Sunday, 26 January 2014

If It Bleeds We Can Kill It / Part 3 Behind The Scenes Look At The Predator

So at last we get to the special effects and, in a movie like Predator how could we forget them.Between the main character disappearing before our very eyes, Carl Weathers having his arm blown off and the infamous 'razor break' scene coupled with, of course, the amazing multi-vision sight of the Predator.
Let us start with the 'Dylan losing his arm' scene where Carl Weather’s character decides to take 
on the Predator while wielding two MP5 machine guns. Fans that can recall the VHS version will find this scene slightly hilarious. To be fair I hadn't personally noticed the wardrobe malfunction until I saw it on one of those movie mistake sights. Since then however, I couldn't take my eyes off it-finding it so damn obvious!

The mistake I am referring to was evident when he turned, screaming(as he had just been shot with a blazing hot bolt of plasma),  and as his arm fell from his side, its tattered fleshy remains continued to fire the gun in an epic slow motion, bullet stuttering scene of violence-it was. Only when you looked more closely and realised that his severed arm was in fact tucked behind his back and a carefully placed prop took the fall. By the time DVD version came out, this part had been edited, but I thought I'd put a picture in for comedy value. Classic misdirection.

For the most part, the Predator spent the movie ‘cloaked’ appearing as nothing more than a smudged blur as the technology of its armour bent the light around it. The special FX team on Predator achieved this through use of a red suited predator (the normal use of a green suit/background wouldn't have created any contrast against the jungle so red was employed)They then later used computer aided graphics to add in the blurred image over the top of the red suit to give the impression that light was passing through its cloaked form.

The heat seeking vision of the predator was achieved by amalgamating different spectrum's into one. Firstly, the heat of the jungle was intense and therefore the standard heat vision cameras would not have been able to decipher the body heat from the jungle itself. So by taking two cameras, one switched to opposite colour schemes to pick out the heat in blues, and then the other camera to work as standard red and oranges, they were then able to amalgamate the two images so that when played back the actors heat signatures became clearer against the blue background of the jungle. Thus creating the hunters ability to pick out its targets through the dense jungle canopy.

Throughout the movie there were many stunts performed with props and a lot of well timed explosives. The scene for example, when ‘Blaine’ falls with a hole burst in his chest and Mack picks up the mini-gun and starts dismantling the jungle with thousands of rounds of angry bullets fired in vengeance. The scene had to be well constructed, with explosives placed in the trees and logs, all timed to go off at precise moments to give the effect that the carnage was being wrought with the weapons fire which, in all honesty, would not level the jungle in the manner it did. According to the movie, all you need is a Gatling Gun, grenade launcher, M16 Assault Rifle and some MP5 machine guns and one can completely level the jungle of all trees and life for fifty yards. Gotta love movie thinking!

Lastly we get to the Mack razor scene, the one effect that still makes me cringe to this day. The more I think about it, the more I wonder how he never tore a larger piece of his cheek off in the process, that is of course had the razor been real.

The movie has him neurotically shaving his smooth skin over and over as he lies in wait of the Predator. Losing focus, he begins to press even harder against his face until eventually the razor snaps against his cheek and leaves a thin line of blood in its wake. Apart from being a good advertisement for Bic, I have yet to see anyone do this in a movie since. The scene did however, remind  me of an incident I had myself when I bought twenty razors from the pound shop. Yes you guessed it, they cost me a pound, 5p a razor. Although this scene is very similar to what happened when I tried to use them!

For this scene to work, the razor prop was drilled up through the handle allowing a thin tube filled with the fake(I hope it was fake blood but for this blog lets just say they used hamster blood-really spark an outrage here)
By removing the blade it allowed him to shave over and over and then, when pressed, the blood left the top of the razor onto his face. With respect to Bill Duke, he did indeed snap that against his skin with unpredictable outcomes. I am not sure how many razors they went through for that part but in the interests of safety


Sunday, 19 January 2014

If It Bleeds We Can Kill It: Predator Part 2 Behind The Scenes

With the cast all introduced, lets get to the good stuff!

So I won’t lie, the first time I saw Predator I felt this overwhelming urge to drop down and start doing some press ups followed by climbing up the front of my bunk beds to hang and do pull ups-Arnies’ enormous guns were enough motivation to get even the laziest person out of their beds and into a gym.
But once my puny little young guns (literally as I believe I was 7 year old when I first watched it. You can debate the bad parenting later) began to burn, my motivation began to wane and as I slumped down onto the floor, the movie still playing away, my focus began to change.

Especially when HE walked on screen. 

A 7ft alien Rastafarian  creature with more gadgets that Macgyver could ever hope to make. The younger generation won’t remember Macgyver but for those that do-here is a nostalgic pic that has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to my blog other than the guy was awesome.

