Prey Introduces A New Kind Of Predator Film

Prey is the latest in the Predator film franchise and it premiered recently on Hulu to well-deserved praise. The film stands out from the previous Predator films in many ways, such as not having Predator in the title, taking place in our distant past, and having a different kind of protagonist. Yet, despite these changes, Prey still has the core elements of a classic Predator film, while bringing forth a fresh, new take for the franchise.

Amber Midthunder stars as Naru, a young Comanche woman in North America during the early 1700s, who is a healer but wants to become a brave hunter like her brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). While tracking prey with her dog, Sarii, she spots an alien ship entering Earth’s atmosphere, which she interprets as a sign to prove herself as a hunter. After Taabe allows her to join his hunting party, Naru comes across tracks and signs of an unusual creature lurking in the wilderness near her tribe’s location. This nearly invisible creature is revealed to be a Predator who systematically hunts predatory animals until it works its way up to its most formidable targeted prey: humans. Before long, the paths of the Predator and Naru cross as she faces her ultimate test as a hunter while armed only with ancient tools and her wits.

Based on the premise, Prey differs from the typical Predator film not just with it taking place in the past but more importantly with its protagonist. Unlike the other films, the main hero in Prey is a young woman who does not have any modern weapons or any concept of dealing with extra-terrestrials. In fact, the people in the film think the Predator is some kind of demonic entity. Getting back to Naru, what made her situation more meaningful is that she is much more vulnerable to the Predator unlike the bulked-up action heroes brandishing modern weapons in previous films who had some kind of chance against the formidable alien hunter. However, Naru shares the same trait that the previous heroes had in that she uses her wits and physical skills to go up against the Predator, which evens the odds when the two confront each other.

So much of the film relies on the character of Naru, as she not only has to fight the Predato,r but prove to herself and her tribe that she is a brave warrior. Amber Midthunder brilliantly brings her character to life and makes her a sympathetic underdog whose braveness and cunning makes her an underestimated prey for the alien.

As for the Predator itself, despite four previous films (not counting the Alien Vs. Predator films), the creature is still a terrifying killing machine with nasty alien weapons. What is interesting about the weapons is that although they are advanced, they are not as high tech as the ones used by other Predators. This makes sense since this film takes place hundreds of years in the past.

Having the film take place in the distant past was a brillaint idea and something that was long overdue. Ever since the end of Predator 2 hinted that the Predators have visited Earth for a long time, this revelation opened up so many possibilities, but the following Predator films failed to take advantage of this, unlike the Dark Horse Comics series. Having Predator films take place at different times and locations should be fully explored. Who would not want to see a Predator film taking place in feudal Japan? Or having the alien hunter face off against Vikings? Hopefully, if there are more films, they could go in this direction.

On a technical level, Prey is topnotch with beautiful outdoor cinematography (credit goes to Jeff Cutter), tight editing, and minimal use of CG. Director Dan Tractenberg, follows up his 10 Cloverfield Lane with another suspenseful yarn with thrilling fight scenes and genuine moments of tension. To his credit, the director uses his limited amount of screen time to infuse the film with organic character moments, which embellish the humans onscreen.

As mentioned before, it would be great to see more Predator films in this vein. After the previous dismal film, The Predator, it seemed that the franchise was creatively extinct. Thankfully, Prey invigorates it with a simple, tight and innovative film that emphasizes the tenuous relationship between predator and prey.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Boldly Goes Back To Basics With The Star Trek Franchise

The first season for the latest Star Trek TV show to stream on Paramount+, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, has just concluded with a strong episode (“A Quality of Mercy”) that represented the best stories of the season. The show is a spinoff of Star Trek: Discovery and another prequel to the original Star Trek. In this case, the show chronicles the voyages of the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) a few short years before Captain James T. Kirk assumed command.

Getting this out of the way, this series is fantastic with its much needed and refreshing back-to-basics approach for Star Trek. The franchise has been faltering lately with subpar live-action entries, Star Trek: Discovery and the second season of Star Trek: Picard. However, the franchise feels reinvigorated now with the new series. A huge part of the success of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has to do with its lead characters.

When Pike and Spock (Ethan Peck) were introduced as feature characters in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, they quickly stood out and added a lot of gravitas and charisma to the show. In fact, the reason why the second season was so well received was largely due to the characters, how they were portrayed and their engaging storylines. After the season concluded a wise choice was made to bring back Pike and Spock into their own series to continue their story arcs.

Spock, as in the original show, is trying to find a balance between his human and Vulcan sides. Ethan Peck does a fine job as Spock and while he made the role his own, he does quietly emulate the spirit of Leonard Nimoy’s famous portrayal of the Vulcan.

