Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Castiglione Discusses Predators

The following article was originally posted on July 18, 2010. It is presented here in its entirety.

Predators begins with nary a preamble, with Royce (Adrien Brody) loaded to the gills with enough military hardware to decimate a small army and in free-fall. Within seconds, his parachute opens and he lands in the middle of a jungle. He finds he is not alone; there are seven others, all of various backgrounds but all killers in their own right, except for milquetoast doctor Edwin (Topher Grace), who appears to be the odd man out in a motley group made up of IDF sniper Isabelle (Alice Braga), death-row convict Stans (Walton Goggins), spetsnaz soldier Nikolai (Oleg Taktorov), Cartel enforcer Cuchillo (Danny Trejo), Yakuza killer Hanzo (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and Sierra Leone death squad member Mombasa (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali). The group realizes there is something strange afoot as the jungle is "wrong" and it doesn't take them long to find out that they are on another planet entirely. You remember watching movies where the main characters figure out what is going on wayyy after the audience does? Well, this isn't the case here, which is refreshing. However, they seem to figure out what's going on wayyy too quickly. They also seem strangely blase about the fact that they've been abducted and dumped on another planet. If I were them, I'd at least be concerned about the possibility of having been anally probed.

Royce, who gains acceptance as the de facto leader of the group, quickly establishes that the planet they are on is a game preserve of sorts and they're the game. After their first fire-fight against their hunters, he surmises that there's more than one entity hunting them, their adversaries use "projectile, energy based" weapons and that they have some sort of "cloaking device". I swear to God those are almost his exact words. Royce, in addition to being an ex-spec ops operator turned mercenary, has obviously spent a lot of time watching the Syfy channel because, frankly, I don't know how else he would've put two and two together so quickly and figured out what was going on.

Okay, so I've pointed out my first gripe about the film (the unbelievable rapidity in which the main characters figure out what's going on, which is to say, that they've been abducted by the Predators and parachuted onto a jungle planet to be hunted down). Besides this, what did I think about the film in general?

Well, it was entertaining. But it almost an exact retread of the first Predator film except that they threw in Laurence Fishburne as a half-mad survivor of a previous hunt; Fishburne's character really doesn't seem to serve any purpose in the storyline beyond providing a bit of exposition about how there are two types of Predators (it appears the ones in the film actually hunt the Predators that appeared in the previous films, in addition to hunting humans), something which the audience probably could have figured out on its own.

Not only was Predators a retread, but at least one iconic scene from the first film was ripped off and copied; in the first film, Sonny Landham decides it would be a good idea to fight a Predator while armed only with a KA-BAR. Needless to say, this ends quite badly for him but his death occurs off-screen with only his grisly scream giving us an indication as to his fate. In Predators, Yakuza killer Hanzo finds a katana amongst some odds and ends scavenged by Noland (Laurence Fishburne) and, like Billy, decides it's a good idea to fight a bigger, stronger, effectively invisible foe hand-to-hand! This time, we get to see the person who decides to fight the Predator mano a mano meet his demise but with the twist that he also manages to take his killer with him.

Speaking of twists, the revelation that Edwin (Topher Grace) is a deranged serial killer (thus explaining why he had been chosen by the Predators to be hunted) was anything but. I can't speak for other viewers but I saw this one coming from a mile away. After all, you have seven killers from various backgrounds and...a seemingly hapless doctor. You have to figure something is up. This twist (along with Stans's presence) also raises some serious questions. All of the abductees mention seeing a bright light and then waking up in free fall. I can understand how Royce and the other characters with military or paramilitary backgrounds could have been abducted by the Predators; they were probably just abducted straight off the battlefield in whatever war they were fighting.

But what about Stans? The guy was locked up, two days away from being executed. Just how did the Predators even know about this guy and how did they abduct him from what I assume must have been a maximum security prison? I'm not saying that the Predators could not have abducted him from a maximum security prison. I'm just saying that the results of such an abduction are bound to be really messy and you'd think that if these Predators made a habit of abducting people from maximum security prisons, humanity, in general, would rapidly learn of their existence, which clearly wasn't the case in the film.

