Well, with Fox finally figuring out that a). they own two of the coolest SF/Horror franchises of all time and b). maybe they should do something right with them, I got to thinking about the last two totally crappy Alien vs Predator movies. I think it’s safe to assume with Nimrod Antal’s and Robert Rodriguez’s reboot of the Predator series and with Sir Ridley Scott rebooting the Alien series with two new prequels that Alien vs. Predator and Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem will be airbrushed out of the history of the Alien and Predator franchises just as surely as certain Chinese politicians have been airbrushed out of Maoist era history books. I interviewed Greg and Colin Strause just before their flick Aliens vs Predator: Requiem came out. They were wicked nice guys, taking time out while the movie was being scored to talk to me. Thought I’d republish the article here, in light of the new developments at Fox regarding the two franchises.
REQUIEM FOR A SCREAM
(c) 2007, Michael Marano
Brothers Greg and Colin Strause, digital effects experts and the directors of the upcoming Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem, were around four and three years old respectively when Alien came out. They took their first very steps toward getting AVP:R, their first gig directing a feature, eight or nine years later… in a scenario worthy of a mid-80s family-oriented sitcom. Or maybe a vignette in a flick like Adventures in Babysitting.
“We saw [James Cameron’s] Aliens first [before Ridley Scott’s Alien],” says Greg.
“It was on pay-per-view,” says Colin. “We were in a hotel room, and our parents were working at this crafts show thing. And we kept flipping on the pay-per-view, watching it, and then we’d get scared, change the channel, and then we’d flip it back. And we didn’t realize that every time we did that, we kept getting charged again for the movie. So our parents weren’t too happy when they saw the bill, which had, like, ten charges for the movie. But yeah, that was the first time we saw it, and it pretty much emotionally scarred us, from that point on.”
The Brothers Strause, as they’re sometimes billed, traumatized as were hundreds of thousands of kids in the 1980s by Cameron’s classic sequel, made it a point to honor Cameron (with whom they’d work as effects artists on Titanic) by making sure that their sequel to Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2004 AVP: Alien vs. Predator had a very specifically worded title; it’s the plural Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, not the singular.
“A big influence on our movie career has been Jim Cameron and we wanted to make it [the title] kind of a little tribute to Aliens,” says Greg, putting emphasis on the sibilant, “in being the second [movie in a series]. We also wanted to point out the idea that there are more Aliens in this film than there were in the last one. We just wanted to continue the tradition that Cameron established in ’86.”
The Strauses grew up in a place that for a lot of fans is as much an iconic locale of science-fiction and horror as is Lovecraft’s Arkham country–Waukegan, Illinois… Ray Bradbury’s hometown, an All-American Midwestern city that Bradbury has depicted or re-dressed in works ranging from Dandelion Wine to Something Wicked This Way Comes to even The Martian Chronicles.
“We knew where [Bradbury’s] house was, you know… that was the town’s little claim to fame,” says Colin.
“Yeah,” says Greg with a laugh. “There were only two famous people from there, Jack Benny and Ray Bradbury. I think our neighbor [played with the Chicago] White Sox, for a little bit, but I don’t think he lasted that long.”
“I read a little bit of [Bradbury’] stuff,” Colin says. “I was actually much more of Stephen King fan. Every Stephen King book, I pretty much read twice. He was my favorite author.”
Which might lead fans to wonder–how will the two newly-minted feature directors, primarily known not just as digital effects whizzes, but as the directors of music videos, commericials and shorts, approach their handling of two iconic monsters, most especially in light of the fact that the Alien and the Predator, once horror creatures, have mutated into action-oriented creatures? There have been no fewer than 13 Alien vs. Predator video games (including ones for PC’s and mobile phones), a slew of comic book series (including Aliens vs. Predator vs. The Terminator, Superman & Batman vs. Aliens & Predator and Aliens vs. Predator/Witchblade/Darkness), and a series of novels begun in 1994, most of which emphasize the Aliens’ and the Predator’s capacity for first-person shooter thrills over their ability to strike slow and stalking terror.
“One of the most important parts of our take on the film when we first went in was to make this very much of a horror movie,” says Greg. “We felt that if anything, over time, maybe the Alien movies had become less and less scary. And we thought it was very important to bring back all of the elements that made the first Alien and Aliens the scary, visceral experiences they were. We wanted the whole second half of the movie to be at night. We wanted it to be raining. We’re trying to add atmosphere. [The movie is set] in a small town. We don’t have all the tools at our disposal that Ridley [Scott] had inside the spaceship [of Alien]. He was just a master–using steam and flashing lights and whatnot to create that incredible, horrific tension. So, we tried to figure out as many was as we could in an exterior small town setting to do that. Halfway through the movie, the power goes out. There’s no lights anywhere. We used all these classic horror techniques, we tried to inject into this film. There’s actual jump scares–Aliens that are actually gonna scare the hell out of people again.”