Meanwhile, Anson Mount completely took over the role of Captain Pike, which was first portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter in the original pilot for Star Trek. For decades people associated the early captain of the Enterprise with Hunter, but Mount’s smooth and amenable version of Pike captivated fans to the point that when Captain Pike is mentioned it is easy to picture Mount instead of Hunter. This is something that happened over with the Star Wars franchise where Ewan McGregor made the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi his own instead of Alec Guiness, the original actor who played the Jedi. Getting back to Mount, the actor endows his Pike with a casual competence and an approachable demeanor, which makes Pike a believable starship captain. He is haunted throughout the season by the knowledge that in a few years, he will be incapacitated and spend his last days as a near invalid, as seen in the original Star Trek episodes “The Menagerie, Part I and II”). So, Pike is torn over whether or not he should avoid his fate or try to change it. Nevertheless, Christopher Pike carries on throughout the show with his sense of calm and reason as the crew of the Enterprise deal with weekly crises.

Aside from Christopher Pike and Spock, the series has many interesting characters. Some are familiar characters who were well recast (Celia Rose Gooding as Cadet Uhura and Jess Bush as Christine Chapel), others are new to the franchise, such the ship’s security cheif, La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) and the ship’s engineer, Hemmer (Bruce Horak), and they were all instantly captivating.

Unlike recent TV shows with serialized storytelling techniques, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, went back to the basics in terms of episodic storytelling. The episodes were standalone entries and the season as a whole lacked a unifying plot thread. It’s simply about the adventures of Christopher Pike and his crew on the Enterprise. Some of the stories were well crafted and smart, others fell a bit short, but the approach worked quite well. The best episodes this season were “A Quality of Mercy”, “Memento Mori”, “All Those Who Wander”, and “Strange New Worlds”. The last two were notable in that “All Those Who Wander” was a well-done homage to Alien with a shocking and sad character death, while “Strange New Worlds” was an exceptional pilot episode that enraged right-wing nutjobs with its claim that their recent and current activities wind up being the cause for a second American Civil War and ultimately, World War III. As mentioned before, not every episode is a homerun, but had interesting twists. But, the only misfire was “Spock Amok”, it was supposed to be one of those lighthearted, humorous episodes. However, it failed to deliver any laughs and was unfocused, but it had a few good nuggets.

As with modern Star Trek shows, this one boasts cinema-quality special effects and production that rivals the best of J.J. Abrams and the Kelvinverse, but with superior storytelling and characters. That is the key with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it focused on telling tight stories that do not meander and spin wheels like the second season of Star Trek: Picard. Like the Berman-era Trek shows, this one makes the effort to devote episodes to other characters besides Pike and Spock, unlike Star Trek: Discovery. In just a handful of episodes we learned some vital background info on several characters. For instance, La’an not only suffered from childhood trauma thanks to the predatory Gorn, but was a descendant of Khan Noonien Singh, yes, that Khan. It was revealed that first officer, Una Chin-Riley or Number One (Rebecca Romijn), is not human, while the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) was secretly hiding his ill daughter in the ship’s transporters as he tried to find a cure for her. Since the time was taken to explore these side characters, they became endearing, we cared about them and wanted to know more. More importantly, when these characters suffered, we felt for them.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds injects new life into the Star Trek franchise with its simple and effective back-to-basics approach, but its fused with so much more to elevate it. In addition to its crisp production values, and solid cast, the show captures the soul of Star Trek with a sense of adventure and discovery.

José Soto

The Return Of Obi-Wan Kenobi

The latest Star Wars TV show to stream on Disney+, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is naturally focused on the noble Jedi Knight and his story of redemption ten years after Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. When we last saw Obi-Wan (reprised by Ewan McGregor, who played the character in the prequel trilogy), he was devastated after his Jedi apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), turned to the dark side of the Force, assume the identity of Darth Vader and decimated most of the Jedi Order. The show picks up years later on Anakin’s home planet Tatooine where Obi-Wan is in exile watching over Anakin’s young son, Luke (Grant Feely), from afar.

This version of Obi-Wan is a far cry from the confident and brave warrior from the prequels. Obi-Wan Kenobi, who goes by the name of Ben, lives a quiet life in solitude and generally avoids contact with other people. He also manages to avoid the prying eyes of dark side followers called Inquisitors, including Third Sister Reva Sevander (Moses Ingram). For some reason, Reva is obsessed with finding Kenobi and capturing him for the Inquisitors’ leader, Darth Vader.

