“A group of intergalactic soldiers fight for their lives on an inhospitable desert planet after their spaceship crashes while transporting an extraterrestrial prisoner. When their captive stages a daring escape, the soldiers receive orders to bring it back alive at all costs. That proves to be a challenge when the creature begins hunting its captors, killing them off one by one as they strain to recapture it without using lethal force. Before long, only one soldier is left standing. He realizes that the longer he refrains from killing the alien the more likely it is he will become its next victim. Eventually, the soldier uncovers the truth about his mission, which prompts him to reassess his situation from an entirely new perspective.” – Rovi’s Allmovie Guide
So, just how small was the budget for Hunter Prey? Well, the fact that the advanced technological rifles carried by the soldiers are actually repainted Nerf guns should give you a pretty good idea. But you know what? They’re probably the best looking Nerf guns you’ll ever see because Hunter Prey is something of a master class in how to build a believable movie world on a budget one-third that of the typical thirty minute sitcom. For instance, if you don’t have the money to accurately portray vast alien civilizations, then just set 99% of your action on a barren desert planet and head off to the wastelands of Mexico to make your movie. Or if you don’t have the resources to depict two armies at war, you can always center the story around a small squad of three soldiers and one bounty hunter sent to recapture a single escaped prisoner, that way you’ll have a cast small enough to live in the same small house with the production crew while filming. And if you don’t have a huge special effects budget, well, you can always drop by Target and stock up on toy guns and spray paint. Of course, it would probably also help things if like Sandy Collora, the producer, director & co-writer of Hunter Prey, you were a former special effects designer on films like Leviathan, Men in Black, The Abyss, and Predator 2. Something like that would go a long way towards your being able to make some decent props (jazzed up Nerf weaponry included).
But knowing how to make cool playthings doesn’t necessarily mean you can make a good movie to showcase them in, so it’s fortunate that Collora also spent a few years cutting his director’s teeth on excellent short fan features like Batman: Dead End and World's Finest. Those efforts not only allowed him to develop his craft, but also garnered Collora a ton of good will from die hard fanboys due to his insistence on filming characters like Superman and Batman exactly as they were portrayed in the comics (no out of wedlock children for the former, no enormous vinyl codpieces or bat-nipples on the latter). And Hunter Prey, while not based on a preexisting property, carries that same devotion to a beloved look and style, in particular the movies Collora and his writing partner watched over and over while growing up in the 70s and 80s. “There was so much inspiration all around you at that time” Corolla has said in interviews, “On Saturday morning television, in toys like The Micronauts and the Mego superheroes, and of course, in movie theaters, where I spent most of my childhood, devouring 70's genre classics like Jaws, CE3K, Alien, Logan's Run, all the Planet of the Apes sequels, Rollerball, and of course, Star Wars.”
What Hunter Prey does isn’t so much steal from those old films (alright, so maybe the giant whale skeleton in the middle of the desert is pretty much lifted straight out of A New Hope), but rather it attempts, and mostly succeeds, in recreating the look and feel of a movie from that era, or at least, given the budget, a well made TV movie from that era. The costuming has a definite lived in Star Wars appearance. The desert setting recalls classic Star Trek (I half expected to see Kirk and The Gorn go running by in the background at any minute), and the alien designs are reminiscent of… just about anything that had an alien in it during that period (except for maybe the actual movie Alien, because you definitely want to keep Giger’s psycho-sexual monster suits in their own little dark corner of the universe as much as you can). Instead, think more along the lines of the extraterrestrials found in stuff like The Last Starfighter or Enemy Mine, and you won’t be that far off. Honestly, you can’t help but think of those two movies because one of the two main characters in Hunter Prey is named Centauri and there’s a whole scene in which a discussion is held about an honorable warrior race known as the Drac. It’s hard not to make associations when the movie you’re watching actually name drops characters from its predecessors.
