While Ridley Scott’s Alien prequels may have been divisive among fans and critics, they ultimately hold together better than The Predator. Both the original Alien and Predator are fundamentally B-movie concepts; a monster stalks an isolated group of characters, picks them off one at a time until it's defeated by the last survivor. Of course, if they were nothing but silly horror flicks they wouldn’t be considered classics now. Alien has Ridley Scott’s taut direction and uncanny eye for visuals, a great ensemble cast and – of course – H.R. Giger’s nightmarish creature design. Predator has a perfect high-concept idea, a script dripping with quality one-liners and Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his stardom.
As a result, it’s interesting to see how the Predator and Alien franchises have evolved alongside (and as a part of) each other. The original movies are quite focused but suggest a much wider mythology and so, through various sequels, video games, comics and even crossovers, they’ve both constructed a robust expanded universe for fans to explore. That said, many of the sequels have been greeted with mixed receptions. Predator 2 is a fun, gory action flick, but essentially xeroxed the structure of the original, while Alien: Resurrection’s mix of gothic horror and goofy comedy was greeted with bemusement. The less said about the reaction to the Alien Vs Predator movies, the better.
Whether they succeeded or not, each one of these sequels at least attempted something interesting. The same can be said for 2018’s The Predator, which was directed by Shane Black. Black had a history with the series, having played the role of Hawkins in the original, who is the first onscreen casualty of the titular hunter. Black’s gift with crafting great characters and dialogue is evident in the latest sequel, and the movie brings new elements to the series lore like the Predators upgrading themselves through DNA splicing. While the movie is fun it’s also something of a mess, and often spoiled by choppy editing.
While Scott’s Alien prequels might also be messy, they made a genuine attempt to push the series in a new direction – and in their own way, they kind of succeeded. Let’s take a look at how the Alien prequels and The Predator attempted to evolve their respective franchises, and why the former did a better job.
- This Page: What The Alien Prequels Got Right (And Wrong)
- Page 2: Why The Predator Is Weaker Than The Alien Prequels
The Alien Prequels Were Doing Something Really Interesting
It’s no secret Prometheus started life as a straight forward Alien prequel. The original script by Jon Spaihts was called Alien: Engineers, and while this draft and the final film are similar in structure, a lot changed once Damon Lindelof (Lost) was hired to rewrite. For years, Ridley Scott had stated he was disappointed none of the sequels explored the backstory of the dead Space Jockey creature seen in the original, and if he returned, that’s what he would focus on. Scott always saw the xenomorph as a biological weapon designed by these beings, and that’s what Alien: Engineers explored. The script contained all the classic tropes; eggs, facehuggers and new twists on the classic Giger design.
While this story got Scott excited enough to sign on, he wasn’t interested in making a monster movie. He felt the xenomorph had been "cooked" by decades of overexposure, and he wanted to make a movie exploring the relationship between God and subject, parent and child. Lindelof’s rewrites would zero in on this by removing a lot of the Alien references and turning the movie into more of a spinoff. In the story, a team of scientists tracks down their creators in the Engineers, only to learn their "parents" hate them and planned to wipe them out. Then there’s David 8 (Michael Fassbender), an android created by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). Despite being physically and mentally superior to the beings he serves, he’s treated with open contempt by them. There’s also Vickers (Charlize Theron) icy relationship with her father Weyland, and Shaw’s (Noomi Rapace) unwavering faith in God despite the wealth of evidence such a being doesn’t exist.
This is weighty subject matter for a mainstream blockbuster, and at times Prometheus poses fascinating ideas. Sadly, its hampered by faulty plot logic and characters beats; seriously, who tries to pet a clearly hostile alien snake? Alien: Covenant later had the tricky task of being a sequel to Prometheus and prequel to the Alien series, but it continued the creator/created subtext by revealing David tracked down the Engineer home planet and wiped it out using their own biological weapons. He then proceeded to experiment with their black goo, seeking to create his own perfect being – in this case, the xenomorph itself. The movie ends on a staggeringly bleak note that set up a third movie, but Covenant’s lukewarm financial performance means – sadly – David’s quest for self-made godhood is unlikely to receive a finale.
The Alien Prequels' "Problem" Is Actually A Strength
In spite of their strengths, the Alien prequels are undeniably flawed. Scott feels more engaged by the themes and visuals of these entries than the characters populating them, which is best illustrated by Shaw’s nasty fate in Alien: Covenant. Another controversial issue with the prequels is Scott’s open reluctance to actually use the xenomorph. He wanted to phase the beast out and focus instead on David 8, as he sees A.I. as the new alien lifeform. There’s a tip of the hat to the Giger design in Prometheus with the Deacon creature seen in the final scene, but nothing demonstrated Scott’s boredom with the xenomorph better than its reappearance in Alien: Covenant. The final act turns into a lame monster movie as a couple of weightless CGI aliens chase after the heroes, and these sequences hold none of the terrifying power of the original movie.
