Tag Archives: Aliens

The Terminator and Technology (part 1)

I just picked up James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator on Blu-ray the other day and I’m glad I did. I’ve always been a fan of the Terminator films and the original is still my favorite. I loathe James Cameron as a person (I think he’s a conceded, egotistical prick) but I can’t deny he makes good films. Ok, so maybe Avatar and Titanic aren’t that great (Titanic is enjoyable, even though it’s overly sentimental) but films like Aliens, the Terminator films, Piranha II: The Spawning, and True Lies are excellent – a prime example of why Cameron is lauded by so many. However, moving back to The Terminator, I’ve always felt this film is a great example of what technology can do when left to its own devices. Neil Postman argues in Technopoly that the makers of a technology aren’t the best candidates for determining its application; The Terminator demonstrates how a technology, which resembles cloud computing and is a form of artificial intelligence, can go awry when implemented by those who create it.
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Battle: Los Angeles

Although I originally saw this movie about two weeks ago I’m writing about it now; partially because I had a great deal of academic responsibilities and partially because I wanted to think about the film before ripping into it. Basically, I didn’t want to needlessly bash this film before contemplating it for a few days but after about two weeks I feel confident in completely ripping it apart. In short, I really didn’t like Battle: Los Angeles. I found it a halfhearted copy of Independence Day, a mixture of Emmerich’s mediocre science fiction extravaganza and American military propaganda. I walked out of the theater saying to myself, “must join the Marines, must join the Marines,” before realizing I’m a pacifist and would rather rot in prison than join the military.
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Predators is a competent action film. It starts with Adrien Brody freefalling towards an unknown planet, flush with jungle foliage and reminiscent of the first Predator movie. Brody is quickly joined by a group of others, consisting of a convicted murderer on death row, a few soldiers, a Mexican gangster, a suave Yakuza gangster, and a doctor. They soon realize the planet is a game reserve and they are the prey. That’s what the commercials say and that’s the gist. However, Predators delivers more than what’s expected from contemporary Hollywood action fare and is more like a solid ‘80s action movie. The film’s use of tropes from the 1987 original, which appear many times in Predators, reminds the viewer of what’s great about Predator (basically everything) without blatantly ripping it off. It’s like Robert Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal were trying to pay homage to the original, which seems to be a common theme with the films of Rodriguez and his filmmaking counterpart Quentin Tarantino.

A good example of reoccurring themes taken from the original includes the Yakuza named Hanzo facing a Predator in the same way Billy did towards the end of Predator. In this scene Hanzo squares off with the creature using a samurai sword and this fight, suggestive of The Seven Samurai (complete with Hanzo resembling Toshiro Mifune), is one of the better action scenes in the film. Even the field the two battle in reminds me of The Seven Samurai. For fans of either Rodriguez or Tarantino this shouldn’t be unfamiliar – the fights in Kill Bill Volume 1 are again an homage to Kurosawa’s work. The finale of the film’s third act is again taken from Predator, where Brody resembles Schwarzenegger’s appearance in his final battle with the alien, yet in the interest of politeness and not giving away the end, I will stop here. Other things in the film, such as a jungle setting or the film’s music, are a return to the first in this series. Yet, as mentioned before, they are not contrived and instead made me want to keep watching the film, excited because Predators is one of those movies that brings back good memories of the first film instead of making me just want to watch Arnold and six other muscle men running around in the jungle.

How the characters end up on the planet isn’t explored much and could be a problem for some. I didn’t see a problem here and enjoyed this tactic. Aside from leaving things open for sequels, it demonstrates how the main characters were unaware of their predicament and only had a surface understanding of it. I like this; it added a level of realism since if I were in the same situation I wouldn’t have this knowledge either. In fact, the majority, if not the whole film, contains the primary characters and never follows the Predators.  By doing this we are to emphasize with them, sharing the knowledge they have and following as if we were in their shoes. If the film did follow the creatures it would take away from this sense of disorientation; the narrative voice would take on a third person point of view instead of a modified version of the first person. When Brody is freefalling down to the planet surface he is unconscious and wakes up only a few seconds before landing. By starting the film in the heat of the action and alongside a character that is unaware of the circumstances, we are in the same boat.

The gore quota for Predators doesn’t equal that of the first film, yet is acceptable and is in the same vein and the original. Don’t let this lead you to believe the film is tame, but there was something about the violence in Predator that was gruesome. Predators is definitely violent, but the grittiness of the original is replaced by the kind of brutality found in Rodriguez’s films. Since we live in the age of DVD director’s cuts, I’m curious whether a more violent version will be available in a few months. Personally I’m not a fan of this, since it’s a compromise made because filmmakers know their work will see the light of day, but it’s always in an inferior format. I know that televisions nowadays are excellent but there’s something about seeing a film in the theater that any home set-up can’t compare to. The days of courage in cinema (such as releasing an unrated film like Romero or Hooper in the ‘70s) are gone. Directors have alternatives nowadays, yet the place one views a film is integral to its impact and conceding this seems like a cop-out.

I am curious how the film will do at the box office. Hopefully it does well enough to warrant a sequel. I would definitely go see another Predator film, regardless of the cast. If it’s anything like Predators it’ll be decent and a fun ride. Here is the trailer.

On a final note, I found the acting competent and the script excellent. Many of the lines were cheesy, yet worked for the film and were delivered with conviction. Brody is a great actor (see The Pianist and The Darjeeling Limited) and many of his lines are your typical action fare, but they are recited well enough to not distract from the credibility of the film. Even Topher Grace did a good job and I thought he was terrible in Spider Man 3. Actually, it’s unfair to say he was horrible since that whole movie was awful and an embarrassment to watch. The other actors I am familiar with are Danny Trejo, Lawrence Fishburne, Alice Braga (City of God), and Walton Goggins (Justified and The Shield). On a side note, I heard a great interview with Goggins conducted by Terry Gross on the NPR show Fresh Air. A link is at the end of this post.

I really can’t think of anything bad to say about Predators and that’s unusual since I’m always critical of movies. Even the choices for the prey, minus the doctor (Grace), are interesting. Since most of them are soldiers, gangsters, and murderers, the choices made for the hunt are interesting. These choices rely on their use of brute force to determine their candidacy. While killers are seen as abhorrent in our society, we also see bankers, politicians, and brokers containing similar qualities. However, for the sake of making a good movie having Predators hunt Wall Street bankers wouldn’t sell tickets yet the choice of who is immoral makes the film work outside an American context. After all, outside of the construction of social reality, where money and property have no real value, only brute force has validity.

A last observation has to do with the subject of rape. While many people find rape to be funny I don’t. There are a few rape jokes uttered by Goggins during the film and I thought they weren’t that funny. Many of the men in the audience did and it makes me question their mental health. It was refreshing that the character’s response to the situation was negative, but I don’t understand why rape jokes have suddenly become hot. It’s not like rape is going away and it’s not a lighthearted situation, yet for some reason men find it funny.

Terry Gross’ interview with Walton Goggins