The Downward Spiral of the Predator

Consider the first act of Predator–an elite commando squad lands in the jungle and takes out a badass drug operation. Maybe not the most original set up, but it introduced you to these guys as they really are: supercompetent badasses who operate as a unit, and who literally laugh in the face of danger. This is the Schwarzeneggar of Commando, of the Terminator, of Conan. He wakes up to a big breakfast of explosions and fistfights, and sprinkles gratuitous violence into his coffee.

I haven’t seen the new Predator movie. I want to, and I might see it in the theater and I hope that it’s good, but today’s post is more about the Predator franchise in general, and what it means to me.

Here is a pic of the exact same poster I had on my wall when I was 13.

I want to believe some little boy out there had one of My Little Pony. Because we would be bestest friends EVAR.

Bitchin, eh?

In 5th grade, I had a few male friends who accepted and appreciated my status as tomboy.

In 6th grade, the game changed.

My middle school was  pretty crappy one, as schools went. Most of the kids were biding their time until they could drop out, and there were always stories on Monday morning about what illicit behavior people got up to over the weekend, especially stories about older brothers or sisters in gangs. I was one of few white kids, and what’s worse I was in regular classes because of my orchestra class. Yes, I played violin. I was just that cool.

I tried to make friends.  But the one nut I couldn’t crack was the Comic Book Kids. They were a group of kids who hung around at lunch talking comics, all attempting to recreate the drawings or make up their own characters. Because I could draw I would sit with them and just listen to their talk, but if I said anything I was immediately shut down for my lack of knowledge. Only one kid would talk to me, a kid named Jose who at age 13 made the work of Todd McFarlane look like the scrawlings of  a palsy victim. He was  a genius: his work had depth, he had an advanced knowledge of musculature, form, and he even knew how to block out a drawing before he started. Best of all, he was my friend and he’d actually talk to me about my drawings.

But he also started telling me about a movie one day, an incredibly awesome movie that he’d snuck into the theater with his brother to see: a movie called Predator.

I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d seen about .4 seconds of it, while I was walking through the living room and my parents were watching it, and I’d hurried to my room because they were watching a ‘grown-up’ movie. Or maybe I did tell him. However it happened, I wound up watching it one weekend, and absolutely fell in love.

When the second one came out in theaters I knew my parents wouldn’t let me go see it, so when I went up to visit my Aunt over the summer I totally rented that shit. It wasn’t quite as good as the first one–even at 13 I realized they had just amped everything up, and to see it now is to contain barely-restrained laughter at the profanity, the violence, everything. It’s so ludicrously over the top for an action movie it approached parody, even in the early 90’s.

I freaking love the first Predator, the second is like an alcoholic uncle I enjoy spending time with but ultimately wish I could save in some way, and the AVP movies are like cousins who should have been aborted in the womb and ruin every family gathering with their existence.

The first AVP was a decent effort, despite its PG-13 rating. I won’t lie, as a nerdy teenager it was my secret dream that a Predator would land and we would totally be BFF. He would teach me how to hunt and crush my enemies, and I would teach him how to play ‘Happy Birthday’ on the violin. It would have been a perfect life. So the whole woman working with a predator against the aliens was kind of neat.

AVP2 reminded me of an experience in real life I’d like to share. I went to the dentist after skipping cleanings for  few years, and learned something interesting: once you hit your late twenties, your gums recede away from the roots of your teeth, exposing more sensitive nerves. This explains why going regularly for cleanings is important–becuse when shit builts up at the base, on the roots,  scraping it off with a metal hook is incredibly painful. I almost blacked out the last time, and I have been a dental regular since. I remember my hands kept drifting up towards the woman’s arm and she had to push them back down, and it was NOT OF MY DOING. My body was rejecting the whole procedure and I wanted it to stop, but also knew it had to be done.

AVP2 was kind of like that. An experience that had once been familiar, even somewhat pleasant when I was younger, became an exercise in nightmare once I was an adult. I think I just demand too much–after all, the first Predator has a lot going for it for a ‘dumb action movie.’

Consider the first act of Predator–an elite commando squad lands in the jungle and takes out a badass drug operation. Maybe not the most original set up, but it introduced you to these guys as they really are: supercompetent badasses who operate as a unit, and who literally laugh in the face of danger.  This is the Schwarzeneggar of Commando, of the Terminator, of Conan. He wakes up to a big breakfast of explosions and fistfights, and sprinkles gratuitous violence into his coffee.

In the second act, when Shit Gets Weird, you see something that seems incredible: these men, these men torn from the thigh of Zeus and who came from On High to Beat Ass, are  . . . frightened.

Now, I am certainly not making the claim that the acting in Predator was unfairly snubbed when it came Oscar-Time. Lord no. But, when these men, these ridiculously overmuscled, walking testosterone doses of men act frightened, it feels earned. It feels like they have every goddamn right to be afraid–for one thing, they’re battling their worst enemy, a hunter stronger, faster, and more technologically advanced than they, who is doing this FOR FUN, and for another, they have been lied to by their government. This was a time in movies when that wasn’t taken for granted, when it wasn’t happening in every film that came out, so it doesn’t feel cheapened by oversaturation.

For another, you couldn’t have asked for better casting. You’ve got the big, muscular guys like Arnold, Carl Weathers (!!), Sonny Landham, and Bill Duke, who may lack bulk but makes up for it with one of the best death scenes in an action movie EVAR. Jesus, I almost forgot Jesse Ventura–there’s so much beefcake I FORGOT ONE. The concepts, like the biceps, are just too big.

