This review will only be discussing that which was shown to us at the SXSW 2010 Film Festival. At the “First Look” we were shown two trailers, several pieces of pre-production artwork, and had access to Nimrod Antal and Robert Rodriguez, to answer questions, none of which reveal any major spoilers to the film.
I have a distinct childhood memory of Predator. As I may or may not have spoken to on the podcast, I was not allowed to watch “scary” or excessively violent movies as a child. In elementary school, I’d hear about movies like Robocop, The Terminator, and eventually Predator, from the kids in my classes who had parents a bit more liberal, or perhaps a bit more reckless, with their children and their media consumption. It wasn’t until a friend had a sleepover birthday party that I was presented with an Arnold Schwarzenegger double feature: The Terminator and Predator. While I did spend much of the screenings hiding behind the couch, more afraid of the idea of these villains, than the actual on screen performances. I grew to love Predator, and even enjoyed Predator 2 for what it’s worth. I love the mythology that is presented in both movies, in stories told, rumors, legends, and in some of the most incredible and memorable make-up and special effects to come out of the 1980’s. While I, like many, wasn’t crazy about the Predator vs. Aliens movies, I enjoyed them for what they were trying to do: deepen the mythology, capture that which had been expanded on in novels, comic books, and video games, on the big screen. They’re obviously not great film-making, but I’ve watched them more than once, and if they were playing at a friends house, I wouldn’t ask them to be turned off.
When it was announced that we would be getting a brand new Predator movie, with Robert Rodriguez at the helm, essentially rebooting the failing series, I like many, was excited. It honestly doesn’t take much to get me excited about sci-fi, after many a failed prequel/sequel, I’m cautious about how much hope I place in their eventual greatness. Making a Predator movie is not rocket science, but can begin to sag under the weight of too much exposition, and not enough character, or meaningful, believable dialogue. Finally, that which has made the Predator such an indelible character in modern popular culture, is the idea of the hunt. The hunter versus it’s prey, and how the tables can be turned. During the Q&A after we were shown the trailers, Robert Rodriguez specifically mentioned The Most Dangerous Game (Criterion #46), as one of the films that inspired the making of this latest alien hunt: Predators.
There was a distinct buzz surrounding the Predators event. SXSW had a number of express passes (similar to a FastPass at amusement parks), that they were releasing in bursts throughout the day, and when I first made it to the line, they had all been claimed. I managed to swindle my own express pass, from the incredibly generous and helpful volunteers, and was planning on high-tailing it from the Kick Ass screening, down the street to the Alamo Ritz theater. The line ended up wrapping around the block, and there was even a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, at one of the volunteers, about how ridiculous it was that she couldn’t get into the screening.
Robert Rodriguez took the stage to set up what we were about to see: A first look at two versions of the trailer for Predators, along with dozens of production art stills that would flash on the screen. We were also treated to the original designer of the Predator creature, who has come back to work on this, most distinctive alien hunter.
The first trailer, as most first trailers do, flew by, leaving us wanting to rewatch it. It sets up the basic plot points of the story. Several people find themselves mysteriously in a jungle, none knowing the others, but all revealing how deadly they are. There are several audio cues to the original movie: pieces of the score, sounds of the predator breathing, sounds of the tri-laser pointer, and on and on. This film is clearly meant to be darker than the other sequels, harkening back to the horror elements of the original.
That was a point that was hammered home, again and again, throughout the course of the evening: The original is amazing, we need to make this movie more like that. That is an endearing intention for a filmmaker to have, and one that we geeks have heard promised to us time and time again. I feel like over the past few years, every time a sequel or reboot is spoken of by the new filmmaker, they say: “the original worked because of X, we’re going to bring back X for this movie.” Well folks, I hope that this movie will be the first to succeed in that department, but again, I’m very cautious about trusting these folks.
One big reason why I’m cautious about trusting these guys to recreate the awesome that is the first Predator movie, is the preproduction art that was shown during the panel, as well as some of the finished predator designs that show up in the trailer. The bi-polar manner in which Rodriguez would say “the first one worked because we never saw the Predator” while then preceeding to show us a trailer in which we saw MANY Predators, again and again. Another thing that troubled me was when he described the original Predator as an 8-track, and these new Predators as the iPods, was a huge red flag. If what made the original Predator was it’s gritty realistic approach to an alien tracker, giving us sleak, streamlined, bigger, more weaponized, Predators just doesn’t sound like a good idea. Another thing that stuck with me was the fact that all of the art seemed to be dreamed up without any thought given to the science, or biology of what goes into creating life. If felt like they approached the designing of these creatures as: let’s make them bigger, and more bad-ass. If I remember correctly, that was exactly the same problem the Aliens vs Predators films suffered from.
The second trailer they showed us was essentially the same as the first, but filled with more dialogue, revealing more of the characters, and their back stories. I found that I enjoyed the second trailer more, because I found the team in the original film so compelling. They were what sold how incredibly strong, and dangerous, the Predator was. In this movie, the humans don’t know each other to begin with, and aren’t necessarily the trusting types, but they’ll need to work together, in order to survive.
The final piece of footage they screened for us, was a scene introducing Lawrence Fishburne’s character. I tend to pretty much always love him in all of his films, and I’m sure he’s going be as intimidating as always in this.
Again, I’m still a little cautious about this team of people, mostly in that I think despite their intentions, they’re going to fill this movie with unnecessary bloat. We don’t need multiple predators, we don’t need predator-dogs, or predator-falcons, or “super-predators”. We just need a group of people being hunted by someone with an advantage. It’s a pretty simple formula, that is dependent on the mood created by the camera-work, the dialogue, the score, and editing.
There isn’t too much else to say about this event, other than that everyone pretty much went nuts seeing the footage, so I’m sure there will be a devoted group of fans out there defending the hell out of the trailer when it is shown to mass audiences.
I’m sure I’ll be in line when this movie comes out too, but to quote many a Star Wars movie, where we were given bloated prequels: I have a bad feeling about this.
*on a side, personal note: I did actually get to ask a question during the Q&A, about whether there was any pressure from the studio to remaster the film in 3D, and Rodriguez said there wasn’t. I find that a little hard to believe, but we’ll go with it.