Predators arrives in theaters tonight at midnight and promises to reignite an ailing franchise. Produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimrod Antal, the film drops a gang of the world's toughest fighters onto an alien hunting planet for the sport of a new breed of Predator and, as my review attests, delivers spectacular horror and action from the off.
But it's not been an easy journey to screen. After Predator 2 failed somewhat to capture the raw tone of the original – though I'll happily make a case for it being a little bit brilliant in other ways – the only big-screen outing for the Predator has been in two atrocious Alien vs. Predator films.
However, while the creature hasn't necessarily had its share of fair treatment in cinemas, the gestation of the Predator franchise behind the scenes is more fascinating than most can claim to be. Not long ago I was tasked with pulling together the true history of Predator, and along the way I was shocked by just how many funny surprises, odd coincidences and folkloric tales are attached to the property. Here are seven for you to chew over.
1. Governors Aplenty
Even the least politically astute among us will be well aware that Arnold Schwarzenegger put aside his long acting career to become Governor of California, a position he holds to this day. But did the seeds of his later political career germinate on the set of Predator? It's a fair question to ask, since that film spawned a second governor. Jesse Ventura would go on to become Governor of Minnesota in 1998. To further prove the point, a third Predator star ran for Governor of Kentucky in 2003: Sonny Landham, who plays Billy, fought a campaign for the gig but went unelected.
2. Hieronymus Bosch
If you want to suggest a true picture of hell, where better to draw inspiration than from the dark paintings of Bosch? To create the Predators' hunting camp set on the backlot of Troublemaker Studios for a shot in Predators, production designers Steve Joyner and Caylah Eddleblute looked to those bleak visions. "We wondered, Where would the Predators bring their kill?" explains Joyner. "Where would they clean it? How would they preserve the hides and the bones and the trophies that they take? So we designed individual areas within the camp for all of that, so if you were a Predator, you'd feel right at home. The hunting camp is terrifying; everything was designed to look dangerous."
3. The Crossovers
The most indelible mark made by the comic book spinoffs of the Predator franchise was the crossover with the Alien universe. Those tales spun off again into videogames and eventually produced the aforementioned AvP feature films. The idea, of course, originated from a shot of the Predator trophy room when Danny Glover stepped onto their ship at the end of Predator 2. In it you can clearly make out the skull of an Alien, suggesting the Predators had hunted them just as they'd hunted us. Comic books love a crossover, so it might be more surprising to learn that the Predator has also fought the Terminator, Superman, Batman, Judge Dredd and Tarzan in comic book form.
4. James Cameron
The director of the two biggest films in cinema history also helped define the design of the Predator, and he did it totally by chance. He took a flight with Stan Winston and spotted the effects supremo creating concept art for the film while they were airborne. He told Winston he'd always wanted to see a sci-fi creature with mandibles, and Winston incorporated the creepy feature into his designs. Of course, you'll find plenty more mandibled beasties in Cameron's own Avatar.
It's probably the best-known fact about the original on this list, but it's also the most bizarre – Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast to play the Predator. Tales of his behavior on set are legend. After shooting his first scenes, in red Lycra to create the effect of the Predator cloaked, he quit, claiming he had no interest in being a special effect. While he was on the film it was known as 'Hunter' and it wasn't until they redesigned the creature for the physically different Kevin Peter Hall that its title changed to Predator.
6. Horseshoe Crab
Ever wonder where the familiar Predator gurgle comes from? According to Peter Cullen, who voiced the creature, one look at the design reminded him of the sound of a dying horseshoe crab, and this sound provided inspiration. Cullen hesitated before taking the job – he'd vowed never to voice another screen monster after suffering throat injuries on the 1976 remake of King Kong.
7. Failed Comebacks
Arnie was due to reprise the role of Dutch in Predator 2, but couldn't do it because he had a prior obligation to James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgement Day. It wasn't the only time he was tempted back by the franchise. When Paul WS Anderson directed Alien vs. Predator, his idea was to bring back a star from each franchise, hence Lance Henriksen's appearance. Arnie was to have been the Predator actor brought back, and he agreed to play a cameo on two conditions. The first was that it be filmed at his house – it was a scene involving Dutch airlifting out the survivors in a helicopter and Schwarzenegger has his own helicopter pad. The second was that he'd only do it if he didn't win the Governorship of California, because he intended to set acting aside while he served. Of course, he did win and the cameo was scrapped, though he did spend a day acting in Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables, so perhaps his attitude has eased since.