A “midlife cri­sis” brought shAne blAck bAck to the Predator uni­verse for the first time in 30 yeArs – And, As he tells richArd ed­wArds, he’s out to mAke cin­emA’s ul­ti­mAte hunter scAry AgAin

SFX - - Contents -

Ban hunt­ing, we say. Es­pe­cially when we’re the ones be­ing hunted… SFX runs and hides as writer/direc­tor Shane Black re­vives the star-beast fran­chise.

SHANE BLACK DIDN’T MAKE IT TO THE end of the orig­i­nal Predator. Star­ring as the wise­crack­ing Hawkins – the youngest mem­ber of Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger’s elite team of sol­diers – he was the first to be elim­i­nated, the most ex­pend­able role in an en­sem­ble where life ex­pectan­cies were, by dra­matic ne­ces­sity, a tad lim­ited.

now, some 31 years later, Black’s mak­ing a re­turn to the killer alien saga as direc­tor and writer with the ef­fi­ciently ti­tled The Predator.

“The thing is, I didn’t re­ally con­sider my­self to be an es­sen­tial part of the first Predator!” he con­fides to SFX when we meet in a San Diego ho­tel, the day be­fore the film’s Comic-Con panel. “I know it makes for a good point of ref­er­ence in a story, but re­ally I was just there to ob­serve and get mur­dered as quickly as pos­si­ble. So I re­ally didn’t ex­pect to revisit it.

“But I will tell you I was sur­prised by its longevity,” he con­tin­ues. “The [Predator] cos­tume was cob­bled to­gether in a pe­riod of weeks by Stan Win­ston. The ti­tle ‘Predator’

was just an af­ter­thought when they said, ‘We can’t call it The Hunter, be­cause there’s a show by that name.’ And yet these seem­ingly very 11th hour de­ci­sions ended up gen­er­at­ing these con­cepts which have lin­gered in the zeitgeist for over 30 years. I sup­pose there was al­ways a vec­tor in place that I would in­evitably be con­fronted with it some day!”

Yet for much of those three decades, there was lit­tle in­di­ca­tion that Black was des­tined for another face-off with one of those “ugly moth­er­fuck­ers”. Off the back of Lethal Weapon he be­came one of Hol­ly­wood’s hottest screen­writ­ers (the first Lethal Weapon se­quel, Last Ac­tion Hero, The Long Kiss Good­night),

be­fore turn­ing direc­tor with the ex­cel­lent Kiss

Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3 – all projects no­table for their com­plete lack of an alien with weird four-way mandibles. But this par­tic­u­lar fran­chise had ex­tra ap­peal thanks to Black’s fond mem­o­ries of hav­ing a good time “as a wide-eyed kid with my bud­dies”.

“The Predator it­self was the most in­deli­ble ex­am­ple of pure ’80s pop art – the Rambo craze com­bined with the Alien craze, with a slight wink be­cause there was that hu­mour in it, too. And they were these mus­cle-bound guys who were so over the top, and such a crack team of X-what­ever spe­cial ops sol­diers, that you thought, ‘Okay, that’s just a very pure con­cept.’

“I had a bit of a midlife cri­sis and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great, just as a lark, to go back and be a kid again? What could it hurt to revisit a time that was so spe­cial, and a type of film­mak­ing be­fore videogames and CG pol­luted the mar­ket with vis­ual over­load? When you’re forced to rely on a bit more in­ge­nu­ity to con­jure the same sort of ef­fects? It’ll be a lark. Let’s do it!’”

the Black List

While Black him­self has been away from the hunt for three decades, the Predator species most cer­tainly has not, re­turn­ing in two straight se­quels (Predator 2 and Preda­tors), two brand-splic­ing crossovers (the Alien Vs

Predator movies), and nu­mer­ous comics and games. And yet, con­sid­er­ing the Predator’s sta­tus as one of the most iconic ex­trater­res­tri­als in cin­ema – up there on a cos­mic plinth with Giger’s Alien – it’s been an aw­fully long time since it’s done any­thing truly mem­o­rable on screen. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say its only truly clas­sic out­ing was John McTier­nan’s 1987 orig­i­nal – and that the for­mula for what makes a suc­cess­ful Predator movie is far from set in stone.

“[We started with] a ses­sion be­tween Fred [Dekker, co-writer] and me watch­ing the movies, and ask­ing, ‘What’s iconic?’ Well, there’s the ten­sion of the hunt, so we

when the Predator strikes, the re­sults have to be calami­tous

ac­knowl­edge that any in­ter­ac­tion of a Predator movie has to in some way in­clude a ver­sion of fram­ing it as a hunt. Also, the ten­sion of the un­seen is very im­por­tant. And then the bru­tal­ity, which started to get lost as the movies went PG. So we said, ‘Okay, let’s make sure we get this at least rated R,’ so that when the Predator strikes, the re­sults have to be calami­tous, and of­ten bloody.

