During Friday night’s SXSW presentation for “Predators,” Robert Rodriguez explained the initial idea of the trailer, which would’ve shown the title in blood red letters as they fell away one by one until all that was left was an “R.” The idea was nixed by the MPAA, but the trailer that was shown instead (and will be attached to prints of “Repo Men” next week) was equally intriguing for fans of the franchise who have been waiting for a true sequel to the original film.
Rodriguez has been waiting nearly as long and before showing the first footage that anyone has seen of the film, he explained how he had worked on a script for “Predators” back in 1996 while waiting out a delay on “Desperado.” “Sony said they weren’t making any movies for a year after ‘Last Action Hero,'” said Rodriguez, who ironically turned the failure of one Arnold Schwarzenegger film into an opportunity to make another when then Fox film exec Peter Rice requested his take on the story. Soon after, Rodriguez found himself at Schwarzenegger’s Santa Monica restaurant Schatzi, sitting at a table with future Governator as John Milius and “From Dusk Till Dawn” stars George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino looked on.
“Any cool idea I had, I’ll jam it into the script,” Rodriguez thought, including the return of Schwarzenegger as Dutch and possibly making Jean-Claude Van Damme the bad guy. Rodriguez quoted Schwarzenegger as saying of a sequel, “We have to go back to the jungle. Not like that bullshit ‘Predator 2.'” (When asked for his own thoughts on the Danny Glover-led sequel during the audience Q & A, Rodriguez politely said, “next question.”) Schwarzenegger ultimately passed on the project, which Rodriguez believed was because the actor had had a falling out with the producers, but over a decade later, a new regime at Fox dusted off the script and gave the greenlight to his idea.
That idea, as has already been reported on elsewhere, involves a group of eight trained vigilantes of various affiliations (Black Ops, Yakuza, etc.) who have been brought to a safari planet by several different species of predators (there are flying ones, wildebeest-esque ones, one the filmmakers called a “predhound” in addition to a return of the original one) — in director Nimród Antal’s words, they pluck the best human hunters from around the world to refine their abilities as killers. Or as Adrien Brody’s Royce sums up concisely in the trailer, “This planet is a game preserve… And we’re the game.” If that sounds like it could rival Arnie’s famed one-liner “if it bleeds, we can kill it,” then you’ll just have to hear Laurence Fishburne, who came off as the film’s primary quote machine as the group’s wise elder. During the only full-length scene that was shown, depicting how Fishburne joins the rest of the ragtag group in the jungle, he’s asked “Who are you?” by Alice Braga’s Isabelle, and responds, “The one that got away. The one you don’t fuck with.”
For lack of a better word, Rodriguez and his hand-picked director Antal (“Armored,” “Kontroll”) felt the same about the original 1987 film and not wanting to fuck with what made it work. Antal talked about how both he and Rodriguez were fond of the 1932 classic adventure “The Most Dangerous Game” and “just wanted to [the franchise] back to the hunt,” adding that “we wanted [the predators] to be iconic, but not comic bookish.” Rodriguez told Antal when he first came aboard the film that “the classic predator is the 8-track version and the new predators are the iPod version.” (They said Fishburne also gave a good description when he described the different tribes as wolves versus dogs.) And yet much of Friday’s presentation was about the original predator, since makeup maestro Greg Nicotero was in the house as well as the head of the original predator, which was set on the corner of the Alamo Ritz stage where people could walk up and take a closer look, and as Rodriguez insisted, whisper, “You’re one ugly motherfucker.” (Rodriguez also took the opportunity to confirm the long held rumor that James Cameron helped Stan Winston with the idea for the predator’s mandibles.)
Early in the presentation, Antal admitted that he was under the weather and ceded much of the Q & A to Rodriguez, but was adamant about his devotion to the series, saying, “I lived in Budapest [where] I had a barber with a ‘Predator’ tattoo. When you hear Yoda speak in Hungarian, you know it’s gone around the world. ‘Predator’ is the same.” Nicotero backed this up with an anecdote about how Antal pocketed a broken predator blade after shooting a battle sequence and when Nicotero said he would’ve gladly given him one, Antal replied, “But [this one] is still dirty.” Antal also shared how he much he admired Rodriguez and said he was “a little nervous” during their first meeting, but “I tried to put my geek emotions aside and tried to enhance what [Rodriguez] put forward” with his script. That’s when Antal pitched the idea of incorporating the killing techniques of the various tribes of predators like flushing and driving into a way of expressing their different personalities. It was a short time later he found himself traveling to Hawaii for the production on a fast track to a summer 2010 release. Rodriguez compared the experience to “Sin City,” saying “everybody sees a train rolling, they want to get on board. This is one of those magic rides.”
The film’s first one-sheet, as seen above, was given out to the crowd, as well as T-shirts spotted with the predators’ three red-dot targets (just as they appear on Adrien Brody’s armor in the trailer), though the footage was more than enough for most, accomplishing what Antal said he was striving for in terms of a blend of mystery and horror, revealing relatively little other than the dangerous world the humans must survive in and establishing a motley crew of seasoned actors like Walton Goggins and Danny Trejo to root for. As SXSW Film chief Janet Pierson said when she introduced Rodriguez and Antal, this was intended to “wet your whistle” — and so it did.
UPDATE: While we were inside, Fox premiered a behind-the-scenes video online that splices in some of the footage we saw this evening: