Recently, I’ve discovered that the Predator films – as much as I love ‘em – perplex the heck outta me. Maybe it’s the way they’re clearly set up as indictments of mankind’s violent nature, but then end up devolving into squib-rigged firestorms of mud-smeared pecks and Gary Busey. Or maybe it’s just my verging-on-inappropriate affection for the “Alien” franchise. Either way, here, for your review, is what little sense I can make from the Predator series’ bizarrely ambivalent relationship with violence and horror.
A Hunter vs. Hunted Switcharoo Mindbender
The Predators, a race of techno-tribal alien hunters whose social hierarchy hinges on the skillful collection of alien skull trophies, are clearly meant to recall humanity’s barbaric beginnings, and society’s continued relationship with animal life vis-á-vis recreational hunting. The viewer is horrified by the monstrous Predator’s attempts to kill and de-skull innocent humans… but, wait… Switcharoo Mindbender! Humans happily traipse around the forests murdering animals and hauling home their disembodied heads for boastful mounting. A gob-smacking thematic twist – except that the movies never really address anything resembling recreational hunting, and the first film actually rewards Arnold for possessing the kind of trap-building field knowledge that would seem a quintessential example of hunting acumen. If we are meant to reassess our societal acceptance of sport hunting in light of our disgust at the Predator’s actions, count my acceptance un-reassessed – I thought the movies were about blowing up stuff and then high-tailing it to da choppa.
Given that both films also take place in war-ravaged settings, perhaps the message is a brusque tsk tsking of intra-species violence…
The heat-signature Predator POV shots seem to imply that, at least when hunting on Earth, the Predators naturally gravitate toward the balmy spiciness of homicidal violence. Given that the Predator culture seems to value corpse quality over corpse quantity, it makes sense that the hunters would naturally seek out the strongest, most cunning human warriors by visually scanning the Earth for active conflict
s. The larger notion here, of course, is that the Predators only continue returning to Earth because our species is so adept at physical warfare that we continue breeding able-bodied soldiers, who offer a challenge to even the advanced tech and near-instinctual stealth of the Predator species. Predator 2 even ends with that wonky scene where the elder Predator tosses the victorious Danny Glover a flintlock pistol from the 1500s, indicating that the Predators have a long and bloody history of Earthen murder vacations. It might even be fair to suggest that the Predators choose the flintlock as Glover’s reward because, in their limited experience with humans, they’ve come to understand the firearm as the cornerstone of human civilization. Of course, they seek out violence so no doy they’d come to that conclusion – and even if the movies are pleading with us to give up our fussin’ and feudin’ so as to spare ourselves the occasional housecall from violent aliens, the message doesn’t really have any bearing on humans not living in a Predator movie so… maybe the films are really talking about the method of our violence?! (???)…
Even in the ill-advised Alien Vs. Predator series, we’re continually offered a stark juxtaposition of Predator violence and Predator honor. In Predator 2, during the subway attack, the Predator scans a woman, sees that she’s pregnant and moves on without harming her. Likewise, in AvP, a Predator notes Weyland’s malignant cancer and foregoes slaughter until Weyland himself initiates violence, at which point the Predator does not hesitate to gank with gusto. Maybe, then, it’s the intention of the films to show us that, while the Predator species is barbarically violent, they live by a finely honed species-wide honor code that defines their violence as something more akin to cultural ritual than chaotic bloodshed. Humans, on the other hand, are known to enact violence carelessly, thoughtlessly and without any notion of nobility. Even so, both films are clearly tailored such that the viewer roots for a human hero.
In the end, maybe it’s better that the Predator films remain a simple paean to the glory of exploding vehicles and eviscerated corpses. After all, the fact that there’s such a eager, viable demographic for awesome, violent films like these says more about humanity’s innate barbarism than any belabored plot metaphor ever could.