Monday, 12 July 2010

Predators (2010) – Movie Review – 6/10

Something Seems Familiar...

For those who don't know, Predators is a sequel (of sorts) to the hit action film Predator, from 1987, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. This time round, Oscar winning actor Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Village, King Kong) takes the lead, having clearly spent many hours in the gym in preparation. The question is, were they worth the effort?

In contrast to the close-knit team of highly skilled professionals in the original film, a disparate group of strangers are parachuted into a forest, requiring that they start to work together not only to find out why they are there, but to simply survive. Each one is a killer from our world, be it military, criminal or gangster, and things go from bad to worse when they discover they are on another planet being hunted by vicious aliens for sport.

While the core of the plot is a reasonably different evolution from the original, the way it plays out is, in many ways, almost exactly the same. Therein lies the film's biggest flaw. Much of what happens feels like a simple retread of the original, and even the most memorable shots are in fact cribbed from it.

Although others would disagree, I found Adrien Brody to be the weakest link as regards to the characters and acting. At first, I thought he was a good decision. Picking a blatantly 'big action hero' type, would only draw unfair comparisons to Schwarzenegger. So why not go the other way, and get someone known for their acting ability instead? Unfortunately it backfired, and Brody just doesn't know how to handle the part. He tries too hard, to the point where his 'tough guy voice' makes him sound like someone putting on a bad American accent. He appears to be so self-consciously "Acting how I think an action movie star acts" that he never feels like a natural character, but always an actor playing 'tough'. This also results in his character never being one we want to cheer for, and support. The original film's actors were such huge personalities in their own right, that they filled in where the script perhaps lacked in character definition. Predators simply lacks enough actors with such charismatic screen presence.

Laurence Fishburne (Event Horizon, Assault on Precinct 13(Remake), The Matrix Trilogy) makes a brief appearance as an amusing character that could have been quite interesting, except that Fishburne is just the wrong side of fitness for the part, that his survival and skill seem dubious. In addition, his character turns out to be nothing more than a diversion and minor plot device, disposed of all too quickly, illogically and pointlessly.

In some cases, there are also plot points that turn out to be annoyingly predictable (I'll simply say the doctor), and those that rely on characters being rather slower than the audience to piece together obvious facts. It is also one of those films that relies too heavily on the trick of “If we don't show something in shot with the character/s, they obviously can't see it.”

As for the Predators themselves, sometimes the actors in the suits move in such an ungainly fashion, that they lose the impression of being the ultimate skilled warriors they are supposed to be. There simply isn't enough time spent establishing the creatures the way they have been before. Neither do they appear to be as intelligent, or have their own code of 'honour', as in previous films. They come over as simply big brutes with superior weapons. Even the addition of a slightly different form of predator is completely superfluous except for a minor plot point that comes to nothing anyway.

I understand the budget for this film was only around forty million dollars, which is quite conservative-to-low for a modern film of this nature. Unfortunately, it shows in places. One good example being that these characters are thrown onto an alien planet, and only a single shot is used in the whole film to truly establish this. It completely undermines the sense of atmosphere. A mere handful of digital matte painting shots (which if done correctly, are one of the simplest and cheapest effects shots one can do in a modern effects film) would've handled this problem nicely.

While the main name behind the film was Robert Rodriguez (Director of films such as From Dusk Till Dawn, Spy Kids and The Faculty), he chose not to direct, handing the reigns to relative unknown Nimrod Antal. Unfortunately, Antal lacks the sense of place and location that director John McTiernan was able to create in the first film. McTiernan somehow managed to create a real sense of place and location to events, despite the seeming similarity of backgrounds when filming in a jungle. You always felt you knew where each character was in relation to others and the scene. Antal takes events through several different forms of jungle and wood, but still can't conjure a clear sense of location for the viewer.

Perhaps I sound like I'm coming down too hard on Predators. I did enjoy it. It's great fun for a couple of hours in the cinema, and the opening scene is quite a neat idea (If under-utilised). The biggest problem with Predators is that it does absolutely nothing to justify its existence. Many would disagree, but I think that Predator 2 and Aliens Vs Predator, for all their supposed flaws, at least tried to add to proceedings in their own way, whilst maintaining the ideas of the original. What few interesting ideas Predators has, come to nothing really. At best, it can be considered an inferior retread of the original, created in such a way that you may as well just watch the original.

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