Well and good. But what about the Predator?
“We thought it was very important to bring back many of the tribal, ritualistic aspects to him,” Greg says. “He’s awe-inspiring. Predator… I don’t know if he’s quite as scary as the Aliens.”
Colin chimes in. “It’s because he has motivations [that] people can relate to him. Even if he’s doing something really bad, there’s a relatability [sic], whereas the Aliens are pure evil. They don’t need a motivation. They do what they do and that’s what makes them scary. The Predator is much more of a main character in the film. We follow him a bit more. We see what he’s doing. We see how he’s tracking. Because this is movie we’ve actually seen a Predator not on a hunt for trophies. He’s actually goin’ down there [to Earth] for the sole purpose of wiping these things out, because a ship crashed at the beginning [of the movie], this wasn’t a deliberate thing, this wasn’t some sort of ritualistic tribal hunt. And because of that, he’s not doing the ‘fair fight’ stuff that we’ve normally seen the Predators do. He’s got a whole new arsenal with him, whole bunch of new tools, he’s just a lot more badass in this movie. A little part of the audience, I think will actually be cheering for him in some parts of the movie, even though when he does cross humans, he’ll kill them just as easily as he’ll kill Aliens. It’s actually kind of cool to see how a Predator deals with this kind of infestation.”
No wonder the Brothers have referred to this Predator as being like Harvey Keitel’s character “Mr. Wolf” from Pulp Fiction–this Predator’s job is to clean up messes. And the mess of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, which takes place right after the events of AVP: Alien vs. Predator, is a big one, involving, among other things, a creature called the Predalien (glimpsed in the first film)–an Alien that gestated in a Predator, and which as it matures takes attributes of that species. But if the Predator is a full-blown character with motivations and an agenda beyond collecting the skull of a certain mesomorphic California Governor, how did the Strauses, primarily used to motivating things on film through keyboards, direct a title character played by an actor wearing tens of pounds of latex?
“It’s not easy!” says Colin. “The problem is that Ian [Whyte, the former British pro basketball player who plays the Predator] was blind half the time. He had the big animatronic head on, and he can’t see. And when he had his Predator helmet on, he has these little mesh things over the eyes, which he can kind of see out of.”
Greg cuts in. “But then, if he’s wearing just the normal mask that he can see out of, his vision is limited, but he can barely hear! So, giving him instructions is kind of tricky. Certain scenes were done completely blind. The actors had to remember how many steps to take before taking their cues.”
“And Tom Woodruff,” says Colin, “who plays the Alien and Predalien, he was even more blind, because his head, in the suit, is in [the monster’s] throat. So, when the Alien has its chin down, he literally can’t see anything at all. Luckily, he’s been the Alien now in over four movies. Tom is just an amazing performance artist and its his specialty, to be the Guy in the Suit, so he knows how rto act correctly. I was tricky. This was also the first time that we’ve had Aliens on real locations. Predator 2, obviously, was in real locations. But the Predator is a much easier creature to have on location, whereas the Aliens have tails, they have slime coming out everywhere, which is a mixture of what they call Super Slime and KY Jelly. So, you’ve got this super slick lubricant squirtin’ outta this thing, it’s getting everywhere. All your sets turn into ice rinks [because they’re so slippery]. It made it all more complex. Almost every single day, we were moving to a different location. We were running gun pretty much for the entire show.” How badly were they running gun? Over the course of the movie’s 52 day shooting schedule, there were 42 company moves; the Vancouver teamsters working on the shoot said it was the most aggressive move schedule they’ve ever done.
As effects artists, the Brothers claim that one of the best lessons they learned as keyboard jocks is what not to do as digital effects, what effects look best done in camera. What not to do also turned out to be a good lesson while they were developing the script.
According to Greg, “One of the big changes we wanted [to make to the script] was to keep the Predalien a major component throughout the movie. When we first got on board, he was killed off on page 2! Knowing that there was a definite cool factor in seeing something new…”
“Why kill it off?!” says Colin, finishing his brother’s sentence, and voicing what would have surely been a major gripe on fanboy blogs across the world if the Predalien had been offed before audiences had gotten more than two handfuls deep into their popcorn buckets.
“And we’re expanding the mythology here, a little bit,” says Greg. “The Predalien was hinted at in the end of the last movie, and we should try to make something big out of this. That was one of the major changes [to the script]. There was also a lot of work done on the characters, just to fit in with the whole horror film approach we were taking to the movie.”
How well this hybrid creature will work in this science fiction/horror hybrid remains for the future to determine. A good, quantifiable barometer of that success might be the number of irate parents going over pay-per-view bills racked up by freaked out little boys.