And if you think the visuals of Hunter Prey seem a little familiar, then you won’t be surprised to find that a lot of the story is pretty recognizable as well. There’s a bit of the aforementioned Enemy Mine (one human and one alien pitted against one another on an otherwise uninhabited planet), the classic Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (the human is the last of his kind, the alien has the potential to be the same), and even a bit of 2001 with the characters engaging in an ongoing conversation with an intelligent computer (voiced by Buck Roger’s Erin Grey!). So, yeah, Hunter Prey pretty much wears its influences on its sleeve (and its pants, shoes, and spare set of clean underwear). But it’s not as stale or unoriginal as it sounds. The narrative still manages to keep you interested enough to stick around to the end, mostly due to the interaction between the two main characters as they fight against the environment and try to outwit each other in an effort to complete their respective missions. In an interview with io9, the director remarked, “At its core, this is a picture about survival. Being able to adapt to your surroundings and persevere, to survive at all costs and prevail against incredible odds to complete an objective.” Of course, what adds some extra weight to the proceedings is the fact that the ultimate objective both species are pursuing is basically genocide; not the conquering of territory, not the capturing of resources, just the plain simple eradication of one people or the other. The movie doesn’t go into too much detail as to exactly why these two species feel it necessary to wipe each other out, but the reality of the fact hangs over every action the characters take. Admittedly though, while this makes for an interesting watch, that kind of a fight makes it kind of hard to pick a side to cheer for.
Unless, of course, it was God who was demanding the genocide, in which case you’d probably want to root for His team, right? Fortunately, such a thing couldn’t possibly happen could it, a merciful God ordering the complete annihilation of an entire people? Well, as atheists are quick to point out (almost constantly, even when you’re just trying to talk to them about something as innocuous as the weather), that very thing appears to have happened in the Old Testament when God commanded the Israelites to kill every Amalekites in existence. According to the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia, the Amalekites were “a people remembered chiefly as the most hated of all the enemies of Israel, and traditionally reputed among the fiercest of Bedouin tribes… Their first meeting took place in the first year of the wandering, after Israel came out of Egypt, and was of such a nature that Israel then conceived a hatred of the Amalecites that outlasted their extermination under King Ezechias, many centuries later… There is little in this account of Exodus to show why the Amalecites should be singled out to incur the special animosity of the Israelites, yet it concludes with the decree of Jehovah that He will destroy the memory of Amalec from under heaven, and that His hand will be against Amalec from generation to generation.”
Now, by modern sensibilities the order to destroy an entire people probably sounds like overkill (literally), so it’s easy to understand why atheists, non-Christians, and even quite a few believers find this particular biblical story at odds with the idea of a merciful God. But before jumping too quickly to label God a hypocrite, we should probably take into account a few things, the first of which is the fact that the people we are talking about in this part of the Old Testament were part of a culture far removed from ours in many ways. Discussing the Bedouin tribes who populated the region at that time, the New World Encyclopedia tells us how “Sharaf is the general Bedouin honor code for men. It can be acquired, augmented, lost, and regained. Sharaf involves protection of the ird [honor code for females] of the women of the family, protection of property, maintenance of the honor of the tribe, and protection of the village (if the tribe has settled down).” Where the duties of Sharaf apply to this particular moral dilemma is in the concept of hospitality to strangers. “Hospitality (diyafa) is a virtue closely linked to Sharaf. If required, even an enemy must be given shelter and fed for some days. Poverty does not exempt one from one's duties in this regard.” If you think about the large number of itinerants who made up the ancient Bedouin population, it’s easy to understand why these hospitality customs were treated as a sacred duty. Without them, the mere close proximity of two wandering tribes would almost certainly guarantee war over the scarce desert resources. So in short, no hospitality laws, no regional stability. Which means that when the Amalekites attacked the Jews for simply passing through, they weren’t just acting like common thugs, they were undermining the very social fabric of the entire region. And because a bunch of nomads didn’t typically have the means to detain bands of murdering anarchists, the act was made punishable by death in order to prevent recidivism. AND… if that wasn’t tough enough, the New World Encyclopedia also notes that “Bedouin tribes are typically held responsible for the action of their members”, so under the law, the death penalty acquired by the soldiers who committed the crime could actually be carried over to their entire people (more on that in a minute).
So, you see, when viewed in its proper timeframe and cultural context, the “genocide” carried out by the Jews against the Amalekites was actually the legitimate legal punishment under the Bedouin code of honor. Obviously, with our modern penal resources, it’s not the way we would prefer to handle such things these days (even if we sometimes do, another post for another time), but back before the common era it was an understandable method of ensuring safety and stability within a tenuous nomadic culture. But while all of that might explain from an earthly perspective why the Jews were legally justified in seeking to exterminate the Amalekites, it still leaves us with the atheists’ chief accusation that God’s rubber stamping of the action is in direct conflict with the image of God as put forth by Christianity. Basically, their question is why wouldn’t a merciful God command his followers to commute the death sentence, if not for the guilty soldiers, then at least for the Amalekite women and children who weren’t directly involved in the original attack?