OK Focus, the Predator. Played by the late gentle giant, Kevin Peter Hall

Kevin was used to playing suited characters due to his enormous size. He stood just over 7ft and had been cast in previous movies to play the character ‘Harry’ in Harry and the Henderson's.

What Kevin brought to the role of Predator was something unique. The original model for the predator had been this long legged, almost bird liked head creature than moved awkwardly through the jungle. The majority of the movie had already been shot prior to the introduction of the actual Predator character, and once it arrived on set, the director John Mcteirnen voiced what everyone else on set were thinking “uh oh”

The original design was underwhelming, too small and its running gait could only be described as ‘gangly’ not really the look you want for a sophisticated hunting alien that travels the galaxy searching for worthy prey!

With the budget nearly spent and the movie missing its key character, the director sent the original suit back with the simple message “You surely don’t really want us to use that”
Luckily they agreed with him and thanks to a suggestion from Arnold, they called in Stan Winston, a special FX guy that had worked with creature models before in movies like the Terminator and Alien.

Stan quickly sketched up some drawings (much of what we see the Predator as today) and on a flight over he was sitting next to another famous director James Cameron, whom he had done work with on the Aliens movie. James saw the images of the Predator and made a simple comment that would change how we see the hunter forever. He said “I've always wanted to see a character with mandibles

Now remember that James Cameron was not working on the Predator, he was merely making a suggestion and one that would stick in Stan’s head, motivating him to do extra drawings and include the mandible face that we all know is hidden under the helmet.

So with the new suit made, it was back to the heated jungle of Mexico to finish filming.Climbing into the suit, Kevin very quickly began to get a feel for the movement and traits for the Predator, none of which were instructed to him but in fact his own interpretation of the alien. The director loved every bit of it and couldn't wait to get filming.
Credit needs to be given to Kevin, as in the intense heat of the Mexican jungle coupled with the inch thick rubber/latex suit he was wearing, he apparently never complained once. The head section of the costume could be removed and the cast tried, where possible, to get this off asap when not in shot. But credit has to be given to the gentle giant for not complaining and getting down to business even after 40 takes in the afternoon sun.

With all the hard work that he put into the movie and the intolerable conditions he endured without complaint, director John Mcteirnon thought it was only fair that he should get his face into the movie, casting him as the rescue helicopter pilot at the end. Kevin got one line in the entire movie.

I won't repeat what he tries to say.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Are You a Grumpy Chops?

Sometimes I hear critics say 'no book is perfect so no book should get 5 stars' although I beg to differ. Being an author myself I know how much hard work goes into a book, the time, the imagination, the sweat and the tears. And so, when I rate a book I like to give it 5 stars initially, and as I work through my criteria I wait to see if it stays there. 

A book is, quite simple a means to entertain and when I've finished reading I want to feel like I've enjoyed the experience. That the time spent going through it was well worth it and If I'm left feeling lost, empty, frustrated or annoyed then this is certainly not the desired outcome.  I mean who deliberately goes out there way to annoy themselves?

So when rating the books I've read I do so with entertainment value on my mind. Starting with maximal score then looking at plot. I liken books to a TV programme, If I'm flicking through the guide and read the info on a programme, it needs to grab my attention with a thrilling or intriguing plot line. When reviewing, if the plot played out and kept me watching or reading then it keeps its five stars. 

Characters-they have to seem real don't they? I have to engage with at least one of them. If  the character is funny, quirky, tough, mean or just damn right awesome without explanation! then chances are I'll engage with them. If the book I'm reviewing has a character I 'get' then it keeps its star.  A little mystery,  every story needs this to keep you reading as we all want to know what's going to happen don't we? whether it be romance, crime or supernatural thriller we all want to know if that person lives, dies or gets the guy. 

If the mystery is too easy, transparent or not even present then I know what's going to happen. I pay that little bit less attention and become less absorbed in the story which leaves me feeling a little unfulfilled. A good intriguing story line keeps its star.

Descriptions. I love a good story where I can really picture myself in the situation or really get a feel for what's going on. Is it a dusty battlefield where you can barely see the enemy and your heart is racing? Is there a beautiful lake view where its hard to tell where the mountain ends and its reflection begins or, is it a romantic-heart-racing scene where the girl is about to be kissed by her hero for the first time? Without well explained descriptions I'd switch off or change the channel. Good descriptions keeps the star. 

And last of all good grammar and punctuation is a must. I will liken this to a televisions aerial signal, if you've got a bad signal the picture will jump, shake or become fuzzy. It ruins the flow of the movie and in the end any sane person will just jump up and turn the TV off. Punctuation is vital for the flow of the story so the less errors the better. If punctuation and grammar are good then this point keeps its star.

