Wednesday, 3 July 2013

What if Predator had been written and directed by Christopher Nolan?

Script excerpt #1

                  Eighteen hours ago I was
                  informed that one of our
                  choppers, transporting three
                  presidential cabinet members
                  from this charming little
                  country – and I say this as a point of heavy-handed irony to indicate my contempt for anywhere outside of North America - was shot down...
            (points to the circled area)        
               This is really bad because cabinet ministers are important to running our country. They could also be ransomed or interrogated for information that might compromise our national security.
                  The pilots radioed from the
                  ground that they were all
                  alive.  Their position was
                  fixed by the transponder – a device that emits an interrogating signal in response to an interrogating received signal -
                  beacon onboard the chopper.

         Schaefer studies the map.  He looks up at Philips.

                  That's over the border,
                  General. I am suspicious about this because we do not normally send cabinet ministers over the border. We also have no legal jurisdiction there. It will be dangerous because locals have the advantage.

                         (dead serious)
                  That's the problem.  Apparently
                  they strayed off course.
                  We're certain they've been
                  captured by the guerrillas. This would be bad because, in case the audience didn’t get the point earlier, our national security would be compromised. The guerrillas don’t like us. They are brown people and they are bad.

         Schaefer looks up, puffing lightly on the cigar.

Why do you always smoke those cigars, major?

It is a symbol that serves to remind the audience of a number of things – my social status, authority, ruggedness and excessive traditional masculinity. They may infer from its scale and phallic shape that I am equally well endowed.
                  That’s it for thematic exposition just now. Let’s get back to the plot. What have you got in mind, General?

Script Excerpt #2
                  Dillon, you son of a bitch.

         The two men step forward and simultaneous swing from
         the hip as it to land a punch...but their hands SLAP
         together in a gesture of friendship, their forearms
         bulging, testing each other's strength.

                  How you been, Dutch?

         They continue the contest, Schaefer has the edge, forcing
         Dillon's arm slowly downward.

                  You've been pushing too many
                  Pencils, Dillon. If people didn’t gather you had been out of soldiering for some time, I’d just like to underline that your physical strength is diminished. This will also serve to demonstrate that I am more masculine than you. Had enough?

                  No way, old buddy.

                  You never did know when to
                  quit. I hope that this does not lead to a dramatic conflict between us later, or even lead to your death as you stubbornly face-off against an opponent who vastly outclasses you.


I love Predator. In many ways, it is a more perfect sci-fi actioner than Aliens. The effects still stand up today, the script is tight and efficient, the set-pieces punchily cut yet imbued with fluid movement. It is a simple film, and it should not be any other way. Running it through the Nolaniser, as I have done so above, clearly does it no favours.

A quote often credited to Albert Einstein is that “any idiot can make things more complicated – it takes real genius to make things simple”. Predator must be genius. The original script and movie have invented many clichés for us to abuse today, and is built upon gleefully cheesy archetypes. It knows what it is meant to be, and isn’t frightened of it.

It also isn’t frightened that the audience might not know what it is meant to be, or that they may not understand its zeitgeist references to South American tensions, or basic symbolism.
This is where Christopher Nolan comes in.

I’ve critiqued his work in detail before, so I shall keep this brief and have faith in my audience to follow what I am saying. I do not tend to enjoy Nolan films, and if I do it is only the first time. Once their gimmicks and plot convolutions are exposed, they are almost impossible to re-watch. There is nothing else to them. What bothers me most is that almost anything he is involved in spends much of its time explaining how clever it is to the audience and – by extension – how clever they are for watching. There is so much exposition and explication in his films, Inception and parts 2&3 of his Dark Knight work especially, that they can be very tiresome to watch. If you already got the point, it feels like your teeth are being pulled. If you didn’t get the point, it is because Nolan is so poor at communicating through images, actions and throwaway metaphorical lines that only a page of prose can really save it. I think my Nolanisation of Predator’s script is just the tip of the iceberg, but if you feel I’m being a little unrealistic I should refer you to some key scenes in his films, starting with a better one that still uses ‘the world’s greatest detective’ as a cypher for an audience that ‘might not understand’ the metaphor:

I’m fairly certain people would be able to figure out the point on their own, but Bruce still asks the question and Alfred still has to answer it. It’s not so in your face as some moments, but still overdone. Here’s another unnecessarily explicit one:

We’ve already seen Bane being badass. We know Bruce is injured. We can guess he’ll get his ass handed to him by Bane – and he does. Wouldn’t it have been more gratifying for the audience’s prediction to be correct, rather than to make it an ‘I-told-you-so’ moment for Alfred. Everything’s been communicated visually. There is no point in the two minutes you have just witnessed. The film Austin Powers even mocks this tendency before the time of Nolan by naming its exposition character … Basil Exposition. Inception is full of lengthy, talky exposition, but this episode of South Park called Insheeption illustrates the point far more elegantly (i.e through images rather than prose) than I could.