On the planet Alderaan, Luke’s twin sister, Princess Leia Organa (Vivien Lyra Blair), is kidnapped to lure Kenobi. Her adopted father, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), travels to Tatooine to ask Obi-Wan to help find her. After some prodding, Obi-Wan Kenobi realizes he has a duty as a Jedi to help his friend and sets out to rescue Princess Leia. After rescuing Leia on the planet Daiyu, the Jedi Master is pursued by Reva, and later Darth Vader, across several worlds. Before long, Obi-Wan realizes that although he left the Jedi lifestyle years ago, he cannot let go of it and his responsibility to the cause of freedom in the galaxy.

Unlike the other Star Wars Disney+ TV shows, at certain times, Obi-Wan Kenobi feels more like an extended Star Wars film, even the end credits follow the style of the films. But at other times, the limits of television are obvious in terms of scope and budget. Of course, this has no bearing on the quality of the show, which is excellent, but the clash in style and scope may offput some viewers. However, the show is a near-perfect presentation about one of the most revered Star Wars characters. In the prequel films, Kenobi was a supporting character but thanks to McGregor’s performance the Jedi rose in stature to the eyes of many fans. Unlike the conflicted and bratty Anakin, Kenobi was a noble and gallant presence who personified the perfect Jedi. To see him as a hollow, pessimistic, and timid person hiding in the sands of a remote planet at the start of the series was disheartening to watch. Disconnected from the Force and taking pains to avoid conflict, it was disturbing to see how far Kenobi had drifted from the courageous Jedi way. It was also realistic. But, when he slowly regained his connnection to the Force during the show, well, those moments were very gratifying. Of course, McGregor’s performance is stellar as always and his love for the character clearly shows.

One of the best moments was during a flashback sequence that had Obi-Wan dueling with Anakin before he became Vader. The sequence was a brilliant way to reunite the two actors as it showed not just the arrogance of Anakin, but Obi-Wan’s hubris, which would blind him to Anakin’s fall later on in Star Wars Episode III.

There are many other thrilling and inspiring moments throughout the series, such as the final duel between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader; Kenobi reconnecting with the Force in dramatic fashion; Kenobi’s interactions with young Leia; Vader’s moments of quiet rage and explosive and vindictive menace; suspenseful chases and battles; and the fanatical nature of Reva, who hid a tragic backstory. At first, Reva came off as a one-dimensional, cartoonish villain but through the course of Obi-Wan Kenobi, she became more nuanced and complex as her cause was finally revealed. A lot of credit has to go to Ingram who delivered a commanding performance.

There are many great scenes with secondary characters who had their shining moments and left an impact. Take Rupert Friend as the Grand Inquisitor, his savage putdowns of Reva were epic. Then there was Indira Varma as Talla, a Rebel spy masquerading as an Imperial officer. She had a natural chemistry with Ewan McGregor and her inner strength and sacrifice was truly inspiring. Kumail Nanjiani gave an inspired performance as Haja, a con man pretending to be a Jedi and later has a spiritual change of heart. Blair did a fine job as Leia as she captured the essence of the Rebel princess and we saw the laying of her emotional foundation. And finally, the onscreen rivalry of McGregor’s Kenobi with Vader was completed with the return of Christensen, who shone as Skywalker/Vader. As noted above, their friendly rivalry was well executed in the flashback scenes as we witnessed the underlying insecurity of Skywalker. Christensen pulled this off fantastically with subtle facial revelations.

Despite its greatness, Obi-Wan Kenobi had its narrative flaws, which were alarmingly blatant. Take the fourth episode (arguably the series’ weakest, though it was entertaining), where Talla clumsily slapped around some stormtroopers in an Imperial base and defeated them. Or later in the episode when Kenobi threw on an Imperial cloak as a disguise and obviously hid Leia underneath him as they walked around unnoticed among oblivious Imperial personnel. Then there were the common Star Wars space and time puzzles where characters instantly travel from planet to planet, non-fatal stabbings from lighsabers, and spaceships with broken hyperspace engines being able to traverse star systems and avoid Imperial star destroyers.

Thankfully the merits of Obi-Wan Kenobi far outweigh its negatives. It was great to see Ewan McGregor return to a role that he made his own, but now as the central character. It was also fun seeing other actors from the prequel trilogy reprising their roles and seeing how the prequels connect more strongly with the original trilogy of Star Wars films. Even though it is a limited series and its main story feels complete, there is talk about continuing the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi: Jedi-In-Exile. It’s not clear what direction more episodes would take without feeling repetitive, but they would be welcome.

