Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Deep Rising – Throwback 20

Originally published on Set The Tape

Before his success with The Mummy, the Stephen Sommers written and directed Deep Rising hit screens in an unashamed tribute to cheesy monster movies that should be terrible, but ends up being enjoyable because it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The film follows ship captain John Finnegan (Treat Williams), who has been hired by a group of shifty mercenaries headed up by the ever sinister Hanover (Wes Studi) to transport them to the state of the art cruise-liner Argonautica. The mercenaries are working for the ship owner Simon Canton (Anthony Heald) and plan to rob the ship and sink it for the insurance money.

Unfortunately, before they are able to arrive at the Argonautica, something rises up from the deep of the ocean and attacks the ship. By the time the bad guys turn up, none but a small group of survivors are left alive, including the international jewel thief Trillian St. James (Famke Janssen).

Whilst looking for a way off the Argonautica and for the supplies needed to repair their ship, the group discovers a deadly sea creature that is hunting down the humans and devouring them.

Deep Rising is an unusual film in the sense that there are no heroes for you to root for. Yes, Finnegan is fairly heroic and the nicest of a group of nasty people, but every survivor on the Argonautica is a villain. There’s a gang of killers, a corrupt businessman, and a thief. Despite this, you find yourself wanting certain members of the group to survive, whilst you actively hope for others to get eaten. Though how you feel about certain characters will shift from time to time.

The real star of the film, however, isn’t any of the human characters, but the giant sea monster come to kill them all. Described by Canton as probably being an extremely mutated version of an Ottoia, a type of prehistoric sea worm, the monster is like an octopus from hell. With a central body that looks like a giant demonic baby, it has dozens of tentacles coming off it that each have their own vicious mouths on the ends, capable of swallowing people whole, where they are then dissolved whilst still alive.

The monster is a unique design, one that I’ve not really seen repeated in other films, and the setting makes prime use of it. The tentacles spread throughout the ship, working their way through pipes, under floors, and through portholes. Due to the way the ship is built there’s not a single place that’s safe from them suddenly appearing, and this means that the film doesn’t have a chance to take a break. The pace is fast as the characters run for their lives; which is a good thing really, because it stops you from having a chance to think about how cheesy the film actually is.

Deep Rising clearly takes inspiration from disaster films and B-monster movies, and wears these proudly. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and this makes the whole experience better. The story is too ridiculous to be anything other than tongue in cheek, and the film would definitely have suffered if it had tried to be anything else. It’s easy to see the style that would go on to become recognisable in Sommers later works such as The Mummy films, and Van Helsing developing here.

A fun little film for fans of the monster genre, with a unique design and some fun performances, but don’t come into it expecting a cinematic great or you might be a little disappointed.

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Monday, 24 September 2018

Road to The Predator – Predator: Concrete Jungle Comic Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘The Predators are back, only this time their hunting ground isn’t the tropical jungles of South America — it’s the concrete and street jungles of New York City! It’s the hottest summer on record, and Detective Schaefer suspects that his brother’s disappearance is somehow tied to the wave of gruesome murders plaguing New York!’

Following the success of the original Predator film Dark Horse were quick to try and cash in on the popularity and created a comic that would become an unofficial sequel before Danny Glover took the spotlight in Predator 2.

Set in New York City, the story was originally set to focus on Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer, Schwarzeneggar’s character from the first film, who had gone on to become a cop. The lead character was altered to Detective Schaefer, Dutch’s brother.

Fighting against gangs during the worst heatwave the city has ever seen, Schaefer comes up against the deadly alien hunter, and finds himself drawn into the secrets behind his brothers disappearance years earlier.

It’s easy to see the similarities between this book and the second Predator film; the shift from the jungles of South America to a US city, focusing on a police officer, setting the story amid gang wars in a heatwave, it’s all here. Where Predator 2 had a completely new cast and almost no connection to the first film outside of some nods in dialogue, Predator: Concrete Jungle feels like a true sequel.

Detective Schaefer (we never learn his first name) has a drive and desire to find his brother, something that even takes him to the jungles of Val Verde to see the aftermath of Dutch’s fight with the Yautja hunter. It’s this desire to find out what happened to his brother that drives the main plot, that keeps bringing him into contact with the Yautja, as well as butting heads with Dutch’s old commander General Phillips (also from the first film).

The book combines the personal story with a number of action set pieces, mixing together gun fights, fist fights with the Yautja in the jungle and an all out war with an alien army in the streets of New York. Writer Mark Verheiden manages these multiple set pieces well, keeping a balance between character and story development with the expected level of action.

The art by Chris Warner and Ron Randall is superb throughout, capturing the grim and gritty feel of the Predator universe whilst staying bright and colourful enough not to feel too depressing or drab. Dark Horse have some great artists on their payroll, and Predator: Concrete Jungle was big book with some of its best artist working on it; and it really shows even close to 30 years later.

The only real part of the book that lets it down is the conclusion, where the Yautja army appears to be defeated by some summer rain. It’s a misstep, but one that doesn’t take too much away from the overall quality of the book.

