Hunter Prey (2010 movie) review…

Hunter Prey (2010 movie) review after the break…

Hunter Prey (2010 movie) review…

So often, films overextend themselves either in terms of budget, talent or story. Sometimes, the story is too big for the budget or talent. Sometimes, the talent can’t pull off the story. Sometimes, the story is just a footnote to the sheer indulgence of budget and talent. Creating a film is more alchemy then science – The best actors could ruin the best of scripts, the greatest director can turn in a horrible movie and the wrong setting could doom an entire movie to financial failure.

Yet that same mysterious alchemy that always seems to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory can also, on rare occasion, produce some remarkable gems. A bad script in the hands of a great director can, on occasion, turn into a fun little film. Even bad actors might dredge up inspired performances due to an equally inspired script. A slightly starved budget might force an once-bloated setting to become a leaner, meaner script.

“Hunter Prey” is a 2010 movie about an alien crew who must hunt down and re-capture a hostile alien prisoner on an equally hostile desert planet. The alien crew is quickly whittled down by the crafty alien fugitive until it becomes a duel of wills. However, both sides have ulterior motives to this struggle that will complicate how the ending shapes up.

To discuss this movie in length would be to ruin some genuine surprises, so here’s the no-spoiler synopsis: The first third of the movie is genuinely good while the next two-thirds declines significantly because of an over-complicated plot with more then a few leaps in faith (as well as logic). My recommendation? Watch it all the way up until the fugitive takes off it’s mask, then pretend that you’ve just watched an inspired “Twilight Zone” episode and turn off the movie. You’ll thank me later.

Still here? Then let’s continue.

“Science-fiction” and “low budget” are two phrases that, unfortunately, don’t often include a third: “Fairly decent.” Science-fiction, by it’s nature, doesn’t lend itself towards being frugal with a budget – Costumes need to be made, spaceships must be built, special effects (often, elaborate ones) have to be created and in bulk… There’s very little room for inefficiency if you want to keep the budget for a science-fiction movie from expanding beyond control.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to see a fairly well-made science fiction film made on such a small budget. The almost exclusive use of outdoor scenery was a huge cost-saving device. Having only a few cast members also helped, saving on costumes and props. Perhaps my most pleasant surprise was when one of the alien crew took off their mask to reveal… An alien face! Granted, it was an humanoid face akin to a “Star Trek: Next Generation” episode but an alien face nonetheless and an indication that the production had an eye for completeness that other productions with similar budgets and settings might not have afforded.

Perhaps my only serious qualm with the first third of the movie was that the voices as spoken through the masks were too muffled, made worse by the overpowering soundtrack in the background. The muffled voices may have been due to my home theater set-up, therefore, I didn’t take too much away from the production as a result of it. Once masks are removed, voices are clearer and more easily understood.

Up until the alien refugee takes off it’s mask, the production was really nice. It had a simple set-up, it had competent props and a compelling setting. The movie felt, up to this point, like a cult hit. Of course, all good things come to an end.

There’s an old saying in science-fiction that if you want your alien setting to be believable, don’t name your alien “Bob.” That’s not an exact quote but it’s close enough – It means that if you present an alien world (alien beings, alien props, alien environment), all of that elaborate set-up is going to be wasted if you allow your characters or setting to be too human-like. For instance, Jim Henson took great pains to create an alien world for his movie, “The Dark Crystal.” Imagine how less efficient that world would have been if there were ordinary dogs, cats or birds populating it. Not as alien, would it?

The moment that the fugitive is revealed to be a human, the movie begins to deflate and rather significantly. All of a sudden, the Darwin quote at the beginning to the movie makes sense, implying that humans somehow are more adaptable then any other species in the universe. However, the introduction of a human also obliterates the moral ambiguity of choosing sides – The alien crew in trying to capture the fugitive or the fugitive itself. An argument could have been made for making either side the protagonist – The alien crew is just doing their job, attempting to stop a supposedly dangerous fugitive from killing other innocent beings. Viewers might also have sided with the fugitive, as people have a pre-disposed romanticism of rebelling against a system and allowing the unjustly accused to be free from persecution to live a life of their own decisions. When the fugitive is revealed to be a human, all that ambiguity vanishes – We root for the human instinctively because we can relate more to a human then that of an alien (even a “good” alien).

Another moment when the production sags considerably is when the reason behind the duel of wills is revealed. The human has a plan to blow up the alien’s home planet (something that the aliens have previously done to Earth) but needs the coordinates for the alien’s home planet. To do that, he needs to have access to a cellphone sized computer that only the alien can use. Why? And even if he succeeds… Well, the lead is buried in the story, as news writers might say… Earth was destroyed? This man is the last living example of humanity?

Simply put, the plot becomes too big for the setting and the story. What started as a simple fugitive chase attempts to turn itself into an elaborate plot for a war-changing event. That shift in tone for the film just doesn’t work; It makes the fugitive chase completely irrelevant and some of the fugitive’s earlier decisions confusing (why, then, kill the “alien rookie” if all you needed was to force the rookie to give up his computer access?).

This movie would have worked splendidly if the plot had been kept modest. Imagine a movie about an alien crew, disconnected from their technology, forced to hunt down a fugitive using only their wits? Imagine the statement you’d be making about modern Internet users and how people have become addicted to their “Facebook” and “Twitter”? Perhaps the final alien lets the fugitive go, having gained something more then just a fugitive but a deeper understanding of their own survival instincts? Or maybe the movie could have been about how a lone “alien rookie” becomes brave and chases down a fugitive even with an experienced bounty hunter also on the trail and how that rookie beats the bounty hunter not because of experience but because of discipline? The possibilities are almost limitless.

“Hunter Prey” has it’s heart in the right place but reaches too eagerly for the stars before falling predictably short. That’s too bad – The first third of the film, before the fugitive takes off the mask, looks and feels like a genuine modern-day cult hit. The other two-thirds, sadly, looks and feels like just about every other C-grade science-fiction movie making the rounds on the Syfy channel these days.

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