Predator: when the human is the prey

Predator: when the human is the prey


On June 12, 1987 Predator was released in American theaters. Let's retrace the history of this cult of action science fiction through some curiosities.

The decade between 1977 and 1987 was one of the richest in science fiction cinema. In these few years, some of the great symbols of cinematic sci-fi have succeeded on the big screen, from Alien to Star Wars, passing through Blade Runner and Terminator. Within this parade of iconic characters, another lethal alien appeared that has become a symbol of the cinema period, later becoming the protagonist of a sci-fi saga that has also reached the world of comics: Predator.

The genesis of the unstoppable alien headhunter, as often happens with the great films of that period, sinks into projects born almost as a joke, but whose premises then became the basis from which Predator was then made. And it all started with a certain Rocky Balboa.

From Rocky to Predator

When Rocky IV came out, it was ironic about how many other films could have been made about the boxer played by Sylvester Stallion. In particular, the irony focused on Rocky's opponent, considering that he had already faced characters of a certain depth, such as Apollo, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago. In short, the feeling was that no one on Earth could face Rocky, the only opponent who would really put Rocky in trouble could be an alien.

A suggestive idea that gave two screenwriters, Jim and John Thomas, an incredible intuition: a heterogeneous team of alien hunters involved in a hunt on Earth. The Thomas teased the idea of ​​overturning the concept of prey, giving life to a story in which the human, usually the hunter, became the prey instead. Not surprisingly, the working title used in this script was Hunter. Representing the unfortunate humans, it was supposed to be an incredibly trained soldier, who would have given star poachers a hard time, which is why it was decided to set the action in the Central American rainforest, considering that at the time it was theater of several American black ops.

Thomas' screenplay was presented in 1985 at 20th Century Fox, which submitted it to producer Joel Silver. Appreciated for his work on the action movie Commando, Silver decided to turn a B-grade science fiction film project into a high-budget film. His approach convinced 20th Century Fox, who put him in charge of the project, and Silver's first move was to involve John McTiernan and Lawrence Gordon as co-producer in the film. was considered for the cast was that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The muscle actor had previously worked with Silver in Commando, and for Predator he was chosen as the interpreter of Alan 'Dutch' Schaffer, the protagonist of the story. Initially, Dutch was supposed to be the only human in the film, able to stand up to the deadly alien hunter in an unbridled fight. The idea did not fully convince Schwarzenegger, who expressed his perplexities to the writers.

Convinced by the actor's ideas, McTiernan and his team modified the original concept, introducing the element of the American recovery team. . Choice that led to the need to compose a team of tough soldiers ready for anything, the perfect opportunity to compose a team of muscles that has become a legend of the action movies of history.

Carl was taken directly from the Rocky saga Weathers, who plays an old acquaintance of Dutch and is the point of contact with the 'spy' side of the film.

From the world of wrestling came Jesse Ventura, who played Blain. Ventura was not only given the required massive physique, but he also had a military background, as he had served as Navy S.E.A.L. and he had also done his fair share of the Vietnam War (1966-1795). Curiously, in addition to Predator, Ventura found himself working with Schwarzenegger also for another film that same year, The Relentless, another science fiction film inspired by a Stephen King novel, The Running Man. br>
A military past, that of Ventura, shared with actor Richard Chavez (Poncho), who had served in Vietnam. The actors had no military experience, especially one in particular: Shane Black.

Actually, Black wasn't even an actor, but a screenwriter. His presence in the cast was a sort of necessity, wanted by Joel Silver for a very specific reason: to force him to work! Black, in fact, struggling with writing a script for Silver, based on a couple of policemen, one white and one black, struggling with a bad drug story, which later became the movie Lethal Weapon. The Predator set did Black's work so well that the screenwriter also wrote a second screenplay, The Last Boy Scout!

If assembling the squad of soldiers was apparently simple, more effort required taking care of the main character movie: the alien!

Creating the hunter

Bringing the Predator alien to life was a far from simple challenge. Creating a believable alien is never easy, and McTiernan's team faced numerous difficulties. The first look of the alien was totally different from the one seen at the end, and had a completely different physicality, which made it leaner and more agile than the lethal alien hunter we know today.

In the first version, the alien would have to be very agile and continually move among the thick foliage. It was created by Richard Edlung, who created a disproportionate being, with large yellow eyes encased in a canine-shaped head, but unable to have the necessary agility required by the figure of the alien hunter.

An alien hunter had also been created. special red suit that the interpreter of the alien would have worn, whose coloring would have allowed to work in post-production on the removal of the alien from the scenes to give life to the famous concealment of the Predators. It was therefore necessary to find an actor who could wear this suit and at the same time provide a physical performance to the height, a requirement that was met by a future action movie star: Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Once upon a time slipped Van Damme into the alien's suit, the first sensation was not positive. Unlike humans, massive and visually strong, the result was that of a tiny and not very dangerous creature, starting to suggest that even the alien needed an actor with a certain physicality. To this, there were also the complaints of Van Damme, who reported how the suit was suffocating, to the point of reducing him almost to fainting on several occasions, to the point that the Belgian actor left the set only two days of shooting, when he discovered that in addition to having to work absurdly his name would not even appear in the credits.

