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Predator (R )
80% rotten tomatoes
Now, Predator does not take place during a war, but I always think of Vietnam when I see it. Maybe because it’s jungle-y, but it just LOOKS like the footage from Vietnam. We’re here in South America, and NOT in Vietnam, but still. In my defense, the Vietnam War was twenty fricking years long, so it’s safe to say that it stayed with the public consciousness for a while. “Hey, where can we drop these soldiers off in a place that makes sense? The jungle you say? That sounds right.” We just can’t stay away from war, can we?
Before we jump in, let’s give some background: Predator and Alien (and unfortunately Prometheus (and Blade Runner!!)) all exist in the same universe. Predator hunts Alien – Alien hunts Predator. The grand culmination – one of the first of many mainstream franchise crossovers – was Alien vs. Predator in 2004. Freddy vs. Jason beat it out by one year.
BUT BEFORE ALIEN VS. PREDATOR – we have Dutch and Sarge running around on a mysterious covert mission in South America and their team being picked off one by one as an alien monster with unfair advantages (such as laser cannon, thermal vision, and knowing about it’s existence) hunts them. Do the lesser humans triumph? You bet your sweet ass they do. Except… there’s kind of an unnerving appropriated (yes) laughter that happens at the end that is not expected of something that’s just been defeated. What does he know that we don’t??? So much. So much…
Fun fact: Jean Claude Van Damme (JCVD) was originally supposed to play the Predator, which would have essentially turned him into an alien ninja. I am glad this did not happen. A couple of things ensured this most fortunate failure – they couldn’t get the makeup and prosthetics to work in the jungle, and also they were afraid Predator would seem puny next to all the enormous bodybuilders. That’s a legitimate concern. Ultimately Predator was voiced by Peter Cullen, who did the voice for King Kong and also OPTIMUS PRIME, and played by mime and actor Kevin Peter Hall.
WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN PETER HALL.
look how sweet and normal he is!!
Remember back when I said JCVD wasn’t big enough to realistically intimidate the likes of Carl Weathers and Arnold schwarz? Kevin Peter Hall was 7’2”. He wasn’t bulky like the other cast members – if you look at pictures of him he seems very long and lean – he’s built like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who is also 7’2”. But that’s still a YUGE human. Unsurprisingly, he played basketball in college and also professionally for awhile. Since he was so tall, he often played monsters. He was Harry in Harry and the Hendersons, and did some horror movie stuff, and he was ALMOST cast as Geordi La Forge.
Ready for some heartbreak? Hall died at the age of 35. He had complications from AIDS, which he contracted from a blood transfusion. In an interview, you can watch some footage of the behind the scenes of Predator, which include some of the hilarious earlier versions of the monster suit.
Hall says that he tried hard to give all of his costume characters the same motivation and mental nuance and attention that he did to his regular human characters – he didn’t just think of it as a physical role. AND – in contrast to JCVD having hissy fits about the motion capture outfit from the first attempt – the make up effect artist said that Hall was very professional and nice, and everyone had great things to say about him so obviously this man did not deserve to die such a horrible death and the universe should be ashamed of itself. One warning – if you watch this interview you will see Carl Weathers without his mustache and it’s not pretty. That means needs a mustache at all times so he doesn’t look like a middle-aged baby.
Let’s put that sadness behind us and talk about something cool: Predator’s abilities and gadgets.
The invisibility effect in this movie is probably still my favorite invisibility effect because it seems like how it would actually look. There’s just a little bit of blurry movement, but if you blink you’ll miss it. I’m going to link an article that goes into details, because I don’t understand it enough to rephrase it. But basically Hall would wear all red, to contrast with the green/blue color scheme of the jungle and do a thing, then the camera would do an identical take, so i assume they were using some kind of rig that they could ensure would repeat exactly what they’d just done. Then they filmed the same shot again, but with a wider lens. They then used magic to put all three shots together, which made it look like light was bending around Hall figure. It’s beautiful nerdy stuff.
Fun fact – science is getting pretty good at making invisibility cloaks. There are more and more items that come up where scientists have figured out some way to scatter light and reflect another point onto the thing with lenses. It’s only a matter of time until I can say “I’m in your kitchen eating your food” and it will actually be true.
So earlier I mentioned his laser cannon, but the proper term is plasmacaster. It sits atop his shoulder, and sights a target using three beams of light (called a laser rangefinder) from the helmet that create a triangle of death. Because the laser rangefinder comes from the helmet, the plasmacaster will sight as Predator moves his head. Then it shoots plasma at variable blast powers to stun or explode you, or anything in between. Can also be unmounted and carried in the hand.
What else. Thermal vision? Yes please. I’ve always wanted this. I think it’s because I have glasses and am always looking for an ocular upgrade. This seems to be packaged as part of a “detect life forms” module, because we hear heartbeats when we see the hot bodies (huh huh huh huh). How do you cover your hammering heart with cold mud, Arnold? Oh, you work out so much your resting heartrate is 5? Okay then, sorry I asked.
Well it IS a module and it’s called the bio-mask. These masks allow Predator to see in thermal (infrared), health stats mode, or xenomorph mode. In a subsequent movie, we see a predator put a sample of a substance into his bracelet, ‘scuse me, Wrist Gauntlet, and have it update his bio-mask to highlight that substance, so the possibilities are kind of endless here. It’s kinda like the Sheikah sensor in BOTW.
And of course, how could we forget the ultimate universal translator. You would think a civilization that has such amazing technology would have better things to do. Or maybe that’s the point – they’ve achieved such a level of competence and efficiency that this is what they do to feel challenged and engaged.
There are a bunch more weapons and tools Predator has, and you can check them out on Xenopedia. I find that fandom websites are extremely useful for this sort of detail-oriented nit-pickiness.
Okay let’s talk about these dudes. They’re huge dudes. How do you get that many huge dudes to fit in one choppa? Well, they didn’t actually have to worry about how many would fit in the helicopter, turns out (huh huh huh huh). The reason they all look like action figures is because the characters’ looks are based on Sgt Rock comics. All you have to do is look at the covers and you’re like “yeah I get it.” It’s all machine guns and tank tops and punching. They’re DC comics, so I assume they’ll bring you down and leave you depressed. I did not read any as part of this episode’s research.
Supposedly the director, McTiernan was trying to be subversive. I don’t think a lot of it comes across, likely because of meddling on the part of others. He said that firing all those bullets into the jungle was supposed to be set up so that nothing was back there; hitting nothing was supposed to point out how “impotent” guns are (I don’t think that’s the argument we need), but a producer ended up changing it so there are bodies in there. I don’t know know it would have played differently – there are so many other extremely macho elements that this subtle dig probably would have gone unnoticed, but who knows. McTierney also directed Die Hard- and I still think of these movies – these two specific movies – as possibly the most stereotypically macho action movies ever made. If there’s any sneaky progressiveness or depth in here, I don’t see it. I love these movies – don’t get me wrong, but when I want to think deeply, they’re not my go to.
What did YOU think of the topics we discussed? We’d love to hear from you!