Saturday, October 20, 2012

Making Monsters #18: Predator

Roger Ebert opened his review of Predator by observing that "Predator begins like Rambo and ends like Alien, and in today's Hollywood, that's creativity. Most movies are inspired by only one previous blockbuster." It's true that Predator is essentially a mashup of gung-ho '80s action and the sci-fi/horror spin on And Then There Were None popularized by Alien (itself a brilliant reworking of '50s B-movies like It! The Terror From Beyond Space) and followed by countless imitators. But it transcends its derivative premise and works brilliantly on its own terms, thanks to director John McTiernan at the top of his game (his next film was Die Hard) and Stan Winston's unforgettable creature design. With his dreadlock-like quills, massive cranium and enormous mandibles (one of the most visceral cinematic representations of vagina dentata) the intergalatic big game hunter is a one-of-a-kind movie monster.

Winston's take on the Predator, as many fans of the movie know, wasn't the original character design. Steve Johnson (Big Trouble in Little China, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) originally designed a Predator suit that looked more like a giant insect - the suit was actually used during production for several days, and Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast to play the Predator. But the character proved to be unconvincing on-camera and would not function in the film's tropical on-location shoot, so production was halted for six months while Winston came up with an alternate creature design. Working from concept art by Alan Munro, Winston created an intimidating alien that could plausibly hold his own in hand-to-hand combat with Arnold Schwarzenegger (it helped that the Predator was played by the late Kevin Peter Hall, who also played Harry in Harry and the Hendersons). And the idea of the mandible came from frequent Winston collaborator James Cameron, who mentioned while the two men were promoting Aliens  that mandibles were something he's always wanted to see. The result is one of Winston's most enduring designs, a character strong enough that, even after two abysmal Aliens vs. Predator movies, people still want more.

1 comment:

Rochelle Wisof Fields said...

Interesting read