During the golden era of crossover stories (and by that, I mean the 1970s, when characters from different TV shows “crossed over” in other series), the titular characters of Laverne and Shirley could visit the Happy Days Position. Or Mork, played by Robin Williams, would travel from the planet Ork to duel with Fonzie.
The oft-quoted descriptor of jumping the shark, meaning a TV show or series has strayed from its narrative vision, comes from an episode of Happy Days where the Fonz did just that. He jumped over a caged tiger shark while waterskiing. It sounds unbelievable, you might say, but believe me, it wasn’t. It was more along the lines of oh god…kill me now.
Even as a youngster, I knew enough to realize that Fonzie’s days as a cool guy were over. And in the following years, the phrase became synonymous with a sudden and irreversible decline in narrative coherence.
Over the years, shark jumping has affected a number of different TV shows and movies, perhaps none more so than the Predator series.
The first movie came out of the undergrowth in 1987, with Arnold Schwarzenegger leading a rock-’em, sock-’em cast that included Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura. In the original film, a team of paramilitary tough guys get butchered like Christmas turkeys in the Central American jungle. Their weapons and bloated muscles are no match for an invisible enemy who turns out not to be from these regions.
The suites arrived in order: Predator 2, predators, Alien vs Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, And so on. By the time the series had strayed into crossover territory with Alien vs Predatorhe had not only jumped on the shark but had completely forgotten what a shark was.
The predator, released in 2018, added the word “The” to the title as a way to increase the terror quotient. (Desperation can often lead to the abuse of definite articles.)
So imagine my surprise that the returning kid from the summer movie season was none other than our former space pal.
Wild West Predator
The latest installment in the Predator film franchise, Prey, is set in 1719, when a young native woman named Naru and her trusty dog do battle with a great intergalactic hunter. It’s a pretty even game. There’s the usual space gadgets that slice and dice like a Cuisinart, and the creature itself, part crab, part lizard, with a little gym bunny mixed in – this monster has abs of steel.
The plot isn’t all that different from previous outings: a lone alien is dropped off on Earth for a sporting adventure, fights his way through apex predators – wolf, bear and lots of Frenchmen before coming across Naru , which offers a greater challenge.
The most exciting part of the movie isn’t the fights and the gory stuff. (The Predator’s hobby is taking trophies by ripping out spinal cords and skulls by the roots. Fun!) Instead, it’s really Naru and his dog trotting through beautiful forests and mountains, throwing axes on random bunnies, which are really engaging. This is a new type of character for the series, more in line with Extraterrestrialit’s Ripley.
Probably no one expected Prey be a monster hit, but the film stumbled upon a good meet-and-match, a cross-genre pollination that suddenly opened up entirely new narrative directions.
In this case, it was the cross between native genre cinema and an established sci-fi vehicle. Nyla Innuksuk’s film Slash/back was another terrific example of this kind of fusion. Even though Innuksuk’s film probably only had a fraction of the budget of Preyit contained both real scares and great characters.
Even before the dust and the bunnies had settled, the audience was asking for more. Predators fighting Japanese samurai, French musketeers, Nunavut teenage girls, legendary warriors of all time. Really the list is endless. Just imagine a bunch of worthy opponents and pit them against space invaders. Think about the epic clashes there could be: Predator v Canada Revenue Agency, Predator and the Haunted Mansion, The predator goes bananas, deep throat predator. Oops, this one is for adults only!
In a stupid season, a serious blow
The success of Prey is interesting, coming as it does in the silly season of August, a month when movie studios typically release people-eating dogs, giant sharks, and alligators for the enjoyment of hot, silly audiences.
Another dormant hit from this summer may well turn out to be the size. To fall opened on Friday, with the soaring plot of two young women climbing a 600-meter tower in the middle of nowhere and getting stuck at the top. The most obvious question from such a premise is, “Why did you do that?”
The answer is never because, well, it was big. It’s still an emotional spiel about the triumph of the human spirit. This has been the case with other films of summers past, whether it’s alligators facilitating emotional healing between father and daughter or sharks helping a young woman overcome the pain of losing her mother.
The recipe for most of these films is to take an established plot: humans against nature, women in peril, to add a zest of novelties and to serve it quickly and well at the end of the summer.
In ‘No’, a big ‘yes’ to cinematic abundance
The big old grandpa of this summer who mixed genre tropes with wild abandon and geeky glee was Jordan Peele Nope. The movie set the tone for the season with its sublime mix of high and low – and its dizzying mix of silly summer movie references that came before it, making it something of a multi-movie fruit punch. crusaders. Nope is clear about its many references to its successful predecessors, think Jaws meets Close Encounters meets the classic American Western. All from the anime classic Akira at HEY appears and it’s a glorious hallelujah to cinematic abundance!
There’s a lot going on in this movie, more than enough to warrant repeat viewings, but in short, another interplanetary visitor pays us a visit and humans must band together to avoid being sucked off the face of the Earth. .
If you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, go for it! It’s a splendid example of imagination exploding in almost every possible direction.
The built-in critique of our insatiable thirst for cinematic spectacle adds a whole other layer to the film. In a way, Nope was to have all the cake and eat it too, but that’s okay when a story is as overwhelming as this. There’s even a reference to the badness that can happen in the sitcom universe when animals go bad. Spot Fonzie’s shark.
The narrative engine that drives any good crossover story is the coming together of two good things. Alone they are fine, but combined, well, back off baby!
In the August heat, all you really need is a little clumsiness, a few thrills and a little gutting. Cake would also be nice.