Not Pictured: Estrogen

Then there are the littler guys, whose names escape me but who were awesome in their own right, with the jokes and the drama and whatnot.

My point with all this is that any Predator movie has some big goddamn shoes to fill.

It seems like in any pitch meeting for a Predator movie Jack Donaghy from 30Rock ought to pop in an ask ‘Are you ready to put on your Daddy’s shoes yet, boy?’ and any answer except ‘Yes sir, I wore them today, Sir’ will be met with bitter failure. So even though I don’t mean to, I have some pretty high expectations for any Predator movie.

AVP2 was such a bitter, bitter disappointment to me, and while I don’t read every Predator comic that comes out (I know their species name starts with  Y, but damned if I can remember it and I’m not looking it up) I do love the franchise and the world it inhabits. I don’t get why the movies are so lacking in quality lately, either; it’s not like the Predator is an actor who isn’t aging well and can’t do the stunts because of his bad back. IT’S A COSTUME. It requires a different actor each time! Although I do like the idea of a broken-down Predator with a potbelly and a 2k a day coke habit begging some studio exec for one more shot, one more bite at the apple. ‘Come on, Jimmy, you know I’m good for it, you know I can bring it! I’ll get clean, I’ll learn my lines, I’ll train with the same guy who brought Stallone back!’ George Burns was right, show business is  hideous bitch-goddess.

That said, the Predator itself is only the co-star of the movie. If the real stars of the movie don’t represent the humans and bring at least a little pathos to the table, then what the hell’s the point of rooting for them? Why did they bother in the first place?

Yes, we CAN all get long in the face of a hideous anthrophagic alien species! Why is this not on a poster in a classroom RIGHT NOW?

The X-Files: Season 1

There’s still lots to love about the X-files. The patter, the Lone Gunmen, the infamous red Speedo, but in my opinion, most of the good stuff is to be found when Fox and Dana are doing anything but investigating aliens. Odd, considering the show’s intent.

From the Wayback Machine

Most of my memories of the X-Files are tied to watching them in high school, a time when I was incredibly shy, worked most weekends and read way too many books about aliens, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and other forteana.

Mulder and Scully have become cultural shorthand for ‘believer’ and ‘nonbeliever’ respectively; Mulder, driven by a need to find his missing sister who be believes was abducted by aliens, and practical, pragmatic old Scully, unafraid to call bullshit on Mulder’s theories and demand proof.

Something must be said about the progressive gender politics of the show; again, Scully is clinical, fastidious, and disinclined to flights of faith or the benefit of the doubt. She stands in direct contrast to Mulder, who is prone to making Herculean leaps in logic, draw conclusions from nothing more than a hunch, run off in the middle of an investigation in order to pursue a tangential lead, or damage his own case by not following procedure. Additionally, in several episodes I was pleased to see Scully physically take down fleeing suspects or attackers, a welcome change from the lip-service feminism in most high-profile movies and TV these days.

The X-Files was the Go-To show of the 90’s; it had a healthy anti-authoritarian attitude and personified the decade’s postmodern, question-everything flavor. Conspiracy theories abounded, Big Government was out to hide everything from alien abduction to the location of car keys, aliens were probing anything remotely anus-shaped, and people didn’t have casual sex with their co-workers.

The X-Files, as horrible as it feels to say it, does not stand the test of time for me. Too often Mulder and Scully find themselves struggling to solve a situation that could be resolved with a quick Google search–certainly it’s easy to dismiss the show as dated, just check out Scully’s shoulder pads. But that’s just nitpicking– the real problem is Mulder’s utter disinterest in applying objectivity to anything they encounter. There’s keeping an open mind, and then there’s Fox Mulder, who never met a candy wrapper he couldn’t conflate into some kind of paranormal occurrence. After all, tinfoil has many, many uses amongst the ‘aliens among us’ set.

After the Bush years, I found my faith in Big Government’s ability to keep secrets from the people had waned. Why believe in a cover up about aliens when there’s so much worse out there? A year or two ago, I found a blog kept by a sharpshooter who’d been to Iraq. His assignment had been to sit on a hillside and shoot anyone who came near some metal pieces scattered in a valley down below. The metal pieces were ‘components’ intentionally scattered by the military as bait, as they are often used to create IEDs; unfortunately, they also contain copper that children collect in order to sell for scrap, to make money for their families. The sharpshooter was instructed to kill anyone who came near the parts, and kill them he did.

This isn’t the sort of thing everyone thinks of when they’re watching a TV show: ‘how well does this show reflect reality as I know it?’  Of course there’s a temporary suspension of disbelief. This is the benefit of the doubt we give when we sit down to watch anything.

The best parts of the show for me, now and always, are the Monster of the Week episodes, where Mulder and Scully take down werewolves, vampires, lake monsters, weird flesh-eating bugs, giant leeches and such. The episode ‘Beyond The Sea,’ about serial killer Luther Boggs (played by Brad Dourif, one of my actor obsessions) and the death of Scully’s father, is an episode that is so moving that it stuck with me since the first time I saw it, in 1993. The scene where Boggs is walking down the hallway to the gas chamber, and he turns away and is guided back by the officers, not fighting, not violent,  but frightened like a child and simply wanting to get away, is heartbreaking.

There’s still lots to love about the X-files. The patter, the Lone Gunmen, the infamous red Speedo, but in my opinion, most of the good stuff is to be found when Fox and Dana are doing anything but investigating aliens. Odd, considering the show’s intent.