Sunday, July 11, 2010

Homemade summer movie marathon: Predators

Predators (2010, Nimròd Antal)

Wanting to inject new blood, green or red, into the overall sloppy Predator franchise, write, director and producer Robert Rodriguez put the wheels to his plan in motion not long ago when he and talented but relatively unknown director Nimròd Antal brought together a solid cast featuring the likes of Adrian Brody, Laurence Fishburne, Topher Grace and Alice Braga for one more adventures through strange woods populated by some of the most feared and repulsive hunters in the galaxy.

If there is one thing holding a movie like Predators back is the sense of familiarity which permeates throughout. The setting is almost identical to that of the original film and, more importantly, are the creatures which slaughter the antiheroes we’re following. And even then, with an quasi-identical setting from the first film, what exactly could be done anyhow to make this entry in the franchise especially fresh? I was still curious about the film enough to go seek it out, hanging on to a last glimmer of hope that the brand name could help produce at least something of reasonable quality, whether the end product be wholly original or not.

I am more than glad to report that Predators is not a bad film. After the disappointing Predator 2 and the miserable Alien versus Predator installments, I think the question on everyone’s mind was ‘How bad can this one be?’ which is something that saddens me given my fondness for the original, but it was, for all intents and purposes, the reality of the situation. Director Antal, working with a script from first time screenwriters Alex Litvak and Michael Finch, proves that he is a very effective as a conductor of mood and action. The film starts off with a crash, almost literally, with Adrian Brody’s characters waking up, discovering that he is strapped to a plane seat and dropping in mid air. His parachute opens in the nick of time and, before he can comfortably get to his bearings, witnesses a series of other people captives drop from the skies just as he did. With the exception of a confused and petrified doctor (Topher Grace), each and every one of them is either a hardened criminal of some sort of military combatant. An African warlord (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali), a Mexican gangster (Danny Trejo), a yakuza member (Louis Ozawa Changchien), an Isreali black ops sniper (Alice Braga) are just some of the people who have little choice other than to work together and survive the forest. Knowing nothing as to why they were chosen or what planet they are on, the danger element is heightened significantly once strange beasts with blood lust start hunting them one by one.

Predators is not going to rock anyone’s world. Not enough novelty or freshness is brought to this enterprise in order for that to happen, but what we do get is an effective action thriller that truly brings back an air of respectability to the franchise. Working behind the camera, Antal directs the film with a solid balance between steady cam shots which do well to set up the tone and atmosphere of the location, but also some well crafted and edited action oriented sequences that are, surprise surprise, easy to follow and visually interesting. There is even a certain grace to the camera work when the hellish hunters unleash their arsenal on the protagonists. Nothing too fancy is done, just enough to get the job done, which is something I admire sometimes. The movie even look like it cost 20th Century Fox all that much either. I'm not saying the movie looks cheap, which it doesn't, but it has a slightly more old fashioned look and feel to it. The creatures themselves have always been intimidating in my opinion. When they don’t have their masks on, they look like giant, killing cyborgs, and when they reveal their true selves, I find them appropriately grotesque. The mere fact that they are in the surrounding area and can cloak themselves via camouflage technology is enough to get me excited, if not scared per say.

Antal builds the pace with some interesting choices. The first 45 minutes are there for our group of mercenaries and criminals to explore the terrain a little bit and slowly take in what it is they might be a part of, that is, some variety of a hunting game. Little vignette-like scene go by with Adrian Brody’s character arriving at this conclusion as they pass through a series of quite vicious traps set up in these woods. We see the characters bicker and interact just a tiny bit, which isn’t enough to lend them any sort of three-dimensionality, but I wasn’t necessarily asking for any either. Give me some general traits for each of these scumbags and I’ll be willing to follow along. The predators only seem to populate the second half of the film, and even then it is only in the final 15 minutes or so that they earn significant screen time. For these reasons, Predators truly does feel like a re-imagining of sorts of the original film. Antal and company provide some different decorations here and there, such the class system within the Predator race, as well as the character of Noland, played by Laurence Fishburne, who has been residing in a secluded hideout for several seasons already and tricks the protagonists into believing that he is there to help them. Overall, there are several more similarities than differences between the two instalments, including John Debney’s score, which calls back to Alan Silvestri’s original work more than once.

Just because the film tries to rekindle with the spirit of the original does not make it as good however. The dialogue has some obvious weaknesses, such as the useless amount of f-bombs dropped. I get that most of these humans represent the scum of the earth, but does that make the use of the word ‘phuck’ so essential? I’m also not a fan of those dialogue exchanges in which one character says something along the lines of ‘We were brought here? Brought for what !?!’ with the second character in the conversation replying ‘Brought here to be HUNTED!’ with a overly intense tone in his voice. It sounds cheap, almost as if the screenwriters were trying to go for a laugh when none was called for. The script also does something very bizarre with the Topher Grace character during the film’s climax. Thinking on what had transpired before, I tried putting the pieces of his character’s puzzle together, but nothing fit very well. I think the movie simply wanted to surprise us without actually planning on how the idea in question would work.

Despite these few glaring weaknesses, I would still recommend Predators to any monster movie fans or action movie fans. It is a strange recommendation since the film follows the plotting and setting of the original film so much, so why not just see that one instead, right? Nonetheless, I can’t deny the fact that I was entertained by Predators, was impressed with Adrian Brody’s ‘tough guy’ performance (who beefed up a lot for this role), and thought the action scenes were executed quite intelligently. I guess if there are any youth today who happen to be allergic to older films (like a lot are unfortunately) but would like to explore the world of the Predator creature, this movie isn’t a bad place to start at all.

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