Saturday, May 14, 2011

Predator 2 - Stephen Hopkins

"Shit happens"

Not many movies are, at the same time, representative of their age and ahead of their time. Predator 2 is one of them.

Like many movies of the 80s (Robocop would be one example), Predator 2 is set in an apocalyptic future where violence, pollution, and chaos disintegrate the social tissue. Predator 2 is set in Los Angeles in 1997, a city devastated by the war between the Colombian and the Jamaican gangs. The movie got it right on pollution, but wrong on the extent of urban violence, which is now contained in the immigrant neighborhoods. 
Also, the movie depicts Mexican immigrants as the innocent victims of the violence. Were a remake of Predator 2 to take place, the gangs would be composed of Mexicans and Salvadorians, and the victims would be Colombians and Jamaicans. That is how American popular culture is moved by clichés...

(Predator 2 also got it right on how ridiculously big is Los Angeles: according to the movie, an alien spacecraft can be hid in the sewage system and nobody would notice. Well, I am not sure about spacecrafts, but Los Angeles hosted the Olympic Games in 1984 and a large portion of Los Angeles was unaware of that)

I would like to stop for a bit on the lack of of apocalyptic movies in the 1990s and 2000s. The Reagan years were very tough for the US, no matter what the Tea Party and the nostalgic conservatives say: urban unemployment was rampant and cocaine was spreading faster than the Universe (people were also learning to make crack), making the downtowns of the largest cities very dangerous places. The apocalyptic movies of the 80s are set in a distant future because the studios wanted to portray the image of a happy country, in line with Reagan's "Good Morning America". The solution found by directors, who after all portray what they see,  was to set their stories in the future... After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the healthy economic expansion of the 90s, nobody thought about Apocalypse -or if somebody did, could not find funding. After 9/11, I guess, Americans think that we are finally living Apocalypse, so there is no need to tell stories about the future...

Back to Predator 2, now.

As weird as it sounds today (2011), Predator 2 has an ecological message: by telling the story of an alien who likes to hunt humans for fun, the movie tries to send the message that hunting animals is bad. That is what the director and the writers say in the "Making of...", which was recorded at the same time as the movie. The fact that Predator 2 is currently seen as an action popcorn mediocre movie and not as an ecological parable, is a testimony of the changes in aesthetic values lived over the last 30 years.

Another interesting change concerns masculinity and what an attractive man should look like. Most action heroes of the 80s are sweaty guys on steroids not caring about being violent and gross. It would have been unsurprising if Arnold or Stallone farted in the middle of an action scene. The action heroes of today dress on Prada, do not sweat, and are always politically correct (the exception is, sometimes, Russell Crowe). I guess that change in the concept of manhood should be enough to prove that women are taking over the World...

I personally think that Predator 2 is better than the first one: there are more action scenes confronting the monster and human beings rather than humans against each other. The special effects are more elaborate and the monster has more personality and weapons. But the movie was a commercial disaster in the US (the movie had a positive return thanks to its sales abroad), partly because it was ahead of its time. The movie was rated R when it was released because it was considered too violent and containing too much explicit language (it also has a scene of sex). Today, Predator 2 would be a PG-13 easily. The movie just shows bones and skulls instead of guts and explicit violence scenes, as most action movies do today. What was considered excess of blood in the 1980s is a picnic for Tarantino.

And the other sad thing of Predator 2 is that it is really hard to compete against Arnold Schwarznegger, even if I think that Danny Glover did an excellent job as the monster hunter.

Long story short: only fans will find that Predator 2 is a good movie...

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