Saturday, December 25, 2010


Yes, I really had never seen this movie. I think I'd seen a few minutes here or there, but that's it. As the movie's been around a long time and doesn't really depend on suspense, I won't work too hard to avoid spoilers here.

There's certainly a lot of badass in a concentrated place and tons of action-movie checklist items; but the movie was surprisingly slow, and really dull as a result. I am trying to imagine if maybe all that slowness was more impactful when the movie first came out. Goodness knows Alien is slow-paced, and has as little, maybe less, actually happen; and yet it is still one of my favorite movies of all time. I don't think the slowness in Predator works in the same way, though. And that's because, despite the obvious similarities that beg comparison, from the basic premise to the checklist of plot elements, they're really completely different movies.

The reason for that is the characters. The aliens are not that different, but the human characters could hardly be more unalike. Everyone in Predator is so stoked with Badassery that they can hardly see over their bad asses. It is the defining trait of everything they do, and thus, of the entire movie. It sets the tone of everything, even the times they're being hunted, even their losses. The characters in Alien are not, in the slightest, badasses, and that sets the tone for everything they do, and for the entire movie. (Sure, Ripley ends up a badass in the sequel, but in the original, even the homicidal superhuman android manages, while in the process of attempting to murder one of his shipmates, to come across as slightly effeminate. Think about the tone that sets, compared to what the whole movie would have felt like if Ash had been more like a Terminator, the way everyone in Predator is.)

There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of a bunch of badasses against an alien predator. That's essentially what Aliens is, and that movie absolutely works. But to pull that off you need to use the right pace, and the right tone. Predator is like the premise of Aliens made using the stage dressing of Alien, and the combination just doesn't work. It just makes the slowness feel slow.

The scenes with ArnieDutch making traps puzzled me. Maybe I wasn't watching closely enough, or the small screen I was watching hid important details; but while I got the general gist of the traps, I didn't really get much of a sense of what most of them actually were, or how they worked. Again, that's fine, I don't have to, but they spent a lot of time showing me their construction, but still managed to do so in such a way that I didn't actually know how most of them were constructed or what they would do.

I'll give the movie credit for introducing some concepts that were relatively fresh at the time. Aliens were rarely "amongst us" then and when they were it was invariably as moles within society, meaning humans were somehow important. The best thing the movie does is demote Earth to a backwater that's regularly visited but for no reason other than going on safari. There were also some nice touches in how the creature needed heat (I was surprised that this didn't prove instrumental to its eventual defeat) and how that was reflected in its vision, both augmented and unaugmented; I suspect if you sat down and thought through the biology, you'd find it holds together better than a lot of aliens do, particularly aliens in movies like this where there's really no need for it to be consistent.

It could have been so much better if it had played a little more than it did with the idea of "good sportsmanship." We saw some of that. Billy squaring off against the alien for a "fair fight," that mad look in his eye clearly driven at least in part by respect for the alien's warrior-animal-spirit. The alien eschewing its shoulder-gun to take on Dutch mano-a-mano, or earlier, refusing to attack the unarmed (although it did regularly hunt people from the villages in previous years). But too often that part was ignored when it mattered. Sometimes the alien turned down easy kills and then at other times it took even easier, less sportsmanlike kills. The end didn't end up trading on the idea of a fight between two great hunters or warriors (apart from that one bare-knuckled-fight bit). It came down to a stupid bit of luck.

And then whatever credit they'd earned, they threw away with that awful, awful laugh. Was there anyone who actually found it menacing or anything but comical? It grated on me that, after so much attention was paid to making the alien alien, they give it a laugh that sounds just like any maniacal scenery-chewing villain. All I could hear in my mind was Wash saying "Mine is an evil laugh!" It felt like the movie stopped for thirty seconds to spoof itself, and then expected us to pretend it hadn't happened once the thirty seconds was over.

Ultimately I groaned a lot at the movie, and cheered very little. I hope that the takeaway is that the movie didn't age well. But I feel like I wouldn't've liked it that much even back when it came out.

No comments: