Note: If you voted to hear the Vampire story, it's still coming in early May, don't worry.
-The Alien and The Predator are both interesting monsters.
-One reason Alien is a better movie than Predator is it found reasons for the cast to talk about the interesting monster and observe its behavior. After Cain dies, like 50% or more of the dialogue is in one way or another, finding out about the monster, explaining it ("using the air ducts", "Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.", "big as a man").
-What dialogue isn't about the monster is about The Company's plot ("crew expendable" etc.).
-Simple formula (Lovecraftian even)--create an interesting monster and then the story is mostly just explaining how it's interesting.
-Predator on the other hand: how do we know its an alien? First scene we see its space ship. How do we know it has only thermal vision? We see through its eyes.
-Showing not telling doesn't work here because it leaves the characters almost nothing else to talk about or do--except the same things they'd do in any other non-monster action movie: I'm worried about murdering! I'm not! How will we accomplish murdering? Yeah, they got betrayed by the CIA, but it's so not important to anything and Carl Weathers (the Ash figure, the betrayer) gets killed by the Predator, so that plot resolves itself without anyone having to confront him or make a decision about it or act or anything.
-A problem with all the later Predator and Alien movies: instead of interesting or difficult characters being dealt with by the other characters (as the crew deals with Ash in Alien) they just get killed by the monster. We realize, at some point in every later movie, that this is a slasher formula and none of the interpersonal plot gymnastics matter. Ripley matters, that's all, because Ripley will, in one way or another, survive.
-So what does matter (besides the quality of the kills)? We want to learn more about the creatures.
-This, I think, is what really disappointed everyone most about Prometheus--the whole beginning was a classic Hard SF set-up: we were going to Learn About The Universe and then as soon as we get to the big mystery (What the fuck was that thing in the...chair? in Alien?) it turns into a slasher movie. No, we are not going to learn anything else, the only question in a slasher movie is: how will they die? Not well, it turns out. Also he looks like the Michelin man but that's a whole other post.
-Anyway to retrieve the thread: Interesting monsters. The genius of the first Alien--and nearly all the best parts of all the later Alien and Predator movies--is it turns learning about the interesting monsters into the plot.
-The technique: rationing out the information on the interesting monster scene by scene, piece by piece, kill by kill.
-Failure means: wasting information, wasting kills, and, by extension, wasting characters. Letting the monster chew through the cast before the cast gets to chew on the monster.
-Again, Lovecraftian: the scenes in The Call of Cthulhu where we learn about Cthulhu are more interesting that what Cthulhu actually does at the end (with the Swede and the boat and all that).
-It's all a slow tease, a show whose content is slow revelation. It's why there's this curious deflating effect when you see a Wiki full of information on the creatures, like everything fun is mashed down into a statblock. The Predator tribe is called the Yautja? Did you know that? I didn't. Somehow I wish I still didn't? I want the mystery.
It's like looking at the lyrics to your favorite song all typed out. "Oooh, ye-ahh, baby" I mean yes that's the words but...it felt different in the song.