“It was our task to sat­isfy those re­quire­ments and stay true, so that John McTier­nan, were he to look at this af­ter it was fin­ished, would hope­fully say some­thing like, ‘nice job, guys.’”

One of the big­gest chal­lenges fac­ing the new movie is that the orig­i­nal Predator is al­most as mem­o­rable for the in­ter­play be­tween its testos­terone-filled mil­i­tary he­roes as its alien vis­i­tor – like Aliens, re­leased a year ear­lier, it ba­si­cally wrote the blueprint for putting sol­diers in the crosshairs of an an­gry eT. So it seems one hell of a gam­ble pit­ting the Predator against a new rag-tag as­sort­ment of sol­diers…

“I think if you’re go­ing to go back af­ter 30 years you can change some things, but don’t change too much,” coun­ters Black. “I don’t think any­one will want a Predator where a group of pre-school kids teams up with the host of a late-night hor­ror show to go to Mi­ami Beach to bat­tle Preda­tors in a Pachinko tour­na­ment. You don’t want to go that far.”

Yet the sol­diers in The Predator are a dif­fer­ent breed to the car­toon­ish, bulging bi­ceps bri­gade per­son­i­fied by Arnie, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weath­ers in the orig­i­nal movie. Led by Boyd (Lo­gan) Hol­brook’s Quinn Mckenna, “the Loonies” are a bunch of mil­i­tary out­casts who come to­gether when the trans­port tak­ing them to a psy­chi­atric unit has a close en­counter with a cer­tain vis­i­tor from outer space.

“We made a de­ci­sion not to go with the sort of over-the-top mus­cles or the stunt cast­ing,” ex­plains Black. “But if you don’t have that, how do you make them a lit­tle more vul­ner­a­ble, a lit­tle more bro­ken and re­lat­able than the su­per sol­diers who pop­u­lated that first film? We toned them down to the ex­tent that these are the more marginalised and bro­ken con­tin­gent – the least likely, as op­posed to the most likely, peo­ple you would choose to save the world. I loved just bounc­ing ran­dom, bro­ken peo­ple off each other in a movie, and getting ac­tors good enough that all I have to do is es­sen­tially stay out of their way.

“We also brought in a kid as part of this group of mis­fits [played by Room’s Ja­cob Trem­blay], who was on the autism spec­trum, and a misan­thropic fe­male sci­en­tist who’s not very fond of peo­ple, but loves an­i­mals [ X-Men: Apoc­a­lypse’s Olivia Munn]. They’re mis­fits who don’t quite fit in, who’ve been marginalised. They were sud­denly thrust onto a stage of hav­ing to save the world.”


Ar­guably even more of a po­ten­tial ba­nana skin than the cast­ing is the Predator it­self. Only the most die-hard fan could claim it’s any­where near as scary as it was back in 1987, a symp­tom of the sort of over-fa­mil­iar­ity that’s also neutered Freddy krueger, Ja­son Voorhees and the Xenomorph in re­cent out­ings – by now hu­man­ity has de­feated them in nu­mer­ous ways, and they’ve even been made kid-friendly and cute as plushies and Pop! vinyl fig­ures.

there must be sci­en­tists build­ing those things on Predator world

“That was a very real prob­lem,” Black ad­mits, “be­cause al­though the Predator make-up is still en­dur­ing and re­ally cool, it’s got to the point of recog­nis­abil­ity where you can walk out the door at Comic-Con, see a pretty ser­vice­able Predator walk­ing around and go, ‘Damn, you could film that!’

“You can’t re­ally change the make-up,” he goes on. “What you can do is change the way you film it, so that it doesn’t look clunky, and never re­veal it in harsh light or for too long. You can em­pha­sise again the el­e­ments that made the Predator fright­en­ing in the first movie, which were how fast, how ef­fort­lessly, blood­ily ef­fi­cient it is. And once again, don’t see too much of him. He’s a hunter. He ap­pears, he strikes, he re­treats. Just keep him as deadly, as fast, ag­ile and al­most chee­tah-like as pos­si­ble. The more you see him walk­ing around do­ing stuff or mak­ing him­self break­fast, the less it’s go­ing to be ef­fec­tive.”

Black also utilised another weapon in his bat­tle against fa­mil­iar­ity. So in the long-hon­oured tra­di­tion of crea­ture se­quels in­tro­duc­ing us to some­thing big­ger and dead­lier than we saw be­fore – the Alien Queen be­ing the clas­sic ex­am­ple – The Predator will in­tro­duce a new ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied, souped-up ver­sion of the species. “What we’ve touched on in the movie is the no­tion that this is a civil­i­sa­tion that, yes, goes to plan­ets and hunts; they wear tribal garb and net­ting; they carry skulls; they have spears and masks. But yet for all their cer­e­mo­nial look, they ar­rived in an in­ter­stel­lar space­ship. Which means there must be sci­en­tists who built those things on Predator World. They’re not just jump­ing around in trees, mak­ing those space­ships, so the idea is that a

he is bred us­ing traits from other hunted species to be the en­forcer

group of rogue Preda­tors on their world is not happy that they’ve been bested not once but twice – and per­haps more – by hu­mans. They send their cham­pi­ons, and the cham­pi­ons never come home.

