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Prequel freshens up ‘Predator’ action franchise

Dan Trachtenberg, today a director of scary films, was not allowed to watch R-rated movies when he was a kid. He turned to the next best thing: friends with cooler parents.

“I was in a minivan on the way to a karate competition, and all the cool sixth graders had just seen ‘Predator,’” says the 41-year-old filmmaker (“10 Cloverfield Lane”), who recalls, “Of course, I wasn’t allowed to see it, but the guys described the entire movie to me on that trip. And the one thing they said that really stuck with me was there was a fight on a bridge over a waterfall between Billy, the Native American tracker, and the Predator.”

Years later, he saw the movie and the scene was cut. “Later on, it made me think about how a lot of movies focus on the Arnold Schwarzenegger role or that kind of hero. What if we focused a movie on a different kind of character?” Trachtenberg poses in a recent a Zoom call.

All of that sort of swirled around and came together in one of summer’s biggest sci-fi action streaming hits: Hulu’s “Prey.” The new addition to the Predator film franchise focuses on a skilled Comanche warrior who protects her tribe from a highly evolved alien predator who hunts humans for sport.

Amber Midthunder stars as warrior Naru, and Dakota Beavers plays Taabe.

What was the appeal of directing a different type of “Predator” film?

Dan Trachtenberg: Basically, I wanted to make an emotionally engaging action movie inspired by films like “Gravity” and “1917” or “Revenant.” I love a real survival tale, and this is a period sci-fi survival tale. I was also thinking of making a Western with no cowboys in it.

Were you a fan of the early “Predator” films?

Dakota Beavers: I had seen the first one. And I thought it was wicked. And when I figured out that this was a “Predator” movie, I was kind of afraid to watch them because I didn’t want to psych myself out. When Dan told me I got the part, I watched them all. I thought, “This is pretty insane. I’m mind-blown forever.”

How did you find out you had the role?

Beavers: Dan FaceTimed me and he said, “Do you have time to bleed?” I said, “I got time for anything, man!”

How did you find out, Amber?

Amber Midthunder: Dan also FaceTimed me. And he said, “If you had to get somewhere, but you couldn’t use a car or a plane or a train, what would you do?” And I think I said, “Hang glider.” And then he said, “By air is fine. Get to the choppa!”

How physical was the shoot?

Midthunder: This movie was entirely physical. We did a four-week boot camp with me, Dakota and the other boys in the movie. I had weapons training with Comanche-style archery, spears and tomahawks. It was exciting and also terrifying. I was in water that was glacial runoff. I would wake up and think, “Ice bath.” It ended up being pretty cool.

Beavers: It was working out for me and the horse riding. That was a 10 out of 10.

How much of the film was practical versus CGI?

Trachtenberg: Most of it is practical. … I’m not someone who thinks that CG is awful, but I love practical visual effects. I oftentimes feel just as pulled out of a movie by feeling like I see the man in that suit as much as I’ve been pulled out of the movie when I feel the artifice in a digitally re-created creature or visual effect. I really wanted to combine both thoughts and mainly rely on the practical suit. I used visual effects to enhance his calf muscles. We nicknamed the creature Feral. I really wanted to feel that it was ferocious and alien and not some guy lumbering around in a suit.

Midthunder: One day on set a lot of people were walking deeper into the forest where we shot. I followed them and there amongst the trees was the Predator in his suit. To see it in front of you was something. I immediately went into character and said, “I could take him! I can kill it!”

It’s rare to find a film that focuses on Indigenous people.

Midthunder: Going way back, we’ve always been such a resourceful people, whether that’s through strategy or through weapons. The history felt really special to me, and I connected with it although I’m not Comanche. I am Assiniboine Sioux, which is also Northern Plains. So, it’s very close to what my people did in those days. It was cool to be able to show the traditions to a big audience.

Dakota, this is your first feature film, and there are rumblings of big things ahead. What were you doing before reading about this casting call?

Beavers: I was just playing music and working at TJ Maxx. I always did my music, but the truth is I did want to act. Honestly, I just didn’t think it was in the cards because I knew nobody in the business. I didn’t know how it worked. I auditioned for this other movie that got canned because of COVID. I didn’t hear anything for the longest time, and then I got an email that said, ‘Hey, we want you to audition for a part in another film.” Long story short, it ended up being this show. Frankly, I don’t know why they hired me, but I’m forever happy that they did.

Has this movie changed your life?

Beavers: I wasn’t a fancy man before this movie. I’m still not a fancy man. But I do enjoy acting now. I’m still playing music and doing my thing. And I just want to act forever because I enjoy the crap out of it.

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