I feel that Nolan is really sucking the joy out of cinema with this kind of thing; pandering to a generation of people who just blurt out, “Who’s this? Why’s he doing that? Why’s Hulk green? Why won’t you like him when he’s angry?” rather than just watching and seeing. The audience is robbed of their journey, of thinking for themselves about what things mean and then seeing if they were right. Or perhaps Nolan is so insecure regarding his ownership of the film that he deliberately shuts down future discussion by being so explicit. He doesn’t often want critics to ponder or audiences to argue about meaning or message. It’s nice that he throws us a bone with the spinning top at the end of Inception where this issue is concerned.

Predator, for all its lack of apparent complexity, is a thematically rich film. In many ways it is incredibly clever; in the very least it is perfectly paced and sequenced so that we do not need wordy explanations beyond the opening briefing which I ran through the Nolaniser.
So how is Predator clever? Let me slip on my Michael Caine mask and I’ll explain through lengthy prose.

Thematically, Predator is a great constructor and deconstructor. It delights in building up modern notions of masculinity just to smash them down. After the briefing and character establishment we have the chopper ride into the jungle, where – superficially at least – the heroes trade sexist banter. The song playing over the top – Long Tall Sally - is about a woman luring a man away from his wife (Short fat Fanny). Two men – Hawkins and Blaine – subtly manage to reveal their own sexual insecurity. With Hawkins it is through immature pussy gags, with Blaine it is claims of being transformed into a “goddamn sexual Tyrannosaurus” by chewing tobacco. The wonderful irony is that they will be the ones getting shafted in this movie!

In a masterful piece of sequencing we then get a Demonstration of Competence moment wherein our team blasts through a guerrilla encampment. This serves two functions. When the titular Predator begins hunting down the team with ease, we can tell it is a whole new level of badass. We do not need Alfred to tell us it is badass up front. Our expectations are toyed with. Additionally, it helps deconstruct the notion of western military supremacy. The elite commando team is picked off by a tree-swinger hiding in the foliage. It fires plasma projectiles, granted, but its weapon still fires about as slowly as an arrow and its camouflage is simply a better version of camouflage that we have used for millennia. Schaefer (Dutch) and his team are so used to fighting with the biggest guns, their balls out and always winning that they are simply unprepared for a foe that has completely mastered the most basic, fundamental aspects of killing.

So Predator is about the failure of cigar-chomping modern masculinity on one level. But on another level, it completely turns the masculinity level on its head. Dutch is stripped down to his barest essentials, using mud as camouflage and weapons made from whittled wood, stone and good old dependable fire. He becomes the truly old-school rugged male – beating the elements, turning them to his advantage improvising his way out of everything in a battle where brains end up meaning more than brawn. So, his sophisticated commando team is beaten by a creature that employs primitive ambush tactics and the way Dutch beats it is to reduce himself to a level that’s even more primitive! Could this movie even be making a statement about how industrialisation has dulled our edge? Nah, that’s probably over-egging it.

…probably. Good job we were not told this by the movie. Where would be the fun in that?

About the Author

David M. Jackson believes that movies should be built for speed, and that Predator’s got everything that Uncle John needs. Oh baby. Yeah baby. Woo-oo baby. I’m havin’ me some fun tonight.

When he’s not smothering himself with mud and preparing to do battle with Christopher Nolan in the depths of the jungle, David teaches English and Sociology in between hurriedly writing novels. In a few months his second, Beta Ascending, will furtively slip into Amazon’s marketplace.

More from David M. Jackson:

Fight Club and the Doors of Perception

Second-Hand Stories, Second-Hand Opinions

Face It - 'The Dark Knight' is Actually Shit

Are James Cameron’s Movies Misandrist, and What Would he Hope to Gain if They Were?

Why I Love That Film: Aliens