Tuesday, February 14, 2012

MARQUEE SHOWDOWN #5: Vinnie vs Arnie

Predator is usually regarded as a much more iconic film due to its already established star (Diesel became known because of Pitch Black, while Arnie already was a Hollywood golden goose at that point), the fact that it came out 25 years ago and eventually hatched a wide-ranging franchise, from spin-offs (AvP) to video games and even comic books. But the truth is both films are extroardinarily similar in style, substance, inspiration and success: low budget Aliens-like hits where characters die until the almost-last one that accomplished the rare feat of combining action sci-fi and horror to a perfect blend. 

Pitch Black : Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David, Rhianna Griffith, Claudia Black
The film came out completely star-less, which is one of the things I liked so much about it: you truly didn't know what to expect, who will be bad and who good, who will live or die, etc. Diesel came out of absolutely nowhere to give us the most badass anti-hero since John McClane dropped Alan Rickman's stunt double from the 40th floor. Also worthy of mention are Claudia Black then known to sci-fi nuts for cult classic show "Farscape", David Keith who's always a welcome addition to any project, and newcomer Rhianna Griffith who confounded everyone into thinking she's a dude.

Predator : Ah-Nold, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carillo, Kevin Peter Hall.
Let's face it, most people went in to see an Arnold movie, so right there you got star power up the wazoo, but acting?!? hmmm. Surrounding him are known faces but little in terms of actual stardom - Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers, not much glitter here sad to say. When all is said and done though, the true stars turn out to be F/X wizard Stan Winston and the Predator himself Kevin Peter Hall whose background as a mime and proficiency in tribal dances (seriously) helped this movie give us a very scary antagonist like we'd never seen before. Hall sadly passed away soon after completing work on the sequel.

Advantage: Tie

Pitch Black : MetaCritic=49%, IMDb= 7.0, Rotten Tomatoes= 55%, Rogert Ebert= 2/5
Predator  MetaCritic=36%, IMDb=7.8, Rotten Tomatoes= 76%, Roger Ebert= 3/5

Advantage Predator

Pitch Black :  $23M production budget. Domestic theatrical take of $39M with an addition $13.9M world wide for an estimated attendance of 7,280,300 theatre-sitters. The film's true success though was in DVD rentals and sales, big enough to warrant a $105M sequel 4 years later. Which kinda bombed critically and commercially.

Predator : $15M budget; quite low indeed, but that's in 1987. Domestic take of $59.7M, with an additional $38.5M world wide for an estimated 15,277,600 multiplex dwellers. In  other words, lucrative movie. Though it needed 24 years to generate a decent sequel (2010's awesome "Predators"), with some pretty dismal entries in between.

Advantage: Predator

  • Pitch Black came out in the Dead Zone of mid-February with little marketing, no star and no brand recognition, and still managed to crawl its way to cult-classic status thanks to a fresh vision from a very inventive director who pulled off a kick-ass looking film for very little money.      Many films tried to drape themselves in the Aliens cloth, but very managed to pull it off as Twohy did. Maybe not original, but smart, steady and scary. Too bad it's reputation got tarnished by an overblown sequel that failed in most regards.
  • Director John McTiernan, who the previous year had crafted one of the all-time greatest action films with Die Hard, this time offered up the epitome of 80s macho action. Predator is a muscular fare about big guys with big guns being picked off one by one by an invisible enemy in a deadly jungle (a metaphor if there ever was one...). It doesn't waste any time with notions of justice, poetic or other, nor does it try to humanize its monster just as Frankenstein's creation was never named. Its an unapologetic spectacle of testosterone that ends with the inevitable conclusion foreseen by Conor McCleod: there can only be one. Sadly, there were others that tried too hard and failed too badly, while this one remains a milestone in sci-fi, action, horror and Schwarzenegger. 

Overall Winner: Predator

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