Predator: Dark Ages full movie review - Outstandingly well made fan film that punches above its weight
As if crusades, plagues, famine and mud weren't enough, the poor people of medieval Europe now have to deal with one of sci-fi's most chillingly endearing creations: a near-invisible Rastafarian alien warrior who hunts worthy prey for sport.
A posse of knights and warriors is hastily assembled to deal with this menace, but they are going to have to learn to trust each other first. This 30 minute Kickstarter-funded fan film drew me in with its technical excellence, surprised me by packing a sincere and coherent emotional punch, and left me eager to see the movie expanded onto the big screen.
I should probably disclose that I am a huge fan of the first Predator (1987) which I think is one of the best films ever made in terms of its ability to transition seamlessly between genres and take the best parts from each one. It started as a gung-ho action flick, turned unexpectedly into a paranoid, nerve-shredding Vietnam war movie, and ended up as a highly effective sci-fi horror film. Predator 2 (1990) was a worthy addition to the series, although it was noticeably lighter in tone than the first film, and towards the end I felt that it was almost being played for laughs. Alien vs Predator is not worth mentioning. Predators (2010) was better than I had expected, but perhaps suffered from too many new ideas, like having multiple Predator races.
From the first minute through to the last, Dark Ages felt professional through and through. The medieval setting was a good move, and worked well with the limited budget (can you imagine trying to create a futuristic setting with the same money?) It also surprised me by consistently hitting the same emotional notes that the first Predator managed to hit. Camaraderie, brotherhood, fear, horror, and facing one's death with honour.
Using Alan Silvestri's original soundtrack - one of the best and most original scores ever made - as a basis to start composing the music was a very good decision, and helped establish a similar feel to the first Predator.
The movie continues playing to the strengths of the first Predator by creating approximate equivalents to its most memorable characters. Obviously, the main knight, Thomas (Adrian Bouchet) is the Arnie stand-in. More interesting is the Moorish sidekick Sied (Amed Hashimi) who has a difficult job to do as nobody trusts him, but he has vital information about the beast that they are hunting. In this sense, he has to do the jobs of both the characters of Dillon and Anna in the original. Not only that, but as the "new guy" to the team, combined with his diminutive stature and inexperience in combat, he becomes the audience surrogate as well. By the film's conclusion, he's become the unlikely hero. As an actor, Hashimi had a lot to pull off here, and I look forward to seeing him in action again.
Also notable is the elf-like archer Freya (Sabine Crossen) who is a great screen presence with her cold, steely, detached demeanour and a refreshing lack of dependence on male characters to let her kick ass in her own style.
Dark Ages wisely follows the format established by guy-friendly films such as the original Predator and 300 by not wasting time setting up characters with long, complex backstories. Strong, simple characterisations are used, and we can tell a surprising amount about each player by simple things like how they stand, walk and speak. The quality of the film's storyboarding, framing and editing really shines here.
Moving the action to medieval Europe made a surprising amount of sense in the context of a Predator movie. They hunt for sport, after all, they enjoy putting themselves on an equal footing to their quarry to make it a challenge, and it follows that battling foes armed with swords, shields and some rudimentary bows and arrows makes for an entertainingly balanced brawl. The referencing of the various real wars and factions of the medieval era helped to establish the world, and make the characters and their motivations much more realistic.
The action was very well done too. The director and fight choreographers show skill way above what we would expect in terms of helping the audience see who is swinging what at who. And yet it never feels too overly-balletic either, a trap that the later Star Wars and Matrix films fell into.
In conclusion, this was a very entertaining movie in of itself, and also made a coherent and self-evident case that this could easily be developed into a full Hollywood movie. In today's heavily franchise- based world, execs must surely be looking for a way to update the Predator universe, and this could be the best way to do it.