José Soto

Jurassic World: Dominion Is A Thunderous Epic Conclusion

The final film in the second Jurassic Park trilogy, Jurassic World: Dominion, has been released to mixed to negative reviews, which is puzzling. Yes, it has its flaws, but on the whole, the film is a sprawling dino-epic that is a satisfying conclusion (for now) to the Jurassic Park films.

Jurassic World: Dominion takes place several years after Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and we see the global impact of that film’s end where bioengineered dinosaurs were released into the world. Visually striking montages and imagery highlights a modern world forced to co-exist with the diverse prehistoric fauna. However, most of the larger dinosaurs have been captured and relocated to a private sanctuary in Europe run by Biosyn, a corrupt bioengineering company that is supposedly studying the dinosaurs to derive medical treatment for humanity. In reality, the company, which is run by Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), have bred a giant prehistoric species of locust that they release which soon threaten the world’s food supply.

This comes to the attention of Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who recruits her former lover, the paleontogist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) to help her get to Biosyn’s headquarters in the dinosaur sanctuary to get DNA samples of the locusts in the facility. As the two make their way to Biosyn, the company sends out poachers to the Sierra Nevada region to kidnap Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who is the first cloned human. She is hiding out in the snowbound forests with former raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and former Jurassic World theme park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). The trio soon learn that Blue, the raptor that Grady once wrangled on Jurassic World, is living nearby with her young raptor, which Lockwood names “Beta”. The poachers kidnap Maisie and Beta, which leads Grady and Dearing to Biosyn and their plot to control the world’s food supply with their locusts.

Colin Trevorrow returned to direct the finale of his Jurassic World trilogy and he certainly can deliver action-packed thrills and intense scenes involving high-speed chases and dino battles, as well as genuinely suspenseful moments. While some of the set pieces seem familiar such as humans stuck in a crumbling infrastructure and chased by vicious and hungry prehistoric predators, other scenes are truly inventive and capture the awe of seeing dinosaurs in our modern world as they rampage through cities and farms. For a moment early on, there was a threat that the film would be bogged down and overlong with the two plotlines headed by the OG and new heroes of the franchise, but thankfully Colin Trevorrow kept the action and plot moving briskly. The anticipated team up of both groups was well worth the wait when it finally happens. It was great seeing the original Jurassic Park heroes back together, which includes Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who as always steals the show with his quirky, but charming speeches. Other characters from both trilogies make memorable appearances and the film has numerous Easter eggs and references to the previous films, which were fun to spot.

While it was great to see the old familiar characters, the true star of Jurassic World: Dominion were the dinosaurs themselves. In addition to the beloved species such as tyrannosaurus rex, velociraptors, dilophosaurus, and so on, this film introduces new and terrifying creatures like the giganotosaurus, who naturally duels with the t-rex from the previous films, dimetrodons (though they are not dinosaurs), and a the long-clawed therizinosaurus. The only complaint about these dinosaurs is that individually they do not get as much screen time as one would expect. Even Blue, the raptor from the other Jurassic World films does not appear a lot. For the most part, the prehistoric animals are presented as just that, animals. They are background material that move the plot forward without much personality. This means there are no unique standout terrors like Indominous Rex or Indoraptor who took on monstrous auras. By the way, it should be pointed out more accurate feathered dinosaurs do appear in this film. Still, in this world that has co-existed with dinosaurs, many people in the film have lost their sense of awe with the animals, which is a shame but inevitable. This is how it is with our society. Once something that is extraordinary becomes commonplace, that thing becomes familiar and taken for granted.

The film does have its faults such as some convenient plot holes. Seriously, it is hard to believe the surveillance at a high-tech headquarters would have allowed our heroes to pull off their deeds unnoticed. Then there is the now common complaint of deceptive marketing where trailers feature scenes that do not appear in the final film. Also, while for the most part the special effects were wonderful, there were a few instances were the CG was spotty, but to his credit Trevorrow actually uses live-action effects quite well. Of course, Trevorrow is no Steven Spielberg, but he definetely has made his mark on the recent films, which will be well regarded in the future when people start hungering for more Jurassic Park/World films.

Is this the actual end of these films? Most likely. The story has reached its logical conclusion as reflected in the final moments of the film, which impart a powerful and hopeful environmental message. For now, it is best to let the franchise rest for some time. They can either find some way to continue the adventures of a world where dinosaurs co-habitate all corners of the world with us or the franchise could be rebooted to present a more faithful and brutal adapation of the original source material. No matter what, to paraphrase Malcolm, the Jurassic Park films will find a way. Until then, we have a great batch of films to enjoy with repeat viewings, including Jurassic World: Dominion, which is a thrilling and thunderous epic of a finale to the Jurassic World trilogy.

