlds. Run and gun action is superseded by atmosphere and suspense, but Antal knows he’s not making straight horror either.

The filmmaker instead rides the line equidistant. He rightly plays the predators threatening rather than overtly scary, invisibly calculating rather than brutally aggressing. Their looming absence runs the risk of upsetting some more literal-minded fans, but as someone who was never sold on the character in the first place, the less predator in a “Predator” film, the better. Plus, the deliberate pacing offers some interesting, offbeat payoffs that I frankly wouldn’t have expected from a movie like this—Anyone questioning “Predators’” originality needs to point me in the direction of the other human on alien sword fight they’ve seen.

But as much as I love unprecedented choices like that, I can’t pretend there aren’t also minor problems in this jungle. It’s more of a warning than a complaint, but you need to be willing to accept some character clichés going into “Predators.” Elsewhere, it may distinguish itself as a cut above its contemporaries, but the humans in the film snugly fit archetypes exploited a dozen times over. Their big personas and propensity for campy dialogue is soothed by the talent at hand (Adrien Brody—Whose range continues to amaze me, Topher Grace, Danny Trejo, Lawrence Fishburne), but a couple clunkers still shine through—You’ll know the misplaced rape joke when you hear it.

But really that, along with one or two inelegant plot developments, is a small trade-off for all “Predators” does right. On the whole, genre films have become submissive entertainment, content to passively shovel innutritious junk food into our eye sockets, with no regard for what should make what we’re seeing scary or exciting. “Predators” takes its time and explains itself—It creates a beautiful, believable world—While still wearing a permeating cologne of mystery.

Maybe this review ultimately says less about “Predators” and more about the industry at large given that I find practical locations, largely practical creature design, and a script that takes a few risks so praiseworthy, but there it is. For once it’s nice to just see a straightforward sequel done well, and the film has so much authentic adoration for its many sources of inspiration that it almost feels as though it has existed since 1990, when the actual “Predator 2” debuted. Had this been released in its place, I’m confident the film would be remembered as fondly as “Aliens” is now.

But sadly, in the realm of public opinion, many consider digging up old graves an automatic disqualification. For me, there’s nothing sacred about the original “Predator” film; this one improves upon it. Of course, it’s made by someone whose sensibilities are closer to my own, but Antal makes no apologies for that.

Maybe I was always an “Alien” guy, but I may have room in my heart for another hideous space monster after all.


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