Review by C.J. Bunce
Shane Black, director and screenplay writer of next month’s sci-fi action film The Predator, could have gone in any direction with his return of the Yautja alien hunters to Earth. He, along with co-screenplay writer Fred Dekker, decided to continue onward to the present day following the events of Predator 2. Since the third film, 2010’s Predators, was set away from Earth it doesn’t factor in to the new film and neither does 2004’s Aliens vs Predator and 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, so The Predator is basically Predator 3. If you missed the latest trailer, check it out here. The first trailer (and the movie) begin with a child opening a package where he finds a strange futuristic device. His play with the device ends up triggering the return of one or more Predators to the planet. So what happened between Predator 2 and this kid handling the device? You can find out in The Predator: Hunters and Hunted, the official movie prequel to Shane Black’s The Predator, from author James A. Moore.
The novel follows a single Predator on a hunting excursion to southern Georgia in alligator country where he starts plucking off townsfolk, biker gang members and local law enforcement. Derived from the team headed up by Gary Busey’s Peter Keyes in Predator 2, a new government-funded initiative is focused on locating and capturing one of these aliens, and this Georgia sighting has been their first lead since an appearance in Los Angeles back in 1997. We get a brief appearance from Keyes’ son Sean (to be played by Jake Busey in the new movie), but the focal point is an opportunist named Will Traeger–Sterling K. Brown’s character in the new film–who is carefully manipulating both a military special ops unit called the Reapers and Congressional leadership to gain full control of Keyes’ project, now called Project Stargazer. Traeger’s impediment is the current project lead, General Woodhurst, a four-star general played by Edward James Olmos in early cuts of the film (later to be excised entirely from the final cut). Woodhurst is very much like Olmos’ General Adama in Battlestar Galactica, a military strategist more than someone on the front lines with the troops. Woodhurst and Traeger are the guys in Washington, DC, trying to gain funding while answering to the federal agencies dolling it out.
For most readers the more interesting part of the prequel novel will be the viewpoint of the Predator. While not giving us the play-by-play of the bureaucrats, the story alternates between the Predator’s perspective and thoughts and the Reapers’ efforts to capture him (the Predator’s vantage was also a feature of the novelization of Predator 2). The best scene in the book is entirely removed from everything else–an inspired, vivid one-on-one battle with an alligator. Why waste time on these puny humans when you have a real threat like that? The prequel novel is key to the coming movie because it establishes from the Predator’s perspective an important code that the hunters must follow. Unless this gets recounted in the movie, it’s some key data to know before heading into the theater.
Readers will meet several players throughout the novel, some who survive, some who don’t, including a CIA operative named Roger “Pappy” Elliott who trained the Reapers. He’s bent on revenge for the Predator that killed his men in his Vietnam days. A former Navy Seal, Devon Hill leads the squad with his second in command, a soldier named Tomlin. At least a dozen other soldiers, police officers, and civilians get to take their whack at the Predator, all in a giant rainstorm that never ends, keeping with that lightning bolt theme in the new movie posters.
Although anyone who has viewed the trailer and read the trade press about Olmos getting cut from the film will know at least three people who survive this prequel, The Predator: Hunters and Hunted is still a worthwhile read. But who are the hunters and who is the hunted? Don’t be surprised if you side with the Predator from early in the story. Sterling K. Brown’s character Traeger is written as an unlikable opportunist. Will he continue as the real villain of The Predator? There’s always one of those Burke characters–Paul Reiser’s despicable corporate wonk in Aliens–in these big franchise alien war stories. Or will the pile of carnage prompt Traeger to not see alien capture as just a step in his own political ascension?
As with that other sci-fi hunter of Big Sci-fi, that “man with no name” antihero bounty hunter Boba Fett from the Star Wars franchise, the less we see and know of the aliens the better, and if this view of the Predator in the prequel is any indication of the Predators inhabiting the new film, we could be in for some fun. Author James A. Moore’s descriptions of the Predator and his reflections on his youth, his upbringing, his training, and his technology all work very well. Moore’s now Predator-canon alien has all that great worldbuilding detail the franchise deserves for its fans.
It will be a definite plus to revisit Predator 2 before reading this novel and seeing the new film–enough of the references to the past are provided that they will have more meaning for those who are caught-up. Fans may be disappointed to not see any mention of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch from the original Predator or Danny Glover’s cop Harrigan from Predator 2. Unless Shane Black pulls off the ultimate surprise, don’t expect them to show up in the film either, although don’t rule it out. And it’s a shame we get a book full of Olmos’s character’s backstory, only to learn he was edited from the coming film. The Woodhurst character is exactly the kind of role Olmos’s fans love to see him take on.
Look forward to some Predator camouflage and some green alien blood along the way. A book you’ll want to read if you love the Predator franchise, with important information and character development leading to the release of the movie next month, The Predator: Hunters and Hunted is available now here at Amazon. Only a month left–The Predator arrives in theaters September 14, 2018.