When watching a horror or action movie which includes a monster or creature effects, I use a simple litmus test to gauge the movie's value. The test is easy, usually applied within the first thirty minutes of the film, and helps not only rate the movie itself but the skill of the filmmakers involved in its creation. Here it is: When watching a movie of the sort, pay attention to the point at which the monster or creature first appears. Was it less than thirty minutes into the movie? Might as well stop now. You're watching a bad movie. More than thirty minutes in? Okay, keep at it; you might be watching a good movie. Still haven't seen the monster in full and, as far as you know, there're only thirty minutes to go? Congratulations, you're probably watching something pretty darned solid.
So, how did Predators fare? Actually, pretty well. The filmmaker, Nimrod Antal, takes his time, patiently unveiling hint after hint and clue after clue, actually treating the members of the audience as thought they'd never seen any of the preceding Predator movies and, as such, had never seen a Predator before. Instead, he focuses on a premise that, on its own, is fairly intriguing. Eight individuals awaken in mid freefall, landing in an unfamiliar jungle. They are all strangers but, they soon discover, have one thing in common: they are all killers. It's like Con Air meets the first few episodes of Lost. We all know what will happen next, but Antal pretends that we are just as mystified as his motley crew, and just as anxious to find out what is going on.
Most filmmakers would have assumed that the viewers wanted only to see the monster, see the Predators. It's what they paid for, right? The Predator would have popped out from behind a tree within twenty minutes, the hunt would be on, the hunt would be over, and we would all go home, wondering what was on TV. Antal, however, has experience building tension, and he's especially adept at doing so using the interactions within a fairly large cast of characters who don't quite trust each other. He did it well in his previous film, Armored, and he does it well here.
Eventually, of course, the Predators do show up and the movie becomes what these movies have always been. But for fans of the original Predator and its first sequel, myself among them, the last few minutes of the film will be familiar but welcome--comfortable, even.
So, exactly how well did Predators do with my test? Well, this could constitute a spoiler so, be aware: The first monster, a dog-like thing that seemed uncommonly ineffective, doesn't appear until 27 minutes in. Not bad. We first see an actual Predator, sans armour, at the forty minute mark. Pretty good. And the first look we get at one of the hunters, fully armed and masked, is about forty-five minutes into the movie. Again, pretty good.
One last thing and, again, this is a bit of a spoiler: Twenty-five minutes in, we learn that the characters are actually wandering through a jungle on an alien planet. This planet, we learn, is a game preserve for use by the Predators. It occurred to me that the Predators must be an insanely advanced race. In fact, they are so efficient in their use of natural resources that they can afford to waste an entire planet-full of lush jungle on sport. Of course, the same can be said of the Empire in the Star Wars movies. They blow up a whole planet, one we can only presume they could have invaded, drained of all its resources. Apparently, they didn't need to. Same goes for Endor. The thing is a condensed ball of natural treasure, but they use it only to build a force-field generator and . . . that's it. Taking this into account, it leads me to believe that the Predators, as a civilization, might be as powerful and far-reaching as the Empire. If this in fact is the case, their using us as game once in awhile seems pretty decent, given their apparent capability to do far, far worse.