Aliens, Predators And The Humans In The Middle – Part II

Last week, in Part 1 which you can catch up on here, we took a look at the first series of movies following the Alien, now let’s take a look at the second series, following the Predator.

In 1985, a script originally called ‘Hunter’ was picked up by 20th Century Fox and was put under the control of Joel Silver to produce. The script by brothers Jim & John Thomas had been inspired by a joke that they had heard in reference the Sylvester Stallone Rocky movies, commenting that there were no more opponents on earth for Rocky Balboa to fight and that he would have to take on an alien opponent.

John McTiernan was hired to direct the movie, with a team of commandos being played by a diverse cast including wrestler Jesse Ventura, established action actors such as Carl Weathers and Bill Duke, writer Shane Black (Currently due to direct Marvel’s Iron Man 3), and cast as the team’s leader, action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. They would be pitted in battle against a tall, invisible alien hunter, which was to be played by a then unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme, as it picked them off one by one for trophies.

Shane Black, being an experienced writer and producer, was brought in by Joel Silver as a way to have a producer on set to ensure that McTiernan, who was relatively inexperienced at that time, was up to the task of directing the project. It also allowed for some last-minute changes to the script (specifically the dialogue) on the go during production. After several months delay due to Schwarzenegger’s commitments on another movie, the cast and crew travelled to the jungles of Mexico to begin filming the movie.

The production was not an easy shoot – Actor Sonny Landham had earned a slight reputation for getting into trouble and bar-fights while on movie sets, so the movie’s insurance company insisted that a bodyguard be hired around the clock, to protect the other cast members from Landham should such an event occur, the majority of the cast and crew were ill for most of the shoot due to a contaminated water supply in their hotel, shooting in the jungle was incredibly difficult due to the plummeting night-time temperatures and rough terrain of the jungle settings, and Van Damme, upset that he would not actually be appearing on-screen, caused disruptions, allegedly resulting in a stuntman being injured.

Van Damme was replaced on the movie by actor Kevin Peter Hall, who had recently finished filming as the Sasquatch Harry in Harry and the Hendersons (a.k.a. Bigfoot and the Hendersons), but the biggest problem at the time was the issue of the elaborate special effect to make the alien hunter appear invisible on screen. This was long before digital special effects had become so widespread and cost effective to use, so all of the special effects had to be managed wherever possible using practical effects and blue screen technology. This involved having the predator covered completely in red for the shots where it was to appear camouflaged, being in contrast to the green of the jungle, removing the colour red from the film then left a void which could be manipulated to create the desired effect.

There was also issue with how the predator moved. Wanting it to look like it had no problems moving through the trees, the decision was first made to try to have a gorilla swing through the trees wearing the suit, but the gorilla was unco-operative, and would start removing parts of the suit, making the shots useless. There was also the problem that the suit restricted movement, to a degree that it evoked unintentional laughs at how bad it looked on dailies, placing doubt on that it would be taken seriously as a deadly hunting killer. With that, a decision was taken to re-design the predator, given the height of replacement actor Hall, the design was made more humanoid by special effects designer Stan Winston, who whilst sharing a plane ride with director James Cameron, showed him some sketches. Cameron suggested mandibles, which have since become a distinct part of the predator appearance.

Composer Alan Silvestri, who had previously worked on Romancing The Stone and Back To The Future was brought in to compose the score for the movie. Though heavily re-cut by McTiernan to fit the movie in editing, the score is effective in creating a blend of heavy action pieces along with subtle moments that build up the tension of some scenes, among them the moment when the commandos have set a trap and are just waiting quietly. It could have made for a boring break in the movie, but Sylvestri’s music keeps the tension building, making for a successful pay off at the scene’s end.

When Predator was released in 1987, it was met with mixed reviews from the critics, but went on to take over $55 million at the U.S. box office from an estimated budget of $15 million. The movie has since gained an appreciation among fans of the action genre, and has inspired countless similar movies that have been made since. It was nominated in the 1988 Oscars for Best Visual Effects, but lost out to Joe Dante’s Innerspace.

