Fifteen years ago, a young-gun filmmaker named Robert Rodriguez was hired to write a new “Predator” film and now, looking back, he can chuckle at the final product he delivered. “It was this crazy, intense off-world story and there was just no way it could be made. The technology wasn’t there yet.”
That was then, but this is now. “Predators,” as it will be called, is happening and Rodriguez is producing. I sat down with him for a pleasant lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel and, as our sons sat together munching French fries and drawing pictures, he explained his plans for the summer 2010 sci-fi release.
“It’s the story from that script I had written way back then,” Rodriguez said. “They had hired me to write a ‘Predator’ story while I was waiting to do ‘Desperado’ back in 1994. It was crazy, this thing I came up with. So then fast-forward to now and, like, six months ago, they found the script and called me up. ‘Hey, we want to redo this franchise and we found your old script. This is where we should have gone with the series! We want to move forward.’ And that’s what we’re doing.”
“And, like I said, back when I wrote it, the technology wasn’t there yet. I didn’t have to worry about who would direct it or anything because it was a script that just couldn’t be used.”
Rodriguez has proven himself not only as a distinct voice in genre films (“Sin City,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Planet Terror“) but as a master of making big-looking hit films on relatively small budgets. Consider the three “Spy Kids” films, which are loaded with dazzle, action and gizmos; they pulled in a collective $465 million in worldwide gross but not one of them had a budget of more than $38 million.
Rodriguez, a writer/producer/director, is the modern prototype of the nimble, maverick filmmaker. Like his upcoming bizarro family movie “Shorts” (which, by the way, I’ve seen, and it’s great — more on that to come here at Hero Complex), “Predators” will be shot in his home state of Texas on a lean budget and so far removed from Hollywood that it is doesn’t get run through the often bruising machinery of the studio. “Predators” is for 20th Century Fox and “Shorts” is being distributed by Warner Bros., but “Predators” will be clearly defined by Rodriguez and his personal style.
“They actually like that,” the 41-year-old San Antonio native said. “You’re making it less expensive then they could ever make it here. Its so much leaner. and they get a movie that they can sell as a big movie, they make money off of it, especially since it didn’t cost much at all. I get to keep it locked down creatively and, really, the studio is happy with that. It’s almost like they get protected from themselves. They know that when some things get taken through the machine they end up overspending and making the movie worse. The movie’s not allowed to breathe. That was the case with the ‘Predator’ movie. Just go make it down there in your system. We don’t know how you do it down there but somehow you make these movies very creatively and at a budget.”
The 1987 film “Predator” was directed by John McTiernan and starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura as an elite commando team on a rescue mission in the jungles of Guatemala, where they find themselves hunted by an alien. That alien, designed by the effects team led by the late, great Stan Winston, became one of the most memorable creatures in sci-fi film history and the movie became an enduring fan-favorite that ages quite well. There was a 1990 sequel and two-crossovers with the “Alien” franchise (2004 and 2007) with varied ambitions and mixed results, but Rodriguez said the success of the first movie is still a powerful draw.
“No matter how many ‘Jaws’ movies they make, people never forget how great the first one is. You can always come back to it, people love it and they want to love it. ‘Predator’ is like that too. It’s a great premise, a great character and fans get excited when they think of what can be done with it.”
What’s the plot of this new revival? “The story is on the Predator planet and, well, it’s just crazy.
It takes place off-world which is great, and there’s a lot of them out there.” And what about the prey? “Let’s just say if there were no predators, the humans in this story would probably kill each other.”
He said he won’t have to stray far from his ranch outside Austin to create the settings he needs.
“It’ll be a mix. A lot of location sets and some green scene. There’s a lot of different places in Texas I have in mind, and we have a great rebate thing there now, only 60% has to be shot in Texas. We’re scouting for locations now. You can find some alien landscapes in Texas for sure. And with the right augmentation, you can make anywhere look like anywhere now.”
Rodriguez will be at International Comic-Con in San Diego this month to promote “Shorts” (his panel is July 24 at 1:45 p.m.), and if you’re there, you’ll want to check it out for sure. I talked to him quite a bit about his other upcoming work (“Machete,” “Sin City 2,” a fourth “Spy Kids” film, etc.) and you”ll find all that in the weeks to come by checking back here at Hero Complex.
— Geoff Boucher
Photo: “Predator.” Credit: 20th Century Fox