[25 January 2005]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
There’s so much cursing in this film, I remember when we had to do an airline version, they sent me about three pages of four columns of curses we had to cut out. The film must have been about 20 minutes long on the airline.
—Stephen Hopkins, commentary, Predator 2: Special Edition
Fuck, they’re dying man!
—Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso), Predator 2
We don’t need any rush-hour Rambos here.
—Jerry (Bill Paxton), Predator 2
Watching the first moments of his 1990 sequel to Predator, director/DVD commentator Stephen Hopkins observes, “We’ve sort of entered what, in those days, was supposed to be a kind of futuristic, very sort of Latino-dominated downtown L.A., with gangs and Jamaicans. It’s a bit more glamorous than the real life down there I think.” “Glamorous” might not be the first word you’d think of while looking on this scene, a loud and nasty-seeming street battle, rife with heavy artillery and setting up the obvious “sides”—cops versus gangs, narrated by intrepid, self-involved tv reporters in bulletproof vests. “It’s completely out of control down here,” assesses one frightened journalist, his voice nearly overwhelmed by the sounds of automatic gunfire and the familiar Predator theme. Adds Hopkins, “We caused chaos down there; we had this whole street blocked off for a couple of weeks.”
Released to coincide with Alien vs. Predator‘s release to DVD, the Special Edition of Predator 2 compares well, in part because the DVD set is chucky full of stuff (in addition to the commentary tracks on disc one, the DVD set includes a second disc with more features: a 35-minute documentary titled “The Hunters and the Hunted: The Making of Predator 2” [cast and crew interviews, no surprises]; others concerning visual effects, stunts, and weapons; as well as a couple of episodes of “Hard Core,” the fictional, not-so-outrageous-anymore tab-news show hosted by Tony Pope [the notorious Morton Downey, Jr.]).
But mostly, the film—usually dismissed as inferior to the lean original—has its own agenda. On one level, it knows and appreciates what it is—a cheesy monster-action flick. But on another, it’s spliced through with concise, sometimes very smart, social and political commentary. The story reprises that of the first Predator, the alien hunter (again played by Kevin Peter Hall) now come to L.A. Here its primary target (a worthy adversary) is Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover), who spends as much time muttering the plot to himself as he does combating the monster. And more power to him. Mike is a terrifically entertaining cop-character, grumpy, witty, and hard-ass, with a cocky detective hat and a tough tenacious team—Leona (Maria Conchita Alonso), Danny Archuleta (Rubén Blades), and eager newbie Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton).
Hopkins says he saw L.A. as something of a frontier. With his cinematographer, Peter Levy, he “decided to shoot this movie like a Western… We decided that Los Angeles, with all its glare and dust, felt like a Western town to us, sort of a mining town that had been shoved up really quickly. And so we decided to shoot it with this yellow, dusty look, this tobacco look.” This look goes to the film’s slightly futuristic timeframe, such that the pervasive heat alludes to global warming (brothers/writers Jim and John Thomas, on their own commentary track, observe, “Everybody’s carrying water bottles and complaining of the heat”), as well as social innovations (the hookers are licensed, the Jamaican gangs are armed to the teeth, and L.A. has a subway (at the time, with no Los Angeles train in place, the Thomases admit they had to use the BART in San Francisco).
The Thomases recall that they conceived their first script (for the first Predator, a film they note produced two governors) as an action flick in which humans were prey for dilettante hunters from another planet (“The Most Dangerous Game” revisited). When the comic book did well (interestingly, the measure was not the first film), Joel Silver gave the go-ahead for the second film, which the brothers imagined as another Schwarzenegger vehicle; he ended up having to choose between this sequel and Terminator 2 (and you know how that turned out). No matter, both the writers and Hopkins have nothing but love for Danny Glover; Hopkins calls Mike “an out and out tough cop hero. It was great to see someone with his type of gravitas get into this.” In the world of the film, his official file calls him “violence prone and obsessive/compulsive.” Just the sort of soldier you want on the front lines against the Predators.
Remarkably, Mike is worthy of Glover’s stature a remarkable character, as a cop and a science fiction hero. Not only must he contend with standard issue earthly urban messiness and racism extended to interplanetary dimensions, but he’s also got his hands full with hoodoo-using Jamaicans and a particular human nemesis, Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey, whom the Thompsons say “kept everyone howling on the set”), supposedly of the DEA. On their first meeting, Keyes (named for the character played by Francois Truffaut in Close Encounters) dismisses Mike by saying, “They say that persistence is one of your most outstanding qualities. You’ve got a big nose, and you’re sticking it too far in my business.” Busey at his nasty best.
The betrayals among the cops and agents take their tolls, of course, and Mike has to wade through lots of muck on his way to facing the Predator. You have the advantage, as you know the hunter has a particular fondness for armed targets (and doesn’t kill Leona, even though she is armed, because she’s pregnant—as the Thomases discuss here, this character detail comes suddenly here, as explanatory backstory was cut, for time). But Mike figures out what’s at issue much more quickly than the arrogant, expensively outfitted agents, Keyes, Garber (Adam Baldwin), and nameless minions.
When these guys start lauding the monster’s capacity for destruction (“Remarkable weaponry”) and also show off all the surveillance gear and artillery they’ve assembled to confront the creature, Mike is appalled: “You’re not gonna kill this asshole, you’re gonna freeze him!” Right—and so this “asshole” becomes another version of the Alien, ripe for some profit-minded bioweapons division. “I think in the ‘80s,” says Hopkins (who had previously made A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child), “there were a lot of movies about how the government was trying to manipulate and hide the facts from society in general.” For his part, Keyes feels assured of his own significance: “Grab a seat,” he tells Mike, “This is history.” In other words, he’s dead meat.
A pile-on of violence and bloodshed only sets up Mike’s big fight, not to mention his discovery of the Predator’s souvenir collection, skulls, trophies, and weapons grabbed from assorted prey. Hopkins observes that Mike’s last appearance has him covered in goo and ash, following the Predators’ big-ship departure, a nod to the “existential futility” of the film’s end, but also the dire urban environment that defines his limits and also his hope for survival. What he doesn’t mention, however, is what might be this smart film’s smartest, most notable detail, that Mike emerges from the sewer tunnel in what amounts to “white face.” Where Arnold ended the first film, according to John Thomas, “looking like he’s emerged from “the netherworld,” Mike is altered in another way, reflecting the world into which he’s now re-deposited. It’s a brilliant, singular finish.