Alien (1979) vs. Predator (1987) – The science fiction dream match-up

Ever since the viewers saw the appearance of an Alien skull on-board the Predator’s ship fans were salivating over the idea that the two might have a crossover movie, and while those hopes were utterly dashed, it remains in principle a compelling and potentially brilliant idea (as numerous comic books and video games can attest). So let us ignore the pitiful efforts to make an Alien vs. Predator film, and compare and contrast the two in, arguably, their finest hours – 1979’s Alien and 1987’s Predator.

Alien tells the story of the spaceship Nostromo (named for the Joseph Conrad novel), whose crew is set upon by an unknown and deadly extraterrestrial, commonly referred to as a Xenomorph or just plain Alien. The Alien comes on-board by way of an infested John Hurt, maturing in a matter of hours and slaughtering every crew member with the exception of Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, who narrowly escapes death by using the engines to blow the Alien into the vacuum of space. This has become the archetypal science fiction horror film, perfectly exemplified by the tagline this film was marketed on – “In space no one can hear you scream.” The claustrophobia of being trapped in a relatively small metal box surrounded entirely by the vast nothingness of space is unnerving enough, but if you add in a stealthy and powerful creature that is hunting you and the terror is elevated to an entirely new level. This is a film of atmosphere, playing by the Jaws rule of waiting a long time to show the monster, building the tension and the anticipation. When you know that there’s a murderous Xenomorph out there, there is a constant fear that any second the next victim could die, with no way of stopping the creature. You know exactly what is going to happen, but not knowing when the attack will come is unbearable. Combine this with the fact that this is a creature that cannot be reasoned with and you have a recipe for a horror that plays on some very simple but extremely common human fears – darkness, claustrophobia and the unknown.

While Predator shares many characteristics with Alien, featuring a powerful Alien who appears from nowhere and seems unstoppable, a hefty body count with only one survivor, and the general fear of a terrible unseen threat. The titular Predator manages to take out an entire team of hardened commandos with almost no effort, with only the Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger able to stand up to the creature with a combination of clever tactics and psychological manipulation. Because the Predator has an innate sense of sportsmanship, Arnold is able to lure the creature into a trap and mortally wound it, barely escaping when it activates a self-destruct and nukes a small portion of the Guatemalan jungle. Where Alien’s cast was entirely made up of average Joes who worked on an interstellar hauling vessel, the humans in Predator are special forces, a who’s-who of the toughest soldiers the planet has to offer. And still these soldiers are made to look helpless before the Predator’s incredibly advanced stealth and weapons technology and imposing physical stature. The theme of the unseen attacker is very strong here, as well as the inhospitable environment, but since the setting is Earth, the location is far less claustrophobic and less forbidding. The idea for Predator is said to have been a humorous response to the question of who Rocky Balboa could fight after defeating the chemically-enhanced super-boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, stating that he would have to fight an alien. And so the idea of muscle-bound meatheads battling an alien was born and we, the viewers, are the beneficiaries.

Movie review to be continued…

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