Predator: Concrete Jungle was the first comic set within the Predator universe, and shows how to go about creating a sequel in such a way that it’s clear Predator 2 took a lot of inspiration from the book. A must read for any Predator fan, the original sequel is still a great read.

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Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Road to The Predator… Rage War Book 1: Predator Incursion

Originally published on Set The Tape

‘Predator ships stream into Human space in unprecedented numbers. The Colonial Marines, controlled by Weyland-Yutani, respond to the incursion, thus entering the Rage War. This terrifying assault by the Yautja cannot go unchallenged, yet the cost of combat is high, Predators are master combatants, and each encounter yields a high body count. Then when Lt. Johnny Mains and his marines – the Voidlarks – enter the fray, they discover an enemy deadlier than any could imagine.’

Thanks to Dark Horse Comics the Predator and Alien series have become synonymous with each other, with dozens of comics, novels, games, and movies depicting the two iconic space monsters going up against each other. Predator Incursion is the first part of a novel trilogy that brings them together again, in a way that’s never been seen before.

Set long after the events of the Alien movies, over two hundred years after the events of Alien: Resurrection, things have changed dramatically in the AVP universe. Humanity has expanded further with new technology, though Weyland-Yutani is once again a controlling power. Humanity has encountered the Xenomorphs on multiple occasions, as well as the Yautja, and has developed new arms and armour to defend against these threats.

These changes are one of the first surprises in the new universe being crafted by writer Tim Lebbon, one where the Colonial Marines are no longer the ones on the back-foot, here they’re a very competent group that can take on Yautja and win. But Predator fans don’t need to worry about the Yautja being weakened by the increase in human technology, yes, the humans can kill them much easier, but the Yautja are still a formidable threat.

The first time we see a Yautja within the book they’ve already killed two of the Void-larks, the main group of marines we follow. Supposed to be the best train and best equipped soldiers humanity has, the Yautja are still able to hunt and kill them. The Yautja might not be able to kill as easily as we’ve seen in the past, but this just makes them more cunning and unpredictable than before.

When more and more Yautja begin appearing within human space, Weyland-Yutani task scientist Isa Palant, a Yautja specialist, to learn as much about them as possible. When a pair of Yautja arrive on the planet her and her colleague are on they become prey to the deadly aliens, but begin to make huge leaps in their study, unlocking the secrets of the Yautja language. This is one of the big moments of the book, as it allows the humans to learn that the increase in Yautja attacks is because they are fleeing their home space because of an even deadlier threat. Not only that, but the humans are able to use Palant and her studies to broker a truce with them.

Whilst we have seen small alliances between humans and Yautja in the past, usually due to humans proving their worth and honour in battle, here we have a species-wide alliance, complete with peace conference between Palant and the Yautja elder Kalakta. Palant’s story, and the insights into the Yautja she learns are always interesting, and gives the reader a look into the inner workings of the Predator society and in some cases even psychology.

These aren’t the only insights into the Yautja the book gives, however, as the earlier mentioned Void-larks are tasked with monitoring a Yautja habitat on the edge of human space, a mission that goes disastrously wrong when the Yautja begin to enter human space, causing the Void-larks ship to be destroyed and the marines stranded on the habitat.

Trapped on a Yautja habitat, the marines are forced to fight for survival as they make their way through an environment that no human has ever been in before. These moments are very tense, with the constant threat of sudden attack always hanging in the air. Unfortunately, things get worse for the marines when they learn that that habitat has been invaded by an army of modified Xenomorphs.

This is where things are interesting for this book, and the whole of the Rage War trilogy. The Xenomorphs have finally been turned into bio-weapons, as Weyland-Yutani have been wanting for centuries, but this time both the Yautja and Humanity are the targets. Enslaved by a faction of humanity that left human space centuries before, they’ve been turned into the perfect soldiers under the command of android generals. And now, those people discarded by humanity have come home looking for revenge.

Predator Incursion is the first part of a three book story, and as such leaves a lot of things open to be carried on, but it manages to still feel fairly self contained and satisfying in the events that take place.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Predator: Aliens Versus Predator (1999) Game Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

For many, when you mention Alien Versus Predator they’ll think of the Paul Anderson film, but before its release in 2004 the Rebellion game would be the first thing that would have come to people’s minds. Released for the PC in 1999, the game put players into the shoes of the Predator, Alien, and Colonial Marines, in three distinct and separate first person action/horror adventures.

The Marine story saw players thrust into the role of an unnamed soldier on a research station on the planet LV-426, the world that began the whole Alien franchise. Built to study the remains of the crashed alien spacecraft that Ripley and the Nostromo crew discovered in the original film, the facility falls under attack from the Xenomorph creatures.

Armed with a variety of weapons from the Alien franchise, including pulse rifles, smart guns, and the iconic motion tracker, you must make your way through the dark, twisting corridors of the facility, defending yourself from alien attack. Eventually having to enter the alien spacecraft, before travelling on to the atmosphere processing station, and eventually a space station, the marine story takes players through a series of very recognisable locations.

By far the most frightening of the three campaigns, the marine section forces you to traverse almost pitch black areas, using a small torch and flares to light your way, with even the tiniest blip on the motion tracker sending shudders down your spine.