“This is not sit­ting well with a group that’s par­tic­u­larly con­tentious and am­bi­tious. So I think they con­spire to pro­duce a sec­ond Predator, the one you see in the movie, who’s ba­si­cally an as­sas­sin. He is bred us­ing traits from other species that they have hunted to be the en­forcer, the guy who just gets it done. He has a sort of un­der ar­mour as it were, al­most like a crus­tacean. He goes from one colour to another like a chameleon, so he’s got these weird sur­vival skills. When this larger Predator steps out and re­veals him­self, hope­fully au­di­ences say, ‘Well, at least that’s not the tra­di­tional Predator out­fit we’re used to.’”

The ori­gins of Preda­tor­plus are a nod to a mythol­ogy that’s grad­u­ally ex­panded via movies and comics since the crea­ture first ap­peared as a mys­te­ri­ous (but lethal) blur in that Cen­tral Amer­i­can jun­gle. Black says that he likes to read the comics (though he says that lit­tle made it into the movie: “at one point there was a line about them com­ing [to earth] since me­dieval times”), and says that – un­like some other fran­chises that deny the ex­is­tence of any se­quels in­con­ve­nient to con­ti­nu­ity – he isn’t pre­tend­ing that any of the fol­low-ups don’t ex­ist. “In my mind, in ’87 there was this ex­pe­ri­ence with

Dutch Schae­fer’s pa­trol, look­ing for Jim Hop­per. Then there was the sec­ond one, which took place. And then there was the third one and the AvP uni­verse. It’s like, who’s to say? There was a men­tion in the [new] film, that’s since been cut, that hu­mans have sus­pected there have been ab­duc­tions. I’ve tried to ser­vice the fact that it’s not a re­boot, but a se­quel that im­plies it’s sim­ply 30 years fol­low­ing the first one. The dif­fer­ence is that Preda­tors are up to some­thing. They didn’t just sit around. They’ve evolved, and they’ve done stuff.

“On earth, the first en­coun­ters flew un­der the radar, or were dis­be­lieved, and have given way to an en­vi­ron­ment where it’s suf­fi­ciently preva­lent that the gov­ern­ment, or a pri­vate agency, has no­ticed. So they’ve ap­pointed a group to await the next in­cur­sion. This movie is the story of that next in­cur­sion. There’s a group of pro­fes­sion­als who are wait­ing for it, and there’s a group of com­pletely ig­no­rant grunts who just got caught up in it. To me the fun is watch­ing all the pro­fes­sion­als get diced and sliced, and then it’s up to the grunts to save the world when no one else can.”

The Predator may have a lu­cra­tive track record at the box of­fice, but there’s still a sense that Black needs to save some­thing in the real world – the fran­chise’s soul. The ques­tion is, how does he feel – af­ter two-and-a-half years on the movie – about his re­turn to the saga. And did it help him re­cap­ture that lost youth?

“It was a mis­take, I think, think­ing it would just be a fun lark, be­cause my God, it’s been tough!” he laughs. “Work­ing within the lim­i­ta­tions of a bud­get, shoot­ing in Van­cou­ver in the rain, green­screen ev­ery day…

“The good news is that all of this knits to­gether very well. It’s been a ride and a nos­tal­gia thing. It was mostly a midlife cri­sis thing, if I were to be hon­est about it. If it hasn’t ex­actly made me feel like a kid again, it’s cer­tainly rein­vig­o­rated me to keep go­ing. I’m blessed and hon­oured to be vi­able in moviemak­ing – I’ve seen lots of peo­ple around me fall off. The fact that af­ter 30-some­thing years I’m still able to even do this is some­thing I’m eter­nally grate­ful for. I don’t know why or how I was given that op­por­tu­nity, but I’m grate­ful for it.”

The Predator is in cin­e­mas from 13 Septem­ber.

No time wasted when it comes to throw­ing his weight around. Un­sur­pris­ingly, his time onLove Is­land had proved brief.

Boyd Hol­brook’s Quinn finds him­self lead­ing the fight­back.

Some­one’s been pol­ish­ing their mask…

A larger, hy­brid Predator is join­ing the fight on Earth.

The Preda­tors are keen to make amends for pre­vi­ous de­feats.

Ja­cob Trem­blay as mis­fit Rory.

Walk­ing tall on a good hair day.

Shane Black talks the troops through a scene.

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