Back To The Jungle – And Basics
In 1924 the Collier’s Weekly magazine published a short story by Richard Connell titled, ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’ In it the main character Sanger Rainsford, a big game hunter from New York, ends up on an isolated island in the Carribean. Once there Rainsford finds himself in the hunt of his life as not the hunter but the hunted by a Russian aristocrat, General Zaroff.
The elemental dynamics of this story; life versus death, man versus man, hunter versus the hunted, and the primal setting of the jungle have inspired countless retellings of this story in movies and television shows. In 1987 this tale was given a SF twist when an action movie about a group of mercenaries on a mission in the jungle became married with the concept of them being hunted down as prey by extra-terrestrial hunters. Predator came out during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heyday and for my money is one of my favorite Ah-nuld movies, rivalling even his Terminator ones.
Following the success of Predator there was a sequel and a couple of cross over movies with 20th Century Fox’s other big extraterrestrial franchise based on the acid blooded, chesting bursting Aliens but none of them attained the success or critical good will of the original. So there was understandable apathy when Predators was announced. Interest perked when film maker Robert Rodriguez became attached as a producer.
So now we have Predators. And for the most part it works. Works quite well. The reason it works is because it takes the story back to basics. Back to the jungle. Only this time the hunted group is not a team in some tropical jungle. This time they are literally dropped into a far, far more remote environment. The movie opens with Adrien Brophy’s character in free fall.
So the audience and the characters are in the same boat as to what is happening. The mystery of the situation is increased as the team members are strangers to one another. Of course broad strokes are set up for the characters and we quickly learn the team is composed of mercenaries, drug muscle men, soldiers, special ops agents, and a convict. The convict played by Walter Goggins brings an inadvertent smile to any that watch the TV series Justified as he looks like he walked off the set of that show without a wardrobe change sporting the very same orange prisoners outfit. There is an additional member of the group, a doctor, played by Topher Grace. His character starts a game of, ‘one of these is not like the others,’ that runs the course of the movie.
The delightful surprise here is how well Adrien Brophy steps in to the action hero role. He is totally believable in the part and has done the requisite bulking up. The other cast members get their individual moments to shine though Danny Trejo gets somewhat short shrifted.
The action sequences are well staged and filmed in a comprehensible manner that thankfully avoids the too tight, herky jerky, quick cutting school of action film making. The film’s effects are mostly of a practical nature, provided by Greg Nictero of The Mist fame. The use of gore is surprisingly restrained on the human side of the equation. The demise of Predators is shown in more detail. I guess it is easier to get their flourescent green blood by the censors.
Predators is a big love letter to the 1987 film. In fact the original film is referenced directly in Predators. The soundtrack is almost lifted directly from Alan Silvestri’s original score. His original theme is used in the movie. The jungle setting, the basic conceit of trained killers being hunted, the relationships between the characters, and even some of the character beats and story arcs are recreated. The film even closes with the Little Richard blaring his, ‘Long Tall Sally,’ over the end credits. All that was missing was the cast signature video montage shots at the end.
Storywise the film is pretty solid. It flounders slightly when Laurence Fishburne shows up as a crazed survivor. The character brings very little new information to the film telling us and the characters things we already know about. There is also a WTF moment when one character decides to stay back and face the Predators out of the blue. There was a similar moment in Predator with Billy the Indian guide character but at least some motivational elements had been set up for him. When the samurai character of Hanzo, played by Louis Ozawa Changchien, makes the same decision it makes no sense.
Those quibbles aside the movie gets far more right than it gets wrong. It rarely lags and sets up a satisfying climax. The end of the movie is a good spot to stop the Predator franchise on. Anything beyond this would again take the franchise out of its element or would simply be a repetition.
A most enjoyable B popcorn movie.