The Alien portion of the game actually puts you into the body of one of the titular creatures as you defend your hive from Colonial Marines, before eventually leaving and making your way towards Earth.

The Alien gives players the most freedom in the game, with the monster able to traverse any surface, including walls and ceilings. Coupled with the incredible speed of the creatures, you’ll soon find yourself dashing around the levels, slipping upside down, around corners, and over obstacles like they’re nothing in order to reach your foe.

The Predator sections are probably some of the most balanced, managing to capture some of the horror that permeates the Colonial Marine levels, whilst also giving the player a sense of power and freedom. Sent to recapture stolen Yautja technology from the human, the Predator finds itself travelling to a number of different planets, including Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161 from Alien 3, as it hunts down and destroys those responsible for the creation of several Alien/Predator hybrids.

Equipped with a number of weapons from the films, such as the plasma caster, throwing disc blade, and spear gun, the Predator feels incredibly powerful as you move through the levels, using heat vision to hunt and kill the unsuspecting humans. Despite the obvious power of playing as a Yautja, the game manages to keep things feeling fairly balanced, forcing the player to carefully consider their approach to certain situations as to not be killed in a hail of pulse rifle fire.

Aliens Versus Predator was the first game to give the best sense of what it would be like to control the monsters from the iconic movie franchises, and essentially gave players three games for the price of one. Whilst each of the campaigns wasn’t huge, they were challenging enough to ensure that you couldn’t just breeze your way through them, and would have to spend a good deal of time with each character in order to complete their stories.

Almost twenty years later the game is still an incredibly enjoyable and engaging experience, proving to be a challenge to even experienced gamers. Well worth the time to play if you can track down a copy, or if you have access to Steam.

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Monday, 17 September 2018

'The Predator: Hunters and Hunted' Official Movie Prequel Book Review

Originally published on Set The Tape

A lot of movie tie in books, especially prequel stories, find it hard to connect to the film that they’re supposed to be a part of. Often times this is because the film makes it hard to create an exciting new story around it without taking away from the events of the movie.

One example that immediately springs to mind is Transformers: Ghosts of Yesterday, the prequel to the 2007 movie. The book felt like it was having to try hard to make a compelling story that didn’t effect the film in any way; and this was something that I was expecting from The Predator: Hunters and Hunted.

Thankfully, however, the book not only introduced a number of the characters that will appear in Shane Black’s upcoming The Predator, but also contained enough action and story to feel like it could have been a Predator film in its own right.

The story follows a group of people from Project Stargazer, a secret government programme to protect the Earth from Yautja incursion, and to acquire both their technology and a living specimen to study. It’s here, at Project Stargazer, that we meet two characters from the film: Sterling K. Brown’s Will Traeger and Jake Busey’s Sean Keyes.

Sean Keyes, as eagle-eyed Predator fans may have spotted, is the son of Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) from Predator 2. His inclusion is one of the things that intrigued me the most about the new project, and his character gets a really good introduction, delving into his reasons for being at Project Stargazer and becoming a xenobiologist in the first place. He doesn’t feature much in the book, but his scenes are very engaging and sets up his motivations and character perfectly for the film.

Traeger, on the other hand, gets much more of the book dedicated to him, taking up part of the sub-plot where he and the project’s commander have to lobby for more funds in Washington DC. Not the most exciting sounding plot, but when it’s revealed that Traeger is actually carefully manipulating politicians in order to oust the project commander and take over, it becomes a little more interesting, and sets up his position for the movie.

The rest ofJames A. Moore’s novel is given over to The Reavers, Project Stargazer’s elite unit trained by a Yautja survivor, Roger ‘Pappy’ Elliott. The Reavers are interesting enough and ‘Pappy’ is engaging as both a Vietnam Veteran and someone who has survived a Yautja in the past. The book makes a point to spend some time highlighting that having faced an alien in combat has left more than just physical scars on him, delving into his recurring nightmares and resulting alcoholism. It also gives some vague hints at other survivors, including mentioning both Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover), without using their names.

This is what I was expecting from the book: a look into the human side of the upcoming film that touched upon some of the characters that would be appearing. What makes it really good is when a Yautja comes to Earth to hunt.

The Reavers are sent out to capture the creature, and actually manages to do so (though they do lose half their men when they do so). When the creature manages to escape from the Project Stargazer facility it returns to its ship, gets some new gear, and sets out to go retrieve its weapons and tech from the humans. It’s here that the best part of the book begins, as the remaining members of the Reavers go out to kill the alien.

Whilst the book is good at crafting human drama and has a fairly epic finale action sequence, the one thing that I feel lets it down is the Yautja; or more specifically, the sequences written from its point of view. There’s nothing hugely wrong with these moments, they’re not as good as in other Predator books and James A. Moore lacks a little something in these moments.

On a whole, however, The Predator: Hunters and Hunted is engaging and entertaining. It’s hard to know how well it fits into The Predator yet, but the story here builds a sense that it provides a good background that shouldn’t step onto the toes of the film’s events. Even if this was a stand alone book that wasn’t a tie-in, it would still be a thoroughly entertaining read.

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