PREDATORS: PREDATOR-PREY INTERACTION SCIENCE IN CINEMA

By Dr. Craig D. Reid

predators-coverWhen Schwarzenegger’s Predator (1987) came out I was a PhD graduate student at the University of Illinois taking Entomology 319, Insect Pest Management, a legendary class taught by the late former head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Robert L. Metcalf. We just so happened to be studying predator-prey interactions and as I watched the film I could see the whole science of predator-prey interactive behavioral traits coming to life. A few years later I was Metcalf’s teacher assistant for the course and he allowed me to create a special lab exercise using clips from that film as I put together a Predator-Prey Interaction Worksheet for the grad students and a 15-minute edited clip of the film to see if they could see what I saw.

As I was watching the throwback Predators, I joyfully relived the lab exercise. I love it when cinema and science come together within a subliminal theater of intelligent truth that most won’t see the cerebral nature of what is on the screen. However, after you’ve seen this glorious film and read this article, perhaps you may become a master of predator-prey interactive behavioral studies. Let the hunt begin.

predators-bordy-ladyPredators is like the Star Trek TV series from the 1960s, where Kirk takes a landing party down to a mysterious planet and it’s just a matter of time before his crew members get zapped. We all know who the minor landing party members are as one by one the science of predator-prey interactions come to life as Royce must pray that he does not become the prey. It is no coincidence that one of Royce’s killer elites, Isabelle (Alice Braga), the one who knows about the Guatemalan incident, also looks like Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), who was there at the end of Dutch’s rumble in the jungle many years ago.

In Predator, Aaaarnold plays Dutch, the commander of a special ops mission sent into Guatemala (many Predators reviews say it was Venezuela, but Predators state that the events of Predator occurred in Guatemala). This elite task force is whittled down to just Dutch by an inviso alien creature who apparently has been coming to Earth for eons on hunting safaris. Of course, in the film, our soon to be former Governor of California teaches the alien about the human spirit without cutting education costs…so to speak.

Based on a script that producer Robert Rodriguez wrote in 1994, Predators is a new/old version of the original that features Adrien Brody as Royce, a seemingly cold-hearted mercenary who becomes the de facto leader of a group of kidnapped Earth’s deadliest killers and taken to a world far, far away, where these hunters now become the hunted.

predators-samuraiOne of the memorable characters from Predator was the spiritual minded, American Indian Billy the Tracker, who had a 6th sense about the presence of danger and the reality that death was a release when one fought as a warrior. This same set piece occurs in Predators as the New York City born Louis Ozawa Chang-Chien (Japanese mother, Chinese father) plays Yakuza enforcer Hanzo. No doubt the character is inspired by the 1970s Japanese chambara (samurai sword fighting films) trilogy, Hanzo the Razor, which starred Shintaro Katsu as the title character. The samurai sword wielding Hanzo vs. the Predator is worth the price of this film alone. The sword also gives us a clue as to how long Earth warriors have been fighting these predators on this strange jungle imbibed planet. You’ll also notice that this planet has a very familiar looking waterfall.

So what’s this scientific predator-prey interaction behavioral analysis all about? Let me first share a very important piece of information with you that many may not know. Stan Winston did not create the original predator creature, Chinese-American FX specialist Steve Wang did. He showed me the original maquette puppets he melded and it was no accident that the predator’s mouthparts were modeled after insect mouthparts.

predators-russianHere are the 10 defensive strategies and behaviors that insect prey uses against insect predators often time beginning when the prey are concentrated in a area and the predator attacks: Dispersal, the prey will disperse to confuse the predator; altruism, a prey will sacrifice its life for the good of the others as a means to manifest escape for the rest of the group; cryptic coloration, the prey uses its body color to blend in with its environment; warning coloration, when a prey has bright colors that can warn a predator it has a weapon, such as aposematic (bad tasting) chemicals or wicked mouthparts; peck order, smaller prey usually get it first; running, simply put the prey runs like hell; predator awareness, where through sensory perception, the prey knows the predator is nearby; remain motionless, as in just don’t move; hide and drop occurs after a prey runs away and hides under some elevated position and when the predator draws near the prey lets go and drops to safety; and reversal tactics, the prey becomes the predator.

Predators have two main behavioral strategies for getting their prey: Sit and wait (predators sit and wait for a prey to come within range of an attack) and pursuit (predator chases the prey). Keeping these in mind, here are the five attack and behavior strategies that predators use to make the final nab: Search image formation, a predator looks for specific things about its prey (odor, visual cues, place where prey lives, etc) and uses them to cut down on its search and handling time; host switching, which is not about switching the prey but switching the pursuit such as go after smaller and weaker prey if it comes along; cryptic coloration, using body color to blend in with environment; weapons or traps such as webs, poisons, big mouthparts; and prey collection, a predator will store prey for later meals or use the eaten prey body parts as camouflage to lure in other prey.

So now go back and watch Predator, and as your watching Predators, see if you can spot these predator-prey interactions unfold before your eyes.

PRED-153Interesting endnote. Back in 1998, I was one of only four reporters invited by Warner Brothers to fly to Australia to interview the cast and filmmakers of a cool film known as The Matrix (1999). During my post interview time with Laurence Fishburne, we spoke about In Search of Bobby Fisher (1993) and of all films Predator. Curious that he is one of the co-stars of Predators; I’d love to know the story about how that happened.

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