After a Predator comic book series proved to be successful, Jim & John Thomas were given the go ahead to write a sequel to be released in 1990. John McTiernan was offered to return as director but turned instead chose to direct The Hunt For Red October, leaving the position to be filled by newcomer Stephen Hopkins. This time the alien hunter would be in a different environment, instead of the jungles of Mexico it would be in the urban jungle of Los Angeles. Thanks to Hopkins and production designer Lawrence G. Paull, this new predator would have an even bigger arsenal of weaponry to avoid it from feeling stale.

Danny Glover was cast in the lead character of police Lieutenant Mike Harrigan, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was asked to reprise his role of Dutch from the first movie, but declined citing a dislike of the sequel being set in a city (Instead he chose to star in Terminator 2: Judgement Day). The character of Dutch would subsequently be re-written as Peter Keyes, a CIA agent secretly hunting the predator and though Hopkins wanted John Lithgow to fill the role, producer Joel Silver insisted on Gary Busey being cast.

A diverse supporting cast including Bill Paxton, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Ruben Blades was brought in to reflect the multi-cultural society of Los Angeles, and Kevin Peter Hall returned to play the predator. He would be the only cast member to return from the first movie, although Elpidia Carrillo was originally due to reprise her role of Anna for a few small scenes. For unknown reasons, these were either deleted from the movie or never filmed, she does however make a brief cameo appearance in video footage on a monitor showing the aftermath of the encounter with the first predator.

Alan Silvestri returned to score the music for the sequel, utilising a larger orchestra than with the first movie but keeping and expanding on the themes he had created, adding more percussion to give the score a Latin American theme and animal calls to give a more tribal feel to the predator.

Filming in a city as opposed to a jungle had its downsides, for a scene where Glover’s character meets with a Jamaican drug baron in an alleyway, it was so cluttered with rubbish that rats were present and the crew even discovered a dead body at the location. People living in the buildings intentionally disrupted filming and were abusive to the crew, throwing bottles and other debris at them from the buildings above. Scenes set within a freezing slaughterhouse were made difficult because of the risk of electrocution from the mix of heavy lighting equipment and vast amounts of water being used, and fumes produced by the special effects used for explosions and smoke, at one point requiring the use of respirators on set.

Problems were also encountered once filming had wrapped. The finished version of the movie receiving an NC-17 (No one under 17) rating from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) due to ‘excessive graphic violence’, a rating that would mean the film would find a limited number of cinemas willing to show it, and restrict potential ticket sales. The movie was re-cut and submitted more than 20 times before the rating was reduced to the more widely acceptable ‘R’ rating, the same as the previous movie.

Upon release, it was met with mostly negative reviews, though fans reacted positively in particular to one aspect – the inclusion of a skull from 20th Century Fox’s other big alien franchise. Hopkins had included the skull in a trophy cabinet as a nod to the Alien Vs Predator comic book series which had gained a huge following, and sparked rumours of a potential cross-over movie. Writers Jim & John Thomas had also included elements in which a flintlock pistol with the inscription ‘Raphael Adolini, 1715‘ was handed to Glover’s character to set up a potential prequel movie to be set in the old west.

With a budget of roughly $35 million, Predator 2 was considered a flop taking only $28 million at the U.S. box office. Though it did make profit taking approx $57 million worldwide, it’s underperformance stalled any plans for further sequels/prequels. A comic book, Predator: 1715, was created in 1996 to tell the story of how the pistol came to be in the predator’s possession. It would not be until 20 years later that another sole Predator movie would be made, but it was not quite that long before fans would get to see the green blooded alien hunters on the big screen again.

Alien Vs Predator, the cross-over of the two franchises, was released in 2004. Taking inspiration from the AvP comic books and computer games, it was directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (Event Horizon, Resident Evil), who had written the script with Shane Salerno(Armageddon) from a story by original Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Set present day, it followed a team of archaeologists who are assembled by businessman Charles Bishop Weyland to investigate an unusual heat reading picked up near the antarctic. Once there, they find themselves trapped in an Aztec pyramid, and caught in the middle of a war between the two alien species. ‘Whoever wins, we lose‘.

