The first Alien vs. Predator movie was, of course, garbage. And the second, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, was an abomination. But the comparison itself is valid and thought-provoking and deserves to be laid to rest once and for all.
For my money, it’s the Predator all the way.
In the interest of time, I’ll stick with the originals since Aliens was really good, but all the other sequels in both franchises were crap.
Alien is a classic, but it’s also simply Jaws in Space. It’s an excellent but one-dimensional film. It does what it does well. There is scary music in all the right places. People run around and scream. But it’s clear which is the good guy and which is the bad guy. There’s no question of who’s going to come out on top. In Predator, though, you kind of find your loyalties and perceptions shifting as the movie progresses. In the end, it’s a lot like American Gladiators: you can root for the contestant or for the hunter trying to rip the other guy’s head off.
Alien belongs in the genre of this month's Geek Speak Movie Marathon section: Mutant Animals Attack! movies like Deep Blue Sea, Tremors and Eye of the Beast: movies about scary super-creatures on a ravenous eating spree. Predator is more psychological. It’s a tightly-constructed masterpiece that opens avenues of thought and lives on beyond the screen. There’s an intelligence at work in both the alien and in the movie itself.
Take a good look at Predator. The first third of the movie is filled with muscles. It’s all brawn and bawdy jokes. The military guys whip out their enormous phallic canons and mow down everything lush and green standing between them and their invisible adversary. In the second act, they get their come-uppance as they’re picked off one by one, each death a bit more gruesome than the last. In the final act, the main muscle guy, stripped of his technology, goes native, paints his face, sets some traps, and turns the tables on the relentless hunter. We discover that the camouflaged Predator, whom we thought was the Natural Man, is actually the ultimate Techno Man. In spite of his reliance on technology, or perhaps because of that reliance, he is outmaneuvered, outsmarted, and ultimately defeated by the Natural Man. The moral of the story: be a natural human being, give up what you believed to be true, don’t trust what you think you’ve seen, and if you want to win, you’ve got to give up what weighs you down.
As for the creatures themselves, it’s the difference between Jason and Freddy Kreuger. Jason is a silent slasher, a stalker who’s been tailor-made to fit our nightmares. Freddy, on the other hand, can talk. He’s funny, tormented, and deadly, just like the rest of us. That makes him interesting.
Sure, the Alien is menacing. But in the end, it’s just a mindless animal, while the Predator from McTiernan’s film is a thinking creature, eerily human with its advanced technology, its insatiable desire to hunt and to collect trophies. It has a sense of humor. It mimics other creatures and the natural world around it even as it kills for kicks. In the end, it kills itself with its own nuclear bomb. (Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and writer Joss Whedon tried unsuccessfully to rectify this by humanizing the aliens in Alien: Resurrection, which had the effect of a post-script: “Oh, by the way, these aren’t mindless creatures at all. They have a complicated psychology and social structure…” In other words, Jeunet and Whedon tried to make the Alien more like the Predator.
Let’s face it, the Predator is a more interesting alien than the Alien. The Alien has acid blood, a head like a melted bowling ball, and a little teeny second mouth that pops out like candy from a Pez dispenser. The Predator, on the other hand, has personality. You want to know about his background. What was he like as a baby Predator? What kind of training did it take to become such an effective hunter? Does he have a girlfriend? etc. The Alien is just a big ol’, egg-laying bug. The Predator is a human offshoot, not an insect. He’s fallible but inventive. He makes weapons to enhance his natural abilities. He hunts for sport, which is a lot more diabolical than sneaking through air vents picking off incontinent space colonists, unsuspecting miners, and gung-ho Marines. Everyone who would take a seven-foot tall armored alien Rastafarian trophy-hunter over a slime-soaked dung beetle any day raise your hand.
I thought so.
Predator asks the right question: “What the hell are you?” Dutch asks it of the Predator, and the Predator asks him right back. We humans need so spend less time trying to figure out everyone else and more time trying to figure out ourselves. In any other context, we’re the predator.
In Predator, the Latin phrase applies: de te fibula. The story is about you.
Alien was invented. It’s a movie. It happens for us.
Predator was cultivated. It’s real. It happens to be us.