Jaws vs Predator
Jaws (1975) tells the story of a huge great white shark, which is terrorising the Amity Island holiday resort, and Predator (1987) is a film about tough, special forces soldiers sent on a search and rescue mission, deep in the South American jungle, only to come face-to-face with a ruthless, extra-terrestrial life form intent on hunting them.
Jaws takes place at a holiday town, and mostly focuses on the sea around Amity Island: Predator is located in the jungle. In Jaws, the sea is associated with pleasure and fun – but the shark has taken over this domain; it silently, and invisibly, comes and goes, and anyone on, or within, the water, is in danger of being savagely killed. The jungle, in Predator, is where Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer feels comfortable. He’s an expert in jungle warfare, but now this environment is dominated by the alien creature who is hunting them as prey. The alien creature is perfectly adapted to jungle warefare, with its invisibility cloak, heat sensing ability (which allows it to see through foliage), and ability to move at speed through the tree canopy, armed with deadly blades, and a high tech blaster fixed to its shoulder.
The monster threatens both heroes, and the people around them, because it will never stop killing. It demands the hero faces it with everything they have, in a battle that will end one-on-one, with only one victor.
The female guerrilla, Anna, in Predator, shares valuable information about the alien creature (the local people have a legend of a creature that takes men as ‘trophies’). Major Schaefer’s own scout – a man with exceptional tracking skills, who is not afraid of any man – acknowledges that this is ‘no man’. Major Schaefer is able to use this information, and his own experience, to work out that the alien uses the trees to move around, and is hunting them.
Chief Martin Brody, in Jaws, is dissuaded from closing the beach, because the Mayer forces a death-by-boating verdict from the coroner. Later on, Brody is able to learn from Matt Hooper (an oceanographer), and local professional shark hunter, Quint, that the monster must be stopped, by any means. The hero in both stories is able to keep their cool, and to see what is really going on.
The monster strikes by killing its victims one-by-one – the hero is helpless to stop the slaughter. Each time someone is killed the pressure on the hero increases: they must stop the monster, or more people will die. In Predator the monster is killing Major Schaefer’s team one-by-one, ‘taking them out’ and hanging up their bodies. Each attack increases the team’s desperation. Now, once fearless men are afraid. In Jaws, Brody has to watch innocent people in his community slaughtered by the monster. He has to fight the Mayer’s refusal to accept that it is a shark (because it might damage the town’s summer holiday business), and then to fight the lie that a smaller tiger shark – which local fisherman have caught – was responsible for the deaths.
The turning point comes when the hero is able to learn enough about the monster to predict its behaviour. Brody has Matt Hooper, the oceanographer, and the professional shark fisherman, Quint, to learn from – Brody knows the shark will never stop until they kill it. Major Schaefer understands, as one hunter to another, that the alien want’s them all dead, and it will keep going unless he can kill it.
The heroes must use their ingenuity to tackle a monster that has greater strength than them. Major Schaefer uses his jungle survival skills, to make his own weapons and to build a trap, using himself as bait. He discovers that the alien sees heat signatures, and so he is able to use fire, and cover his body in mud, to hide his own heat signature. Eventually, using himself as bait, he manages to put the alien out of action by using a tree trunk as a falling deadweight trap.
Classical, traditional, action, and liberal hero
The classical hero was aristocratic, an alpha male, a semi-god. Whatever the odds he faced (he was usually a man), he would remain strong, commit to action, go to the fight, and win. That was what classical heroes did. The villains he faced were monsters.
The traditional hero is a slightly more realistic hero. He or she is one of us, but not quite, still slightly superhuman, incredibly persistent, or lucky. They fight criminals, bad people, look after their family, or make the world a better place. Their enemies are might be the system, the government, or people who don’t play by the rules.
The liberal hero is fighting for a way of thinking, or battling their own flaws and limitations. They try to solve problems without resorting to violence. They bring people together, exposing dark secrets, and perhaps are less afraid to show their emotions. They fight social injustice.
The liberal hero find strength in openness, sharing knowledge, helping others, working towards a better society, and standing up for what they believe to be right, placing a high value on truth and honesty – and on being true to themselves. The action hero is more likely to exhibit stereotypical ‘masculine’ traits, which are seen as a sign of strength, possibly a necessity in a world where the protagonist must defeat a dangerous foe. The action hero is more emotionally closed off, possibly only being able to survive by repressing their emotions to survive. The action hero faces stereotypical baddies, gangers, and criminals. He probably works according to a sense of duty.
Odysseus is an example of a classical hero who goes on a quest. Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines is an example of a traditional hero who goes on an adventure. James Bond is an example of an action hero, a daring spy with charisma in a story that's essentially a series of explosions and chase sequences. Serpico in the film Serpico (1973) is a classic liberal hero. He’s struggling to live by his values and make the world a better place
Back to the Future
In Back to the Future Marty McFly’s friend Doc owns a customised car that can travel in time. Fleeing from terrorists, Marty inadvertently travels from 1985 back to 1955. He enters the strange world of small town 50s America, with its quaint customs and retro-technologies – a huge leap back for this cheeky 80s teenager. He quickly realises the reciprocity between his experience in 1955 and his life in 1985: if his parents don’t get together at the prom he will literally be erased from history.
This is a classic time travel story: entering a strange world, understanding an alien culture, and presenting the hero with the paradoxes of travelling in time. Time travel commonly involves people in the present going forward or back in time, or people from the past or future coming to our time. This is explained through: a pseudo-scientific justification (a portal, a ‘wormhole’, or a tear in the ‘space time continuum’); magic and the paranormal (a spell or an act of evil); a freak accident or occurrence (an injury to the head, going to sleep and walking up in a different time). It can involve travel to parallel worlds with a separate ‘time continuum’. These additional choices give the storyteller an opportunity to combine a contemporary story (and references) with a historic, future or parallel world culture and environment.
Entering the past allows the storyteller to reveal – or poke fun – at a particular moment in history, and in a future world to speculate on what life may be like. The time traveller provides a point of entry for the contemporary audience, often contrasting his or her morality with that of a past or future culture. The circumstance and paradox of travelling in time forces the hero to make moral choices, which accentuates the drama, comedy, and can provide a moral lesson.
Manchester by the Sea vs Silver Linings Playbook
In Manchester by the Sea, Lee Chandler loses his brother and is forced to take care of his nephew while attempting to come to terms with a dark event from his own past. In Silver Linings Playbook, Patrick Solitano is forced to cope with the wreckage produced by his mental health issues. Both these stories explore a more realistic view of the world than audiences might otherwise expect from a so-called ‘mainstream’ American film (although neither of them are typical ‘Hollywood’ productions – Silver Linings Playbook is an independent film and Manchester by the Sea was distributed by Amazon Studios).
Lee Chandler, in Manchester by the Sea, is a property handy-man, an underachiever, imprisoned by his own demons as he struggles to help his nephew make sense of their loss, and not fall off the rails like he did. Patrick Solitano, in Silver Linings Playbook, is coming to terms with a failed marriage and the car-crash that is his life. These are stories of working-class American families facing the realities of a tough world.