It’s Using The Trees: The Cinematography of Prey

Started by Xeno96, Sep 12, 2022, 02:34:11 AM

It’s Using The Trees: The Cinematography of Prey (Read 794 times)


It's Using The Trees: The Cinematography of Prey

Light evokes emotion, camera movement evokes direction, and both of these tools are in the back pocket of cinematographer, Jeff Cutter. Dan Trachtenberg's 2022 smash hit, Prey, not only revives the 20th Century Studio's franchise but paves the way for the continuation of the fandom in a new and exciting fashion. But it can't be said that some of the success of the film comes from Jeff Cutter's approach to the look. After all, sound and picture are our two main ingredients.

Over the course of 36 years since the original,  Predator fans have seen various types of environments, color schemes, and visual approaches to capturing the predator's hunt amongst humans. What DOP Jeff Cutter's prime ingredients are as follows; practicality, form, shadows, and scope in a fresh and terrifying way for our alien Hunter. Let me explain....

Practicality. It's not new that cinematographers in the modern landscape incorporate very practical-looking photography. But for a Predator film, this gives a genuine look to our 1700s landscape. Several frames from the film showcase natural flairs, highlights, and the dark corners of the forest where the alien hunter lurks. Others are torch-lit forests, campfires, and dusk river beds that lead the hunt into a 24-hour cycle. Instead of insinuating a sci-fi film, the non-artificial approach to shooting high ISO and little to no high key lights, allows the film to function as a period piece alone. It can also be said that Cutter acknowledges that practical lighting in his photography not only skins away the look of an artificial film based on pre-colonialism but also foreshadows that the predator is being stripped of his modern weaponry (compared to Jungle Hunter).

Shadow and form. Flashback to 6 months ago with the marketing starting to rev up the film's excitement amongst fans. Some of our first images of the predator were that of its backlight outline and silhouette in the cave and burnt forest. These images have become staples of not only the film but Cutter and Trachtenberg's approach to revealing the predator to us. It creates a sense of fear of the predator that this fan hasn't noticed since the first film. The way Cutter established wide shots,  pushing the ALEXA to its limits, and utilizing depth with color and contrast. The cinematography encompasses both the predator decloaking and the shadow of the land and life that befalls, Naru. Cutter intentionally chooses to establish low angles with long lenses, between Naru and the Yautja, creating the classic, David vs Goliath. Ironically, in the conclusion, the framing and scale of Naru is that of our first glance of the alien hunter when he arrives on earth, showcasing that she has become the predator.
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Scope. Wide focal length's best friend and the reason why the film succeeds at giving us the perfect world for our characters. From scaling mountainsides, flying over valleys, and running through fields, shooting wide is a primary reason Cutter succeeds at giving predator fans a game reserve before there was a game reserve. While Predator films have chosen more claustrophobic photography (and for good reason), Prey however gives the viewer air to breathe, which doesn't last long when our hunter begins his onslaught of climbing up the food chain. But what this Predator fan loves about Cutter's scope is his use of the trees. The slow pans and sharp tilts across the towering forests play highly with the imagination that Jungle Hunter gave audiences while watching Arnie and his team be slaughtered. The forest itself and low wides make the environment once again, the enemy and ally.

All in all more could be said about the technicality of lenses, camera, codecs, tints, and light used in the film. But at the end of the day, Prey succeeds in a number of many ways that we as fans, have never seen. Thanks for reading!


Wow, excellent write-up, you really nailed how I feel about the stylistic strengths of Prey.


Nice write up!

I thought the cinematography felt too clean and modern to sell the story as a period piece - the walk through the camp felt like someone demoing an anamorphic lens on an iPhone more than anything - but you made some nice points. There are definitely some beautiful shots in the film.



I think it is very deliberate:

"One of the things that I was excited to have was a period piece that didn't put a wall up between the viewer and the characters. And not stuffy in a way that sometimes a period piece can get. Because it's of a different time, you forget that people are still people and still felt the same feelings that we feel today, even way back when."

"Terrence Malick probably came up the most," says Director Dan Trachtenberg. "And not just The New World, but Days Of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line also. We referenced images from those movies and cinematography and, wanted it to feel authentic. That's very much a part of the soul of this movie. And Macbeth, the Michael Fassbender Macbeth was a big visual influence on the movie."

Underrated adaptation, not surprised it is an influence, one that I feel succeeded in not putting a wall up between the material and viewer because of being overly reverent about William Shakespeare, in a way a lot of adaptations do.

It would also surprise me none if our Alien composer friend Jed Kurzel was a direct influence upon Sarah Schachner in a similar way.

For Naru's theme, Schachner collaborated with the film's director Dan Trachtenberg. "Dan and I spent a while collaborating on Naru's theme. He was adamant that it should feel like a journey; that it starts small and really take you somewhere."


No question the cinematography was a highlight of the film. One can even make a case that its' the best shot of the Predator sequels. At times, especially in the first third of the movie, it didn't felt like a Predator movie at all, the way the camera captures Naru and her tribe. I think that is actually a strength of the movie.

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