(Predators, Nimrod Antal, US, 2010, 106mins)
Filmmakers and fanboys – two species that usually live apart, and rightly, because scientists have long known that any cross breeding produces a dangerous hybrid creature with confused creative instincts. Of course filmmakers are sometimes fans and some fans, notably the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Predators’ producer Robert Rodriguez, can become filmmakers, but usually the transmogrification is a sort of personal journey, in which experience and ambition informs approach. If you’re a filmmaker who doubles as a fan, you’re likely to favour movies which you can appreciate for their technical virtuosity and the success with which a great script has been translated into better cinema. If you’re a fan who became a filmmaker, you were presumably driven by the imperative to create something as bountiful and memorable as the films that inspired you. Sometimes you’ll succeed, often you won’t – but you’ll know what success looks like.
But the fanboy/filmmaker hybrid – the masturbauteur – is afflicted with a creative palsy that blights their best efforts. At work are two contradictory instincts. The first is the fallacious belief, hotwired into their DNA, that action and spectacle, so easy to consume, is simple to replicate. The problem is that the masturbauteur has no imagination of their own. Movies are the engine of their creative impulse. They dream in perfectly edited and viscerally exciting blocks of action whereas the filmmaker, their progenitor, knows that each setpiece, each beat, must be meticulously constructed. The masturbauteur knows what they like – it’s imprinted on them, but because their mind collapses the space between the dream and the finished scene, without the technical drudgery in-between, they’re likely to be incapable of utilising the machinery of filmmaking to produce the effect they want. How do they light the scene effectively? Where do they put the camera? How do they create movement and depth and tension? They have no fucking idea. The masturbauteur’s focus is on cuming without enjoying great sex beforehand. They’re in a hurry to get to the juice, unaware that in doing so, they’re killing their film and boring their audience.
The second instinct – the desire to produce a film as great as the ones they’ve enjoyed, and be venerated by their peers, is destroyed by the first. It’s simply impossible for the two to co-exist. Predators is the case in point.
The Predator series, begun in 1987 with the late John McTiernan’s jungle jaunting actioner (I know he’s not dead but he may as well be – he’s been quiet for a decade), was a well-paced, good-humoured spectacle. The titular alien hunted memorable grunts, lead by Schwarzenegger’s walking steroid commercial. McTiernan knew how to pace his movie, he knew how to stage a setpiece, he knew how to make photochemical magic. He’d go on to make Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October – his career peak, which nevertheless showed that Predator’s well-calibrated histrionics were no fluke. Stephen Hopkins valiantly tried to reproduce the game of cat and mouse in his 1990 sequel, relocating the action to the unimaginable future of 1997 in which Los Angeles had become an intemperate war zone. It wasn’t as good but it was no lazy re-tread either. That was the last time filmmakers were involved in the series.
The masturbauteurs got their sweaty mitts on it in 2004, with the lamentable Alien Vs Predator – Paul W.S Anderson’s disastrous self-penned monster mash, which subordinated human characters to disposable victims and showed the chasm between knowing why a film works and understanding how to replicate those elements. Anderson, though more director simulator than director, at least had pretensions in that regard. Alien Vs Predator: Requiem, directed by brothers Colin and Greg Strause, put a couple of FX geeks at the helm, who flattered themselves that they could make the transition from coding CGI to building a film. They couldn’t. The finished semi-sequel was an underlit, underpowered, computer game writ large, with all the humanity stripped out. It was the most expensive fan film ever made.
Nimrod Antal’s 2nd sequel to the McTiernan original shows us a filmmaker who’s walked into Seth Brundle’s telepod and beamed himself to its mate, unaware that a masturbauteur was crouching in the corner. Although it’s taking him over, he’s not yet fully transformed. Regrettably, however, his penis is already in the jar. This is Predator karaoke – a film which looks and sounds like the 1987 film, but lacks the zest. Antal, supported by fan turned filmmaker Rodriguez, knows the tune, taps his toe in time to the beat, but possesses a flat, pub cabaret voice. Watching it, you recall McTiernan’s soaring notes – his passion, and those modulating qualities that could surprise and elate you in equal measure. By contrast Predators is both perfunctory and matt. It’s like a death mask painted in lifelike tones. You want to like it and sometimes you do – a witty line here, an old school piece of misdirection there, but fine tribute though it is, a tribute is all it is.
Now it’s done it may be time for every sub-species of Predator enthusiast from the filmmaker-fanboy to the pure blood masturbauteur, to hang up their megaphones and return these properties to the creative caste. Some of us were born to watch, far fewer to make. Knowing your place is half the battle.