Actress Sanaa Lathan (Blade) was chosen from several hundred actresses auditioned for the lead role, with Raoul Bova, Ewan Bremner (Trainspotting), Tommy Flannigan and Colin Salmon (Resident Evil) supporting. Veteran suit actor Tom Woodruff Jr. played the parts of the Aliens, having played them in each alien movie since Alien³. Kevin Peter Hall who had established the role of the Predator in the initial two movies had died not long after Predator 2 was released in 1991, and Welshman Ian Whyte, being 7′ 1″ tall, was cast in the role – playing the part of all three Predators for the majority of filming.

Anderson also cast Lance Henriksen in a nod to the Bishop character from Aliens, as Charles Bishop Weyland, suggesting that the android character was created in his likeness. It also established the movie in the same universe and that his company Weyland industries would one day become Weyland Yutani, the company that existed in that movie. At one point, cameo roles existed for Arnold Schwarzenegger to reprise the role of Dutch from Predator had he lost the California election, and Peter Weller (of Robocop fame) to play John Yutani, but neither came to  be (The role of the head of Yutani would later be re-cast as female at the end of AvP: Requiem).

Filming began in 2003 in Prague, due to production costs being considerably cheaper there than in Los Angeles (Sets which would have reportedly cost around $20 million to make cost only $2 million in Prague), and the decision was made to film most visual effects shots using a combination of physical effects and miniatures rather than relying heavily on computer generated imagery (CGI). A conscious decision was made to include references, both visually and with lines of dialogue, to all prior Alien and Predator movies so as to create a connection for the fans.

Harald Kloser was hired to compose the score to the movie, but chose not to make use of any of the themes previously created by either franchise. While disappointing as a score, it does suit the majority of the on-screen battles and action sequences with typical action music, and makes use of moments to build on a basic theme when the movie allows.

AvP was released without being previewed to critics who, like most fans, panned the movie after viewing. Made on a budget of $60 million with the aim of getting a lower rating from the MPAA than the earlier movies had restricted the amount of gory detail that were a trademark of the two series, but the PG-13 rating (12A in the U.K.) helped it to be more successful at the box office than any prior Alien or Predator movie, taking $80 million in the U.S. alone and just over $170 million worldwide. On DVD an option was included to view an extended version of the movie which includes an additional 9 minutes of footage, while these did improve the movie slightly in some fan’s eyes, it did nothing to dispel the overall disappointment with the movie.

It was nominated for Worst Remake Or Sequel at the annual Razzie awards that year, along with Anacondas: Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Around the World in 80 Days, and Exorcist: The Beginning, all of which lost out to Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Due to the movie’s financial success, as usual, a sequel was given the go ahead.

Alien Vs Predator: Requiem (or AvPr) was fast tracked with an aim to releasing the movie in 2007 – much quicker than any of the previous sequels. Brought in to direct were brothers Colin and Greg Strauss (going under the name The Brothers Strauss) who were experts in visual effects, having worked in the industry for over a decade on such movies as Titanic, Terminator 3, and The Day After Tomorrow). Shane Salerno, who had previously worked on the blockbuster Armageddon, penned the script, taking the story from the setting of the Antarctic, to a small town in central America.

Following on from the previous movie, it featured a new enemy – the Predator/Alien hybrid (or Predalien) seen hatching from the dead Predator’s body aboard the ship at the end of AvP. Killing the Predators on board, crash landing near Gunnison, Colorado, and begins infecting the population with Alien embryos. Meanwhile, a distress signal from the ship is received on the Predator home world (seen briefly on-screen for the first time), and a lone hunter is dispatched to clean up the crash site, and track down the Predalien.

Tom Woodruff Jr. and Ian Whyte returned from the previous movies in their roles as the Alien/Predalien and the Predator (nicknamed ‘Wolf’ by the production crew as a nod to Harvey Keitel’s cleaner character from Quentin Tarentino’s Pulp Fiction). Leading the all new cast playing the townspeople were Steven Pasquale (from TV series Rescue Me), and Reiko Aylesworth (from TV series 24). Because of the change of locale from the Antarctic to the United States, Sanaa Latham’s character from AvP was not brought back for the sequel.

