2010 will be remembered for two things - crappy movies and an obsession with bringing back the '80s. OK, so that second part is a bit of a stretch. Even with A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Karate Kid sullying the memories of the originals it is more likely to be remembered for crappy - and - crappier movies. Which is why this new feature at Cinematical hopes to remind a new generation of a happier time. People may wince at the music (and the clothes!) of the 1980s, but for many of us it was our golden age of the cinema; the period we grew up on. How sad is it to think that today's kids are growing up on National Treasures and Airbenders when we had names like Spielberg, Dante, Zemeckis and Gilliam guiding the ship? So it's time to go back to the '80s, to find more some more memorable alternatives, and maybe even look upon some of the films that could have inspired the directors of today.
This week's big screen disappointment comes in the form of Nimrod Antal's Predators. While we had been promised a reboot/sequel under the watchful eye of Robert Rodriguez, audiences will have to slog through a rather unimaginative concoction (after a promising setup) that can barely live up to the plural of its title. Back in 1987 it began with Predator. Singular. Summed up perfectly by Roger Ebert at the time as beginning "like Rambo and ends like Alien", it was that breakout bridge film that allowed director John McTiernan to go on to bigger and better things like Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October.
The premise was as simple as this: A group of mercenaries is dropped into a Guatemalan jungle for a rescue mission and ends up being stalked by a malevolent camouflaged creature that picks them off one-by-one. It was a B-picture at best, moreso than the action classic that has grown in some people's minds; its legend growing with one lackluster sequel after the next. But consider what it can boast that its followers could not.
It had the newest action star on the block still surging to the peak of his popularity. It was a new twist on not one, but two old concepts. One could even say it was The Expendables of its time - at least to movie geeks. While Lionsgate promises the biggest action stars of all time (at least in cameos), Predator offered a pretty interesting mash-up of familiar faces to genre fans. Carl Weathers just finished off his run as foe-turned-friend Apollo Creed in four Rocky films. Bill Duke was last seen eating "green berets for breakfast" facing off against Schwarzenegger in Commando. It was the big screen debut of WWF wrestler Jesse Ventura (who would later appear with Arnold in two more films). Shane Black had just written his debut screenplay; a little prelude known as Lethal Weapon. And Sonny Landham was well known for bringing a knife to a gunfight as one of the felons up against Eddie Murphy in 48 Hrs., a mistake he clearly makes in his mano-a-mano against the Predator as well. Some people never learn.
Much like the makers of the current Predators. The one thing that is hard to overcome is the sense of mystery that is lost on us. In 1987 we were able to learn little things about what they were up against - namely a cloaking device, advanced laser weaponry and a sore loser mushroom cloud dispenser that didn't exactly make the Predator a good sport. So when it came time for Predator 2, it took an hour for new characters to learn this all over again while we waited for the extended showdown. Now we fall directly onto the alien world with nary a question answered save for Adrien Brody's Royce making the gigantic leap in logic that they are on a game preserve. But what are we left with? Predator hound dogs and slightly uglier predators?
When James Cameron pluralized Alien for his sequel, he not only changed the tone and scope of the picture but added the nifty surprise of an alien queen and made sure he lived up to his title by having swarms of aliens attack our military specialists. Why there seem to only be about a half-dozen predators on their own planet (some not even on the same team) who never bother to attack at the same time is pretty sloppy filmmaking from a pair of guys who claim to have grown up on the original.
In essence they have found a way to do a remake and file it under the auspices of a homage-flooded sequel. The beats of Silvestri's mysterious jungle score are there. The mini-gun makes an early appearance. There's a token minority woman. (But enough about Topher Grace.) The so-called upgrades to Predators include a redux of the "everyone fire at something at the same time" scene - only they are finally hitting something. And Landham's big "I'll stay behind to even the score" scene finally culminates in an actual fight between this film's silent-but-deadly hero and one of the predators. Hell, for all we know the Predator in 1987 pulled an Indiana Jones and just shot the dude with the big knife standing in his way.
This is not to suggest that McTiernan's film was a masterpiece by any stretch, nor has Predators tainted its (somewhat overblown) memory the way those AvP mash-ups did to two franchises at once. The '87 film itself was a mash-up of various genres and could just as easily be called "Southern Comfort Meets Alien." Actually that is an even better '80s film to revisit, directed by the guy (Walter Hill) who would later get a story/screenplay credit on Aliens and Alien³. Try that double feature on for size and then see whether or not Predators is worth a pass -- even in a summer as bad as this one has been.