Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Title Sequences: Predator (1987)

We open with the vast expanse of black space, a cold void. An object comes hurtling into view; as it passes through the frame, the camera pans to follow its trajectory. Earth enters the frame, a radiant blue, as the ship begins its descent, intersecting the image of Earth vertically. The camera fades out quickly, fading back in to a helicopter cruising just above the ocean. There is a prominent horizon line intersecting the frame, cleaving the image into halves of roughly equal size. Alan Silvestri's propulsive score kicks into gear, and off we go.

While not an opening credits sequence in the same fashion as Basic or The Thomas Crown Affair (it is in fact what Jake below describes as 'an invisible wall through which the beginning of the film can be seen', as opposed to a distinct/unique movement), it does give a stunning example of McTiernan's craft. In mere moments, and with quick, efficient strokes, McTiernan sets up his key thematic and visual motifs - the notion of two concurring, parallel narratives (the alien and the commandos) and the opposition of the vertical and the horizontal (itself a visual representation of the hunter/hunted conflict). Introduced as a vertical slash against the horizon, the alien is visually rhymed with the jungle itself - all up and down lines, impeding our commando's movements, home to all kinds of unknown dangers (the commandos violently intersect with these vertical lines on several occasions; the camera itself travels up tree trunks on three occasions to reveal the aftermaths of cataclysmic encounters). There are other quick glimpses of this horizontal/vertical intersection. RJ Armstrong's Major General is introduced framed within a window; the camera cuts away from him, then back, at which point he lowers a thatched shade. The movement is one of downward motion, although as the shade lowers it reveals long horizontal slats.

We also see an early example of what will become a McTiernan staple: how he blocks and frames groups of men. Carl Weathers is introduced sitting alone, separate from the team of men he will be working with (he is also framed in an enclosure of vertical shadows). He is prone, passively waiting. Conversely, Schwarzenegger's team is unified. As they exit the helicopter, the camera holds still while each one hops of with their gear: McTiernan is careful not to separate them with cuts (with the exception of a quick, and unnecessary, cut-away to a silhouette insert). Interestingly, as the last man has left the chopper, the camera lingers long enough to show 'Dutch' still sitting, as he lights a cigar. Again, there is no cut to isolate him from his men, although his brief moment of isolation allows him a certain gravitas - we immediately understand that he is the leader - as well as foreshadowing his ultimate status as last man standing. Immediately upon exiting the chopper, Schwarzenegger's team is on the move; unlike Weathers, they neither sit by, nor do they passively wait for things to come to them (not surprisingly, Weathers is revealed to be a bad guy). This notion of solidarity versus singularity becomes a key visual motif in virtually all of McTiernan's films, The 13th Warrior springing immediately to mind.

Much like his commandos, McTiernan is a man of action, and the best there is at what he does.

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