Poor old Predator. A classic action sci-fi movie from 1987, neither its 1990 sequel nor the unholy duo of Aliens Vs Predator movies could recapture its sweaty, tense spirit.
At the very least, producer Robert Rodriguez and director Nimród Antal’s belated franchise reboot has its heart in the right place, if not the budget. Shot on location in Hawaii, Texas, and in the back lot of Rodriguez’s own Troublemaker production studio, Predators at last recaptures the original’s atmosphere that has proved elusive for so long.
Correctly noting that the jungle is the natural habitat for Jim and John Thomas’ alien hunter, Predators opens with a group of eight mercenaries freefalling onto a leafy, exotic planet. Among those dusting themselves off are special ops soldier Royce (an atypically gruff and wiry Adrien Brody), Israeli sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga), Mexican drug runner Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), meek doctor Edwin (Topher Grace), and several other trained killers and ex-convicts.
Showing strange echoes of Lost, Predators‘ opening moments shows its characters prowling around the jungle, getting on each other’s nerves, and trying to work out exactly where they’ve ended up. In what could be a nod to Damon Lindelof, one character asks himself if he’s in purgatory.
The reality, they soon learn, is that they’ve been dropped into a vast game reserve belonging to the Predators, and are doomed to be run to ground by their alien kidnappers. Clutching the weapons the Predators have thoughtfully provided, Royce and his band of fellow abductees frantically try to find a way to defeat their seemingly invincible, invisible hunters.
Written and shot like a love note to the original Predator, Antal’s movie is, in places, dangerously close to a rehash. Lines and scenes from the first movie are quoted verbatim. One character carries a Gatling gun, just as Jesse Ventura did back in 1987. Alan Silvestri’s unforgettable score makes a welcome return in slightly remixed form, as does Little Richard’s rock and roll number, Long Tall Sally.
Fortunately, Antal is a competent enough director to make Predators something more than a pale imitation. The cast lacks the charismatic swagger of its predecessor, but Predators‘ performances are extremely good for a genre movie. Trejo is underused, but Topher Grace is excellent as the group’s weakest link, and Laurence Fishburne turns in a brilliantly eccentric turn as a lone survivor who’s been alone on the planet for far too long.
Brody may be a leftfield choice as a replacement for Arnold Schwarzenegger as the film’s alpha male, but he brings quiet dignity to a role that other actors may have played with less sensitivity.
The lack of a genuine A-list star actually works in Predators favour, in fact. Without the mountain-like presence of Arnie, the film is more an ensemble piece like Alien or The Thing, and the survival of any particular character is by no means assured.
There are some great action scenes too, including a great samurai fight which is as fun as it is illogical.
But as those who saw the teaser trailers that appeared seemingly everywhere before its cinematic release can attest, Predators could be viewed as a bit of a cheat. The clip’s most striking shot, that of Brody standing to attention as a flurry of laser sights materialised on his chest, implied that Predators was going to be full of, well, Predators, just as Aliens was full of aliens.
Instead, Predators offers up a measly three monsters for its heroes to contend with, a decision that may have been down to the film’s comparatively meagre budget of $40 million, or perhaps because Rodriguez wanted to keep the numbers down in preparation for a larger-scale sequel.
Nevertheless, Predators is an entertaining, well-made film, and it’s wise enough to throw in a few unexpected surprises among the numerous references to the 80s classic. It isn’t in the same league as the original, inevitably, but that’s perhaps because Predator‘s mixture of science fiction and macho war movie was so original, its macho script and wilfully over-the-top action almost perfectly pitched.
At the very least, Predators has been made with reverence for the original rather than as a cynical cash-in, and it is, at the very least, the best Predator film since John McTiernan’s 1987 classic. Let’s hope the inevitable sequel gets the kind of budget that can expand the franchise’s scope a little more.
In its earliest moments, Predators looks uncannily like a deep woods team building exercise, and I was almost hoping the Blu-ray would contain an alternate cut that revealed the aliens to be a group of corporate events organisers from outer space.
Instead, we get an unusually informative ‘making-of’ featurette that shows how Antal and Rodriguez brought the Predator back to the big screen. Clocking in at just over half an hour, there’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and frank interviews with the film’s set and effects designers.
The featurette even pointed out something I’d missed in the dank chaos of the film itself – that the three Predators are completely distinct from one another. One’s a dog handler, another’s a falconer (which explains the awful, barely-seen CG flying thing in one of the film’s scenes), and the last one’s a so-called Black Predator, the deadliest of the lot.
Elsewhere, there are six deleted scenes, some mildly diverting motion comics, and several additional featurettes, including Moments Of Extraction, which introduces a little more backstory for each lead character, and a brief documentary about the creation of Predators’ ‘hunting dogs’ scene.
Then there’s the feature commentary, in which Rodriguez and Antal discuss their work on the film. Rodriguez’s enthusiasm for film is legendary, and together the pair make for entertaining, garrulous raconteurs.
The main feature itself looks great in high definition, the lush greens of its forests (and gallons of alien blood) shimmering against dark shadows.
The Film:The Disc: