Thursday, 15 July 2010

Predators




Predators begins with an adrenaline rush of an opening salvo: Adrien Brody's tough nut mercenary Royce in desparate free-fall, just about able to open his parachute and crash onto a hostile alien planet. It effectively sums up the head-on approach of Nimród Antal and producer Robert Rodriguez' reboot cum sequel to the 1987 Arnie classic Predator: frequently generating little more than bluster, but effective enough in grabbing its audience by the knackers.



It's caught somewhat uneasily between those two poles of remake and straight sequel but, for the most part, the filmmakers cut as close to the original as possible. The film is at its best when it does; frequently though, the pared down simplicity is cluttered up with redundant back stories and nuances that steer it closer to the cash cow Alien vs. Predator franchise (the very influence Rodriguez claimed to avoid). After all, 'There's something in those trees' carries so much more menace than a hinted-at Predator blood feud.



But this is jumping ahead. The set-up comes first and it's as brisk and efficient as one would expect. Royce awakes in thick undergrowth and finds complete strangers also dropping in from the sky, including the token female, Isabelle (Alice Braga); an out-of-place doctor (Topher Grace); and a Yakuza member (Louis Ozawa Changchien). So far, so payback time. It doesn't take long for the group to realize though, on viewing a sky that features more than one sun, that they're no longer on Earth, but this isn't the worst part. A ruthless race of Predator alien warriors are toying with them, apparently having dropped the misfits onto the planet for the express intent of hunting them for sport.



Note the presence of 'apparently' there; very little of the over-busy screenplay is rounded up and worked over (unlike the characters on-screen), with threads and loose ends left as scattered as a Predator's dreadlocks. A late appearance of a twitchy Laurence Fishburne as a battle-hardened survivor is fun but goes nowhere, as with many of the character beats and motivations (many of which are likely a set-up for a new franchise). One can't help that they're being distracted from the primal battle at the centre, the sense of struggle that made the original so compelling, so frightening.



Which is why, midway through, Antal (directing competently, rather than memorably) decides to drop most of that and start having more fun with his tightrope homage act. The sight of a mud-caked, bare-chested Brody (surprisingly, brilliantly, convincing) finally moves the film in exactly the right direction: a mixture of contemporary, crashing action and affectionate throwback. It goes without saying the creature effects (one of the late Stan Winston's greatest creations) are superbly fearsome, despite some dodgy CGI elsewhere, and the climactic atmospheric mix of torchlight and jungly surroundings will evoke potent nostalgia.



In the end, it's likely composer John Debney who best realizes the potentials and perils inherent in adapting a classic for the modern age, brilliantly enhancing Alan Silvestri's classic percussive work while also deploying a range of defiantly modern effects like electric guitars and squealing horns. It's a tightrope act that the rest of the film struggles to maintain, faithful, exciting and often unnerving though it is.

4 comments:

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  2. I recorded the music during the endcredits as a separate file (after the Little Richard song), and in just 4 minutes and 15 seconds, you really get a great "capsule" of both Alan Silvestri's original theme to Predator, and John Debney's enhancements and variations on that theme. I also hear elements that remind me of music from these movies: Signs, Star Trek, The Fifth Element, The Dark Night, and others. It's a wonderful ride and I would really love to see the actual full score of this music to see how Debney orchestrated both the percussion, symphonic and electronic elements of this piece.

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