José Soto

Halo Falls Short Of Its Video Game Roots

Halo is the latest video game franchise to get a big-budget onscreen adaptation. This one is now appearing on TV on the Paramount + streaming service and from the conclusion of the first episode, it was clear that this live-action series was going to do things differently. The main character, the Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber), who is the vanguard of humanity’s war against an alien force known as the Covenant, takes his helmet off to gain the trust of a girl he just saved. This marks a radical departure from the games where to date, we have never seen him without his helmet.  While this is a small detail and doesn’t detract from the episode, in retrospect it was a sign that this show was going to tell a very different story than what is portrayed in the famous video game franchise.

The main idea of the Halo games is that Master Chief is, at most times, a lone warrior fighting against impossible odds on strange aliens worlds against overwhelming foes. These being a group of hostile extraterrestrial races called the Covenant that vow to wipe out humankind in a war that Earth is losing. He encounters the strange ring-shaped world dubbed “Halo” at the start of the very first game and has to figure out its mysteries and stop the Covenant from using it to destroy all life in the galaxy. The Halo TV show however is somewhat of a prequel and starts with Master Chief and other super soldiers named Spartans arriving on a human colony, Madrigal that is invaded by the Covenant.

On the planet he encounters a lone human survivor, a young girl named  Kwan Ha (Yerin Ha), who he brings back to humanity’s headquarters on the planet Reach. Eventually he takes her to a sanctuary world, then she escapes back to Madrigal to try to lead her people against an oppressive government. Meanwhile, Master Chief aka “John” finds a Covenant artifact that he seems to have some strange mystical connection to, and he uncovers details of his past where he was kidnapped as a child by a Dr. Halsey (Natascha McElhone) who created the super soldier program to make the other Spartans as well. These other Spartans also start to question their origins, while Halsey deals with her daughter (Olivia Gray), who is upset by her absentee mother.  Notice that the plot of a war against a group of aliens hellbent on humanity’s extinction is not mentioned other than at the start of the paragraph?

This is the biggest issue I have with this adaptation, that the main focus of the games is basically a subplot in this show that seems to fade to the background other than a few scenes here and there. There are only 9 episodes in this first season and the story needs to be tight and focused, but it seems instead to be set on world building and character exposition to the detriment of what should be the main plot of Earth and its struggle against a genocidal group of aliens who see humans as an affront to their religious beliefs regarding the Halo artifact. There is even one episode solely devoted to Kwan Ha and her journey on Madrigal finding out about her past. This can happen if this was a network TV show with 20-plus episodes, but not with a streaming TV show with limited episodes.

In the games, the Covenant believe that the Halo is a sacred structure that, when activated, will take them to paradise. The reality, *spoiler alert*,  is that it is a weapon created by an ancient race called the Forerunners who used it to destroy life in the galaxy to starve a parasitic race called the Flood of their food source. The Forerunners then re-seeded the galaxy with life, including humans and the Covenant races, on different planets. None of this is explained or shown to the audience, probably since they expect fans of the games to know this, but for non-gamers who will be clueless about this. I can understand that they might not want to overwhelm viewers with larger amounts of backstory and game mythology, and establishing the characters is important, but it seems like they wanted to tell a very different sci-fi story than what is told in the various games. It’s as if they are more interested in the machinations and political intrigue of Earths’ government, the United Nations Space Command (UNSC), as well as Dr. Halsey and the UNSC’s questionable tactics regarding the creation of the Spartans, as opposed to what should be the desperate attempt to survive against the onslaught of the Covenant. 

The positives of the show are the design and look of the Spartans and Covenant when they show up. They look very much like their video game counterparts. And the few scenes of action we do get are very good. The first, fifth and last episodes show the Master Chief and other Spartans in action fighting against their foes. It’s a real treat to see and does offer a glimpse of what the show can be. Obviously, it can’t be non-stop action as opposed to the games, but it’s really about what the focus of the show should be. The season ends with the Chief seemingly taken over by his AI assistant Cortana (Jen Taylor), as they escape with artifacts that can lead them to the location of the Halo ring world.

Hopefully the second season will have him finally arriving at the Halo itself to set off the chain of events that happen in the first game, and we can have the politics of the UNSC in the background, with the fight against the Covenant at the forefront of the show. As a generic sci-fi TV show, Halo is fine, but as an adaptation of the numerous games, it seems to fall short. Having said that, Paramount + has renewed the show for a second season and it has good streaming numbers, so there is an audience for it. Maybe with this new set of episodes, we will see a story that can bridge the gap between both fans of the game and newcomers to the franchise, and satisfy both groups, as the best adaptations of other media do.

C.S. Link