Composer Brian Tyler created the score, choosing to incorporate elements from previous scores to add to both of the on-screen identities with a score that is definitely one of the movie’s more successful elements.

During production, it was widely publicised that the movie would be filmed without restricting the movie’s rating to PG-13/12A as had been done with AvP. An uncut (‘red band’)  trailer showing gory details that would not be permitted in a movie with a PG-13/12A rating was released on the internet, backing this up and receiving approval from fans. Like AvP, Requiem was not screened for critics, and once released it was panned heavily by both critics and fans alike.

Though a disappointment to many AvPr did not lose money, making an estimated total earning of $128 million worldwide from a budget of approx $40 million. The fan reaction to the movie though was enough for 20th Century Fox to reconsider greenlighting a planned third AvP movie, bringing an end to the series for the time being.

With the Alien and AvP series on hold, it was decided in 2009 to go back to the Predator series, with a script that cult director Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn) had been developing since the mid 1990’s, but when shown to Fox at that time, they decided not to produce it on the grounds that it would require too large a budget. Though it was thought that Rodriguez would direct, he announced that he would only be producing, and that the movie would be directed by Nimród Antal, who had previously directed the shock thriller Vacancy.

Filmed partly on location in Hawaii, it returned the setting to the Jungle like the original Predator movie, but added in some additional twists. The title Predators had a double meaning, referring to the alien hunters but also to the group of characters which consisted of soldiers, mercenaries and killers, played by a cast including Aiden Body, Alice Brage, Danny Trejo, Topher Grace, and Lawrence Fishburne, who found themselves dropped deep into the jungle, with no idea how they got there, being hunted as prey by multiple Predators.

There were also a new breed of Predator, entangled in a ‘blood feud’ against the ones we had seen up until now, they were a far more advanced type of hunter, having used previous hunts to improve upon their skills and weaponary to make themselves the ultimate killers. The three Predators were designed by Howard Berger who had worked with Stan Winston on the original Predator worked with Greg Nicotero to create three unique designs which were distinctly different, suggesting personalization by the three Predators, played by suit actors Carey Jones, Brian Steele, and Derek Mears.

The score for the movie was composed by John Debney, expanding on but keeping the original themes established by Alan Silvestri in the original Predator movies, it is perhaps one of the best sequel scores to keep the musical identity of the original movie.

The movie opened to mixed, but generally favourable reviews, and from a budget of $40 million went on to take over $127 million worldwide. While it is too soon to hear of any further Predator movies, it seems unlikely that this is the last we have seen of them. There will likely be a break from the franchise, at least until after Prometheus, the new movie from director Ridley Scott which was rumoured to be a prequel to the alien series, is released in 2012, but I hope to see them on the big screen again.


5 thoughts on “Aliens, Predators And The Humans In The Middle – Part II

  1. Predator is a cult classic.

    Predator 2, AvP and AvP; Requiem not so much…..

    Predators was alright up until Laurence Fishburne’s character was introduced; then it all went to pot. Which was a shame after a positive opening.

    Basically what I am saying is, outside of the first movie, the Predators have got something of a raw deal in all this! Alien and Aliens are classic and Alien 3 Directors Cut is also a solid film in my eyes (forget Resurrection, just forget it!). Predator has one romp in the jungle with Arnie then a nunch of facepalm moments

    1. Agreed on AvPr definately awful, AvP yes – but way better and coherent than i expected from Paul Anderson (though the gestation of the aliens is sped up like x100).
      I love the original Predator, i enjoyed Predator 2 and didn’t have an issue with it as much as everyone else seemed to, they tried something different which i liked instead of just repeating the first one, not entirely successful, but overall i ejoyed it.

      1. I can enjoy Predator 2 in a loose sense. But it’s still not exactly a ‘great’ movie; even in an ironic or ‘so bad it’s good’ sense. It’s just kind of middle of the road – though fair comment on the ‘trying something different’ point

        Being “way better and coherent than i expected from Paul Anderson ” should not be an endorsement for a film though! ha ha

  2. lol, no, but meant it in the same way that i said ‘was way better than we had any right to expect’ after seeing Terminator 3, and that’s pretty crap.

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