Well, what a lot of atheists tend to miss in their rush to proclaim God a genocidal maniac is the fact that the actual declaration by God in 1 Samuel to carry out the execution of the Amalekites occurs about four centuries after the first incident took place in the desert back in Exodus. So it’s not like God didn’t give the Amalekites plenty of time to repent their sins and change their ways. But mercy can be rejected. So, rather than take advantage of a 400 year long grace period, various passages in the Bible detail how generations of Amalekites instead willfully chose to spend their time continuously trying to enslave or eradicate the Israelites. As Rabbi Aron Moss explains it, “The Amalekites took any opportunity to attack Jews for absolutely no reason. There was no land dispute or provocation that caused this hatred – it was an intrinsic pathological need to destroy G-d’s people. Such hatred cannot be combatted through diplomacy. There was no option to re-educate the Amalekites or review their school curricula. Their hatred was not taught – it was ingrained. As long as an Amalekite walked the earth, no Jew was safe.”
What was happening with the Amalekites appears to have been a type of institutionalized sin of cooperation, or what some folks these days are calling a corporate sin. The Catechism reminds us that while “sin is a personal act… we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them: - by participating directly and voluntarily in them; - by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them; - by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so; - by protecting evil-doers. Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them.” It’s seems evident that while not all the Amalekites participated in the attacks on the Jews, their entire society made itself a willing accomplice by training their children to keep the attacks going generation after generation. And if that’s the case, then the Amalekites had a huge problem because, as the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us in its definition of Accomplice, “Whether in that case the accomplice has shared in the perpetration of the injustice physically or morally (i.e. by giving a command, by persuasion, etc.) whether positively or negatively (i.e. by failing to prevent it) the obligation of restitution is determined in accordance with the following principle. All are bound to reparation who in any way are accounted to be the actual efficient causes of the injury wrought, or who, being obliged by contract, express or implied, to prevent it, have not done so. There are circumstances in which fellowship in the working of damage to another makes the accomplice liable to restitution in solidum; that is, he is then responsible for the entire loss in so far as his partners have failed to make good for their share.” Or in layman’s terms, if you’re an accomplice in the sin, even if it’s not in the direct action itself, you earn the full penalty. And it’s that principle which we see at work in both the Bedouin code of honor (see, we got to it) and in God’s decree to kill all the Amalekites.
Now at this point, assuming they actually read through all of that stuff about Beduoin history, cooperation with sin, and what have you, I imagine there might still be some dissenters who would protest, “Fine, fine, we’ll give you the adults. But what about the children? Why not at least allow them to live?” And it’s a fair question. After all, even in places like modern day Rwanda where warlords are turning kids into brainwashed killing machines, don’t we see various agencies making slow but steady progress in rehabilitating them back into society? So why couldn’t the same thing have been done with the Amalekite children? Sadly, again, the New World Encyclopedia’s description of Bedouin society would seem to indicate they simply didn’t have the resources to attempt such a thing without endangering the safety of everyone else. In effect, the cruel realities of the era sealed the fate of the children. And as for a merciful God signing off on that particular part of the genocide (because that’s what it was by the dictionary definition of the word), well, for that maybe it’s best to turn to the lesson of Sodom and Gomorra. If you’ll remember, the Bible notes that the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was so great, and their sin so grave (a sin which included abandonment of the laws of hospitality by the way), that God decided it was finally time to smite the whole lot of them. And He didn’t forego His mercy to do so, as God promised Abraham if there could be found even ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorra, then He would let the entire population off the hook. We all know how that story turned out. What it comes down to is if we accept that there is an all-knowing God then we also accept that he knows the hearts of all people, and from there it’s no stretch to accept that He knows when an entire society has corrupted itself past the point of no return and definitively rejected His mercy. The ugly truth is that the Amalekites had centuries to root out their “corporate sin”, they chose not to and paid the lawful price.
And finally, for those out there who understand all of the previous discussion, and yet still feel a merciful God wouldn’t order the total eradication of the Amalekites, there’s one last thing to take into consideration. God was right. You see, even after the decree was given to finally carry out the destruction of the Amalekites, King Saul didn’t complete the job. Against God’s will, Saul left the Amalekite king (and possibly a few hundred others) alive, and it was Agag’s descendant Haman who eventually sought the annihilation of the Jews a few centuries later in the book of Esther. Never play at being smarter than God, it just doesn’t work out well for anyone.
The death of the children in the story of the Amalekites is understandably upsetting to a lot of people. But don’t you get the feeling that what bothers a lot of people just as much about stories like this in the Bible is the idea that time ultimately runs out and God, out of respect for our free will, allows us to suffer the consequences of our decisions? Who wants to hear that?