Sunday, 9 December 2012
"Are They Called That Because They 'Pre-Date' Humanity?"
Courtesy of Channel 4 I finally caught Predators last night (thus bringing me up to speed with the increasingly out-of-control Aliens/Predators franchise), and I must confess, I'm baffled the film didn't receive a warmer welcome than it did.
There's no doubt in my mind - absolutely none - that it's a significantly better film than Predator (which in turn places it above Predator 2 and both Alien vs Predator movies, of course). It's faster and better-paced, for a start. There's obviously no way it'll ever win any awards for characterisation, of course, but that's hardly a mortal wound to a film like this. Indeed, it does almost as well with fleshing out the 'grunts', and far, far better with the central character. And yes, whilst the best I can really say about Adrien Brody here is that he's not quite as miscast as I'd originally assumed (it would be very interesting to see some alternate-universe copy of the film which switches Brody and Laurence Fishburne around), he's still twenty times more convincing as a hard-bitten military killer than Schwarzenegger managed, if only because hard-bitten military killers can generally speak without sounding like they're reading from cue cards.
As far as I can see, there's only really two major criticisms to be hurled at the film. One is that an average 80s action movie with one good idea is actually superior to a slightly-above average 21st century action movie with plenty of good ideas based on that 80s idea, because at least Predator is of its time. There's a lot of things to say both in defence of an in objection to that idea, but for now I'll just say that half of that argument could apply to anything one might be tempted to slap the term "retro" in front of, which seems to me a mistake, and the second half of that argument would force one to conclude that Alien is superior to Aliens. Which, in fairness, a lot of people claim. All of them are wrong.
Indeed, the Predators is to Predator as Aliens is to Alien comparison can take us further, and not because of the similarity of pluralisation and the (fulfilled) promise of multiple critters (and even critter types) it implies. This gets us to the second plausible avenue of criticism, which is that both Predators and Aliens start off with fantastic central mysteries that the audience already know much of the motivation behind. This isn't so serious a problem for Cameron's sequel, because the scenes preceding the reactor battle are focussed on Ripley's mounting Cassandra-like dread and the implicit horrors that have gone on at Hadley's Hope. With Predators, though, you have a bunch of people who have never met wake up in free-fall having been kidnapped from various places across the world, and who find themselves on an alien planet surrounded by empty and very large cages.
That's a cracking set-up, right there, that only gets better as the protagonists piece together what's going on whilst dodging death-traps and alien beasts. Once the unseen threat starts using the voices of their own dead to both lure and taunt them, you've got a genuinely solid slice of sci-fi with a nice dash of horror. It's a real shame that the whole way through you know that a bunch of Predators are going to show up and start taking skulls.
In short, then, you have what's not far from being the paragon of any film based around the Predator. The only problem the film genuinely suffers from is that this is just too low a ceiling, and in trying its best to break out of those limitations, it really only succeeds in making you wonder what it could have managed by playing it's own world, rather than borrowing someone else's.