So if you ever see me giving five stars to the books I've read then it means every box has been ticked and it's worth a read in my opinion. I'd love to hear how you decide what gets a five star review in your opinion? Sound off below. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

"If It Bleeds...We Can Kill It"- Behind The Scenes With The Predator Movie

It’s 1987 and you’ve just sat down in with your popcorn in one hand and your ticket in the other while gingerly cradling a large fizzy drink with a straw that will never reach the bottom. The theatre is still dark, the adverts yet to start playing and you are currently still safe in the knowledge that the most dangerous ‘invisible’ villain you have ever encountered was a character immortalised in a book by H G Wells.
2 hours later and all that will change....
The movie, headlined by top movie superstar and muscle giant ‘Arnold Schwarzenegger’ burst onto our screens in epic fashion and created a fan base that would continue for 27 years.

Directed by John Mcteirnan, the story follows an elite special forces team as they are sent on a mission to rescue valuable hostages from guerilla territory somewhere in central America. Deep into the jungle, the hunters become the hunted as an unknown alien creature, capable of cloaking itself from the naked eye, stalks them one by one, taking skulls for trophies.
The fans love for this ‘Predator’ and its unique Rastafarian theme coupled with its space age advanced helmet, heat seeking vision and an array of killing weapons that would make Rambo quake in his boots, it wouldn't be long before sequels were made and even comic books depicting the predators home world and famous hunts.

With Arnold Schwarzenegger at the helm( playing the main hero of the story ‘Dutch’) it was important to find a cast that would not be underwhelmed by his massive presence. The producers wanted to create a strong team, almost like the magnificent seven only heavier and meaner. The casting for Predator met both of these expectations.

Jesse Ventura, an ex navy seal, was cast as the role of Blaine, a 6ft 5, 255lb mountain of tobacco chewing no-nonsense speaking monster. Wielding a 100kg+, 3500 rounds/minute gatling gun that had never before in filming history been fired on anything short of a mounted vehicle, he strode onto the set and held his own, his personality just as big as his frame, and his gun!

Carl weathers was cast in as ‘Dillon’, his character was designed to mirror Arnold's. He was very muscular, slightly lighter than Arnold but certainly more athletic. In the story, ‘Dillon’ had worked with ‘Dutch’ in the past on various missions and regarded himself as bloodied and experienced as the squads leader, and yet ‘Dillon’ had left the field years later to assume a less hands on role, dressing in a suit and tie at the beginning of the movie.

Bill duke was cast as ‘Mack’ a similar role that he played in ‘Commando’ a movie also starring Arnold. Director John Mcteirnan liked his part in Commando so much that he called him up and got him down on set. ‘Mack’s bond with Jesse's character ‘Blaine’ plays a sub story throughout the movie.

 Shane black was a successful screen writer and later, director in his own right, having written the script for the 1987 movie ‘lethal weapon’ and then directing ‘Kiss kiss bang bang’ in 2005. Shane was called up to writer an alternative script for the movie, as was common practice in those days. Not keen to take the job, knowing that, as in most cases, the original script is usually taken and used anyway, he turned the job down. The director wanted him there so badly that he offered him the role of ‘Hawkins’ a joke telling, glasses wearing soldier that was, inevitably, the first to die. Shane accepted the job and flew down to Mexico to shoot, the director now happy that he had least had Shane on set for first hand advice if any changes were needed.

And then we get to Sonny landham, a descendant of the Cherokee and Seminole nations. At 6ft 2inches and well muscled, Sonny was a potential liability on set. Known for his out of control antics while drinking, the insurance company refused to cover the set while he was on it unless the director hired a bodyguard to follow him around all of the time. Desperate to get him to play the role of ‘Billy’ a top notch tracker and spiritual soldier, John did as the insurance company asked and hired a 6ft 5 bodyguard who shadowed his every move.

The bonding between the cast was apparent and strong. Arnold getting them all up early to go running in the morning and encouraging them to hit the gym and train up for the role. Each actor, an alpha male in their own right, did what they could to avoid any direct competition. Carl weathers was quoted as saying “Id go down to the gym and see some of the guys training there in the corner, id speak for a few minutes then head out to grab a coffee for an hour or so and come back when the gym was empty-give nothing away! When Id see them on set id be all pumped and try to pretend it was natural, that I didn't need to try to look this good
And the antics didn't stop there. Arnold reportedly told ‘wardrobe’ to deliberately tell Jesse that his arms were much smaller than they were, setting the ex-navy seal up for a big fall. When finding this information out, Jesse said “I took great pleasure when I heard from wardrobe that I had bigger guns than Mr Olympia

This of course led onto a measuring session in the gym with all the cast gathered round and Arnold smiling as he proved his arms were 3 inches bigger.