NECA just performed a miracle, and it might change toys forever.
NECA’s Predators line has been going on for a couple of years now – more if you consider their Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem toys to be part of it. They’ve managed to create the titular alien hunters from AVP:R, Predator, Predators, and even the entire “Lost Clan” from Predator 2 – that’s dedication! There are plans for more variants and the AVP aliens soon, as well as the long-awaited debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, but the most recent set, Series 7, kind of falls in between all of that. While it technically saw release around Christmas, it really only showed up in stores this past January. Two of the three figures are repaints – a “stealth” version of the Falconer from Predators (which includes his falcon), and a minor repaint of the Masked City Hunter from Predator 2, which had previously only been a Toys R Us exclusive. But it’s the third one that should attract most of the interest in this set – Big Red.
Back in 2003, a fan film debuted at SDCC that blew everyone away, and changed the face of fan films forever. Batman: Dead End was only eight minutes long, but it was the best movie Batman ever (remember, Batman Begins was still two years away)! It was dark, moody, had awesome choreography, and a crossover that wasn’t corny, somehow! It’s a pretty simple movie – The Joker is on the run, Batman corners him, but then one of the aliens from Alien jumps up from out of nowhere. Batman starts to fight the alien before a Predator intervenes. So Batman fights and defeats the Predator, only for three more Predators to decloak in front of him, and more aliens to come out from the alley. Fade to credits.
Of course, the movie was really a demo reel by director Sandy Collora, meant to help him get some more work in Hollywood, so it’s not PRECISELY a fan film in the way we look at it. He had worked at Stan Winston’s studio for some time, and had actually contributed a lot to Predator 2’s monster design. So this wasn’t exactly a labor of love by a few dedicated fans – the actors were professional (including the sadly-deceased Andrew Koenig), the costumes came from the original movie designer, and the budget, although miniscule, was way more than most fans could dream of affording. In fact, But the movie was still amazing, garnering praise from pretty much everybody, including noteworthy names like Alex Ross or Kevin Smith. And then Batman Begins came out two years later, and people just sort of forgot about Dead End, more or less.
Anyway, there were four Predators in Dead End – the one Batman fights is identical to the Jungle Hunter from the first movie. In the final hunting party, one looks just like the second movie’s City Hunter, while the third is a generic unmasked Predator with a spear. But the last one, right in the center of the group, was totally unique. His armor was red, he was left-handed (note the gold wrist blades), and his armor has a definite samurai influence, even going so far as sporting a katana and washizaki! The Samurai Predator never actually did anything in the context of the movie, but the image is pretty enduring – note the uber-expensive Hot Toys Samurai Predator, who does not resemble this guy at all but was clearly inspired by him (and please buy it for me, somebody). So, NECA decided to produce this guy for series 7 of their Predators line. The image was owned by Fox Studios, but they still contacted Collora for special permission first (awwwww). And they released the figure, which is pretty popular but not impossible to find on store shelves (that honor goes to the City Hunter repaint, since it’s shortpacked). Big Red is actually based on concept art from Predator 2, drawn by Collora.
It’s a nice story, but think about it for a second. A fan character became a toy. This is not a winner of a “Create a character” contest, or anything like that. It’s literally a piece of fan art that got promoted into actual merchandising. Just how often has this happened? If anybody can think of any other incidents like this, please let me know, because I can’t think of any!
So, what does this mean? Most likely, very little. But let’s take off our cynic hats for a moment and put on our non-cynic hats. What does this mean? Will fan art suddenly become valid if it’s popular enough? Will fanfiction shift from weird fringe-rule 34 horror into a potentially valid commercial art form, like what Japan has (Doujinshi – fan-created work that very clearly violates copyright law, and yet it’s not only winked at in Japan, but lots of professionals have broken into the professional market by selling their fan art)?
Some people might claim that when NECA stooped so low that they started creating fan film toys, it’s a sign that they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel – that they’ve hit a dead end by making Dead End toys. But others might look at this and realize the huge precedent it’s set. NECA hasn’t hit a dead end, they’ve knocked down the wall and paved the road over it!
Of course, this does bring something else to the table… Dear Fan People, PLEASE BE SANE. PLEASE DO NOT RUIN THIS OPPORTUNITY BY BEING STUPID.