Scott’s plan to boot the xenomorph from its own series has been – predictably enough – controversial among the fanbase. However, in a strange way, this sidelining of the Starbeast actually works in the prequels favor, as it allows the narrative to focus on David instead. David 8 is far and away the most fascinating character of both movies; an intelligent, vain and calculating villain played with relish by Fassbender. The android’s hatred for his creators and quest to transcend his origins is what powers both movies, and opened up a wider universe for the series. Of course, it could be argued this theme is better suited to a Blade Runner movie than Alien, but however flawed the execution, the prequels made a real effort to reinvent the series.
Page 2 of 2: Why The Predator Is Weaker Than The Alien Prequels
The Predator Is Doing Lots Of (Confused) Things
When Shane Black came onboard The Predator, he sought to re-energize the series and get audiences excited for it again. To that end, The Predator isn’t just about a new hunter stalking another group of luckless warriors. The movie provides the true motive for the Predators coming to Earth; they want to make it their new home, as global warming is making it the ideal environment for the heat-loving aliens. While this idea is somewhat logical, giving them a bog standard world takeover motive makes them inherently less interesting. It also introduced a hybrid subplot, revealing they collect spines not only as trophies but so they can harvest the DNA of the strongest creatures they’ve encountered.
The movie – somewhat admirably – sought to make outsiders the heroes, with The Loonies being a bunch of misfit veterans suffering from PTSD and assorted mental health issues, but when the time comes to soldier up, they’re ready to go. That said, the movie isn’t above mining those same issues for cheap laughs, like Tom Jane’s intermittent Tourette's. The Predator also wants to give people on the autism spectrum a hero in young Rory McKenna (Jacob Tremblay), who is somehow able to decode the Predator’s language with no context. The movie treats Rory’s autism like a superpower, to the point the Upgrade Predator kidnaps him so he can presumably harvest his DNA for his own species. It’s a muddled message with questionable science, and the movie often feels like it’s trying to balance a lot of ideas but ends up fudging many of them.
The Predator's Problem Is Studio Meddling
The Predator suffered a lot of issues on its way to the big screen, being delayed multiple times and undergoing extensive reshoots following weak test screening results. The structure changed a lot in post-production, losing much of the hybrid plot. The original third act found the Loonies teaming with two emissary predators, who object to their clan’s impending invasion and want to help humanity prepare for it. This would have led to a setpiece where the heroes and the emissaries fight off a hybrid menagerie, a group of freakish hybrid monsters that included a Spider Predator.
Test audience response to this section was decidedly mixed, so Black agreed to rework the finale into a more traditional hunt. It feels like the studio lost faith in the project during this process, with the final cut feels edited to the bone. Scenes begin and end abruptly, with the death of one major character being edited so poorly some viewers missed it completely. This extends to character beats, with the original cut revealing Trevante Rhodes’ Nebraska has terminal cancer, which is why he’s chain-smoking throughout. Probably the biggest complaint against the movie is the final scene, which reveals the Fugitive Predator came to Earth to gift the human race with a suit of armor dubbed the Predator Killer. The scene was a last-minute reshoot to add a sequel tease, and feels utterly disconnected from the rest of the story.
It could have been much worse, however, with the recent revelation that two alternates were shot; one featuring the return of Ellen Ripley in the pod – with her face covered in a Facehugger-style breathing mask – and another featuring an adult version of Aliens' Newt. Thankfully, Fox decided against these logic-defying cliffhangers, but it shows at that point, the studio just wanted something with franchise potential.
It's Unfair The Predator Has A Better Future Than Alien
The Predator has been a critical and financial dud, but the movie has enough fans that it will likely be considered a cult gem in the years ahead. The Predator series has never been terribly consistent, often stopping for long periods before coming back. Even without Disney’s impending takeover of Fox's movie properties, it’s doubtful another sequel would happen for at least a few years, and it will almost certainly ignore The Predator. The series has always bounced back, however, so the hunter will return someday.
While Ridley Scott’s planned third Alien prequel would have found David 8 continuing his experiments on a new planet, the response to Alien: Covenant means the prequel series is almost certainly dead. Viewers haven’t taken to Scott’s vision, and whatever form the next Alien movie takes, it will likely return to a more traditional formula – one that actually uses the xenomorph. This is certainly disappointing because while both prequels fell short of their ambitions, the story they were building towards was a fascinating one and it’s a shame it won’t see completion.
Both franchises are in an odd place right now with no clear direction forward. Aside from a fun holiday special, Predator will be sitting on the bench for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, Alien celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2019, but Fox’s recent announcement of a mobile-only game called Alien: Blackout, and confirming no new movies are in development, has done little to get fans excited. Reports suggest an Alien TV series is in development, so maybe that’s the direction the franchise will go in next.