Then there's the question of how the Predators knew Edwin was a serial killer and thus, worthy game for the hunt? The abduction of Stans and Edwin speaks to a level of knowledge of humanity on the part of the Predators that is perplexing and sometimes at odds with events in the films. It certainly implies that the Predators are deeply infiltrated into human society, at least enough to be able to read and understand news media (which they would have needed to do to learn about Stans and discover in which prison he was being held) and to be able to effectively stalk Edwin and observe his daily routine and establish that he, himself, was a predator. However, if they're going to abduct human predators and haul them all the way over to another planet to hunt them, why abduct people that are only armed with a shiv (Stans) or a scalpel (Edwin) when they're planning on just shooting them with their energy based projectile weapons? And the abduction of Edwin really doesn't make sense when you consider that his effectiveness as a predator depends solely on the fact that his victims probably didn't realize he was a deranged serial killer until it was too late; in effect, his seeming harmlessness was camouflage of sorts and was probably why he was effective as a serial killer. Such camouflage doesn't exist in the jungle when he's one of only eight human beings on the planet; his sort of camouflage is effective in a crowd, not so effective in a jungle, making him pretty easy pickings as far as the Predators are concerned. As it is, he's only a real danger to his comrades, who are ignorant of his true nature. To the Predators, who know what he is, he's just a skinny guy with a really small knife. It seems the concept of the canned hunt isn't unique to humanity.

In addition to the questions raised by Stans's and Edwin's abductions, there're also a few more plot holes. Early in the film, the motley crew of human predators almost get killed by a series of traps laid by a US special forces operator; they discover his body where he fell making his last stand. Just why was his body there at all? We all know that Predators take trophies from their victims. Why was his body still there, relatively intact, save for the massive hole in his chest where he was zapped by the Predator's energy based projectile weapon? Why was his skull and spine left intact? You'd think the Predator that killed him would've wanted a keepsake.

Then there's the fact that as soon as they first see one of the Predators, Isabelle immediately knows what it is and she explains later that she was privy to the information from Dutch's debrief which occurred between the first and second Predator films; one crucial piece of information she reveals is that mud can block the infra-red vision of the Predators. When they subsequently decide to make a stand and kill the Predators, do they use this piece of information and liberally smear themselves with mud to make themselves effectively invisible? WTF?!?! Just how does this make sense? The only explanation I can think of for the characters not attempting to take advantage of this piece of information is that they were all incredibly fastidious, perhaps to the point of having OCD. The mud is only used at the film's climax, when Royce uses it to devastating effect to mask his presence in his confrontation with the final Predator.

The plot holes are almost too numerous to count. Edwin conceals his true nature but then decides to start killing his cohorts at a time when he's stuck in a pit with one of them, having been tossed in there by a Predator in moment reminiscent of the "it puts the lotion on its skin" scene from The Silence of the Lambs. You'd think he'd choose a more opportune time to begin indulging his homicidal impulses but he does it at a time which makes absolutely no sense, when he probably needs the help of his intended victim in order to survive. And, this may seem like nitpicking but when asked what unit he belonged to, Noland answers "Air Cav". Now Air Cav is usually used to refer to the 1st Cavalry Division which was, indeed, an airmobile division during the Vietnam War. However, in 1975, it transitioned to being a heavy armored force. At that point, there was no more Air Cav. Unless Noland was abducted during the Vietnam War, which is unlikely given his apparent age, him referring to his unit as Air Cav makes no sense, unless time passes more slowly on the game preserve planet than on Earth.

All of these plot holes may be excusable and it's unlikely that I would have pondered them too deeply except the final plot hole really got under my skin and got me thinking about the others. What was this final plot hole? It was the destruction of the spaceship. Just why did Royce set the ship's controls to have it fly off without him? One could argue that he knew that the Predator was going to self-destruct remotely. But if he knew that, why didn't he leave the spaceship alone, fight the Predator, and kill it before it even had the opportunity to destroy the ship and, thus, be left with a means of escaping the planet? The whole sequence of Royce running for the ship, apparently leaving Isabelle and Edwin to their doom, and then apparently dying when it was self-destructed seemed to exist solely to set up the "surprise" of Royce showing up to rescue Isabelle from Edwin. Given that Royce's appearance wasn't much of a surprise at all, the screenwriters didn't get much return for the big plot hole they slapped onto the film's ending.

You may think this means I didn't enjoy watching Predators. Well, I did. Mainly because of Alice Braga's presence in the film. Ridiculously beautiful, she lit up the screen in every scene in which she appeared, despite being drenched in sweat and wearing baggy BDU's. Plus, it didn't hurt that, to quote Stans, she's got an awesome ass.

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