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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Predators Is a B-Movie Ride Back To Its Jungle Roots

Predators = 3 and 1/2 out of 5
Edwin: Excuse me, I'm - just what the hell is going on here?
Royce: We're being hunted. The cages, soldier, all of us. We were all brought here for the same purpose. This planet is a game preserve, and we're the game.
Another entry into the Predator franchise, this time harking back to its 80s roots. Based on a story from the mind of producer Robert Rodriguez, this new Predator film essentially takes the concept of 'The Most Dangerous Game' and throws in the sci-fi element to make for a mostly satisfying action thriller. While the pacing could have been tightened a bit, there were enough solid elements here to really let me enjoy a new legitimate entry into this series.

The film literally begins by dropping us into a new world. Adrien Brody wakes up in free fall, only to have a parachute automatically deploy, before he nails right into the jungle ground. Cue title card. We now see that Brody, playing a character named Royce, is a heavily armed mercenary. Over the next couple minutes, seven more people all have a similar arrival. They include Alice Braga as an Israeli Sniper, Oleg Taktarov as a Spetsnaz soldier, Walton Goggins as a death row inmate, Danny Trejo as a cartel enforcer, an agent of Yakuza, an RUF soldier, and Topher Grace as a doctor. As Royce hesitantly leads this group of cutthroats...and Grace, the team soon discovers that they are not only in an unfamiliar jungle, but another planet entirely.

As the group progresses further, they learn that they are in fact being hunted by a species of warriors, armed, cloaked, and very dangerous. A human survivor of these "games," played by Laurence Fishburne, manages to shed more light on the dire situation everyone is, but it will come down to survival of the fittest, if any of the group plans to make it through the hunt and possibly get off this planet.

What certainly worked for me was how true this film wanted to be to the 1987 original. The original Predator is really one of my favorite action films of all time, for many reasons, and while I have a guilty pleasure soft spot for Predator 2, this is really a film that compliments the original quite well. The way the film is shot, how it develops its story, the characters, the played-for-straight toughness of all the characters, and especially the score by John Debney (which purposefully recreates most of the elements from Alan Silvestri's original score) are all reasons I was really into this film.

Helping, was some solid direction from Nimrod Antal. Antal has so far made a few tight, mainstream thrillers (Vacancy and Armored), which may not be fantastic, but are at least competently made and solid flicks. In this film, Antal does a very good job at creating a mood and delivering on the action, by having well staged sequences built around knowing the geography of each set piece and capturing what's needed on camera, as opposed to having too much rapid editing and no clear idea of the space being used. Its the kind of film that benefits from its location and set design in order to establish its tension, which I can appreciate.

As far as the actors go; I quite enjoyed Brody in the lead. It was as if he was in on the joke by playing his character thoroughly gruff speaking only in what would seem to be short, comic book like, macho dialogue throughout, along with having a certain amount of bulk to give him the appearance of an agile, but capable soldier. I enjoyed Braga as well, managing to hold her own in the midst of massive amounts of testosterone. Everyone else did what was required of them. Grace and Goggins provided some laughs, the Yakuza guy was a quiet cool, and Fishburne really only served one purpose. I could always use more Danny Trejo though (Good thing the real Machete film is coming very soon).

Royce: Come on, I'm here! Kill me! Do it now!
Of course, the Predators are a huge element here, so its a good thing the film once again manages to make the most out of their appearance. I've always been a huge fan of the Stan Winston design for the concept of the predator, complete with sweet masks, alien face design, and weapons; so having special effects master Greg Nicotero, of KNB EFXs, take control this time around was a plus for me. The predators manage again to look great, with unique elements for the ones shown, and certainly feel like an opposing force. I also appreciated the effects team's restraint on gore. While it certainly earns its R-rating, the film doesn't go too far out in being gratuitous.

For a film like this, there is really only one kind of problem - how much can you let slide in terms of dialogue and characterization before you stop enjoying the film. I certainly recognized what kind of film I was getting into from the start, which is why I wasn't bothered by some of the more forced exposition, along with the tough, macho dialogue. This is supposed to be good cheesy fun. The only real problem I had was something I half-admired about the film, which was its pacing. I could appreciate that this film didn't try to be too rapid-fire with its pacing, instead relying on trying to build its tension (which could have worked much better if there weren't 4 other films involving predators already), but the film really could have used a bit more of a jolt in the middle. The initial setup and the final half hour are quite well handed, but some tightening up in the middle could have helped.

Really, I was very much taken into the grasp of this film due the amount of respect it paid to the original, the constant homages, the score, and the amount of cheesy entertainment that it provided for me.
Royce: How do we kill them?
Noland: However you can.

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