Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits the best Predator film since the first one, Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey.
John McTiernan’s Predator (1987) is not only the quintessential 80s action movie but also one of the best action movies, period. From Arnold Schwarzenegger’s larger than life performance and persona to the beautiful brilliance of Stan Winston’s practical creature design, the film is an all-timer for action/horror fans. The sequels that followed, however, have been a mixed bag at best. Sure, Predator 2 (1990), Predators (2010), The Predator (2018), and even the two Alien vs. Predator (2004, 2007) films all have their fans, but they’re fan from universally acclaimed.
Which brings us to Dan Trachtenberg‘s Prey — the highest rated franchise entry (via Rotten Tomatoes), and the only one not to get a theatrical release. Fuck you, Disney! It’s a fun, thrilling ride that earns extra credit for putting indigenous, Native characters at the forefront, even going so far as to feature a language option in Comanche. The film released straight to streaming on Hulu, but pressure from fans led the studio to concede and deliver a physical release featuring a handful os special features.
So keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary for Prey.
Commentators: Dan Trachtenberg (director), Amber Midthunder (actor), Jeff Cutter (cinematographer), and Angela M. Catanzaro (co-editor, who’s strangely not introduced at the start with the rest, although there’s a silent gap where that self-intro would naturally fit)
1. The film originally opened with a 20th Century logo that disappears behind a Predator-like cloaking as the fanfare ends. They decided, though, that the tone was more serious and the cloaking “felt too genre, when we were kind of saying ‘actually this movie is doing more things.'” He suggests that opening may yet turn up at the start of a film down the road.
2. The women behind Naru (Midthunder) in the opening scene are all digitally composited into the shot.
3. The opening chase with the deer is the one time where Naru’s faithful dog was not played by Coco and was instead played by Tofu who was a better runner.
4. The dog’s name, Sarii, means “dog” in Comanche.
5. The Predator was originally introduced with a montage of him gathering and assembling his weaponry and tools, but they eventually kept only the end of it with the Predator rising up into frame after his ship departs above him.
6. The fire torches carried by the characters at night include small, hidden LED lights. Movie magic!
7. Trachtenberg was playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and thought to himself “God, this music is beautiful, who did this?” And that’s how he found composer Sarah Schachner. They had temp scored Prey with bits from the likes of Sicario and Maleficent before then.
8. The quicksand-like mud that Naru falls into was smelly, cold, and scratchy. It was an intentional choice to make viewers think the mud would keep the Predator from “seeing” her, so the shot immediately after of her washing it off is meant to let them know that “this movie is going to do something different.”
9. The bear sequence was originally envisioned to be bigger and visually clearer, but the budget meant they had to limit visual effects shots — and that’s where the idea of the beaver dam came into play as it allowed them to show partial glimpses instead. The dam interior was filmed atop a water tank.
10. Trachtenberg recalls seeing Midthunder with her phone out immediately before or after several scenes, and he was confused as no one else had a signal in the various remote parts of Alberta where they were filming. Turns out she had the film’s script on the phone and was simply keeping up with dialogue/scene changes.
11. The wide shot of Naru floating down the river is actually lifted from 2020’s Call of the Wild.
12. They shot the Predator’s heat vision using an actual thermal camera, just as the original Predator did back in the 80s. “The production of this movie disproves the way that the Predator works, because when you put on the thermal vision everything is hot because we’re outside and the hot sun is baking the ground.”
13. When Naru runs from the Predator and crouches in the tall grass, they point out that the grass was actually grown by film’s production team. They figured out where they’d be filming, planted at the start of production, and then reaped what they sowed. Also, the film’s greens manager is named Tom Green.
14. When the French turds slice her brother Taabe’s (Dakota Beavers) chest it’s done at the precise angle to match Billy’s cut in the original Predator.
15. Parts of the film were shot on stages, but one sequence they wanted to do on stage had to move outdoors instead. They wanted to bring dirt in from the park land to cover the stage floor — and the park department said it would cost $3 million.
16. “People complain when you have any CG for the Predator,” because Stan Winston’s original, practical design is so goddamn awesome, so Trachtenberg apologies for the instances in Prey where you can tell the Predator is CG. He’s also happy with the times you can’t — an example being the closeup where the Predator brings his hand to his face to smell the ash in the air. The face is real, the hand is CG.
17. The Predator’s shield — it pops out and opens into a circle — “is a direct lift from God of War.”
18. Trachtenberg grew up watching Hong Kong action movies and has been desperate to put that kind of melee action scene into one of his own projects. The sequence here where Naru enters the French fur-trappers’ camp and takes them all out with various weapons and moves. It was originally planned out with traditional cuts, but when they discovered they only had a day to film it the scene became a oner.
19. As with many cultures, some plains people believe to whistle at night is to call bad things your way. Naru whistles at night to draw the Predator to kill the hobbled trapper, but Midthunder didn’t want to actually whistle herself. Instead, she mouthed a whistle while someone else actually whistled offscreen.
20. Naru’s plan at the end involves placing the Predator’s hardware just so with the intent of trapping it, goading it into shooting at her, and unwittingly shooting itself in the head. It took an elaborate effort to communicate that to viewers, but Trachtenberg admits that his effort is still not wholly successful with all audiences.
21. It wasn’t initially planned, but Naru throws the gun to her father and he catches it just like Danny Glover’s character does in a similar scene in Predator 2.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Everyone says this dog better not die.”
“Always having a little bit of reality is nice.”
“I love wire-work.”
“I will never refuse the exercise of making a montage.”
Final Thoughts on the Prey Commentary
Prey remains a damn good time and a reminder that there’s still life to be found in the Predator franchise. Its path to a physical home video release was atypical — and here’s hoping other streamers follow suit with the best of their streaming-only titles — but now that it’s here it’s up to fans to make 20th Century Studios’ (fuck you, Disney!) investment worthwhile. Anyway, the film is great, the commentary track is a good listen highlighting production details and the care that the filmmakers put into Prey, and I’m ready for another one.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.