Van Damme's abandonment prompted McTiernan to revise the concept of the alien. After viewing a proposal from Rick Baker, on the advice of Schwarzenegger he turned to a master of the sector, Stan Winston, with whom the actor had worked a few years earlier for Terminator. This change also made it possible to create an alien whose physique could compete with that of strong humans, which Winston worked on immediately. The first sketches of the new alien were created by Winston during a flight to the Fox studios in the company of the director of Aliens, James Cameron, who suggested introducing the element of the insect jaws.

The new alien was therefore more massive, a novelty that required a suitable actor under the mask. Role that was played by Kevin Peter Hall, who exceeded two meters in height.

Despite having corrected the figure of the alien, it was not possible to build a new suit that would allow Hall to act easily, forcing the actor to share the harshness of the working conditions that plagued the rest of the cast. Hall was forced, in fact, to act often without even seeing where he was going due to the Predator costume, memorizing all the movements before shooting the scenes. A commitment that was recognized by making him play the role of the helicopter pilot who saves Dutch in the final, giving him the opportunity to act even without the mask of the Predator.

To characterize the alien, he continued by trial and error. For example, initially the alien blood was orange juice, but the effect did not live up to expectations, and finally he decided to use the liquid of the lightsticks mixed with some jelly.

A film or a survival camp?

Making a film like Predator turned out to be a real odyssey. The first challenge was to work in a difficult environment such as that of the jungle, which forced the crew to live with extremely harsh conditions, including leeches and climatic conditions that were anything but favorable. Filming began in March 1986, a period in which the climate was not particularly suitable, forcing the actors to act under strong lights that warmed up the locations.

What made everything even more complicated was always acting on rough terrain, which forced the actors to grueling marches and continuous efforts. Schwarzy himself remembers that the working of Predator was for him one of the most exhausting tests, considering how for the scenes of his clashes with the alien he was forced to spend hours in the water and suffer the cold.

These harsh conditions, however, also led to the creation of a curious relational dynamic between the actors. The presence of strong personalities convinced of being the alpha of the pack, in fact, gave rise to a rivalry that prompted the actors to train at night just to not lose muscle tone and be the most physically fit. To make fun of Ventura, Schwarzenegger convinced part of the crew to always testify that the Austrian actor's biceps were more voluminous than that of the American, prompting him to train continuously. And winning a bottle of champagne offered by the cast.

This rivalry led to Schwarzenegger losing a lot of weight, almost fifteen pounds, training continuously to give his character the necessary skill for the most athletic scenes. While the rest of the crew lost weight due to dysentery, taken by drinking raw water in the Mexican hotels they were staying in.

Carl Weathers has often talked about competitions between the actors, also remembering that Predator owes a bad to it. habit, because of Schwarzenegger: smoking cigars. Always an avid smoker, Schwarzy tried to persuade Weathers to try one throughout the film, but it wasn't until the end of the shoot that the black actor tried, admitting that the feeling wasn't bad. Upon returning to America, Weathers received a box of fine cigars from Schwarzenegger, and from that moment he became addicted to smoking.

It was Schhwarzenegger's private life that gave the actors a breather. The actor was supposed to get married at that time, on April 26, and the production paused from April 25 to April 30, to allow the actor to enjoy even a very short honeymoon.

More than an action movie

Predator rightfully enters the list of action films that made sparks in the 1980s. Despite the undeniable science fiction and action soul of Predator, no less evident is the satirical vein of McTiernan's film. The presence of a deliberately hyper-muscular cast, with the presence of jokes that have become historical, is a way of making fun of the typical setting of the action movies of the period.

Central to the dynamics of the film is also the historical characterization of the period . As in other films of the period, Predator also relies on the contemporaneity of the 1980s, using the detail of the small battles fought in Latin American countries by American operatives, in what were known as black ops, deliberately secret armed interventions. McTiernan makes intelligent use of them, transforming them into the casus belli of his film, to which he combines a subtle criticism of the use of weapons, embodied by the famous scene in which soldiers shoot blindly into the bush hoping to hit the invisible enemy. A moment that reaffirms the uselessness of a violent approach to situations that are not understood, as the rest of the film demonstrates, in which in the end it all boils down to a physical and instinctive clash.

In Predator, above all, the overturning of the perspective of the human-alien relationship is compelling. Dutch and his team are reminiscent of the crew of the Nostromo from Alien, they are the prey of a nameless and seemingly unstoppable entity. Contrary to Scott's film, however, Predator does not witness the desperation of a human group trying to survive, but the will of a team of armed men convinced of a sure superiority guaranteed by the biggest weapon. Under the framework of an action movie, therefore, there are deeper implications that make Predator something deeper.

The figure of the Predator, however, became a symbol of science fiction of the period, to the point that it gave birth to a film saga. As often happened to the characters made famous in the cinema in the decade, Predator also had a life off the silver screen, becoming the protagonist of a Dark Horse cartoon saga that continued when told by McTiernan, before the release of Predator II made the intuitions of the comic by Mark Verheiden and Chris Warner was excluded from the continuity of the saga, which then entered the wider context of the Aliens Universe.

You can see the first chapter of the Predator saga by purchasing the bluray on Amazon

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