Predathon Part 1: ‘Predator’
The Predator, second only to the Xenomorph in bad ass, nostalgia inducing terrifying alien hunters, is returning to cinema screens by way of The Predator, helmed by the excellent Shane Black. The original adventure has always held a special place in my heart. I was all about Schwarzenegger during the late 1980s, a period of ‘peak Arnie’. Somehow I was allowed to watch this at roughly age 8, albeit with some modest edits of the more gruesome scenes, and was obsessed with it.
So today’s question is: why did it work so well and does it hold up? In the week before we see The Predator we’re going to revisit the franchise in a marathon series of reviews.
Released: June 12th, 1987
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, R.G. Armstrong, Kevin Peter Hall
Plot: An elite military unit are recruited by the CIA to infiltrate a Soviet insurgent camp in the Central American jungle. Upon completing their mission they head for the extraction point only to find themselves being hunted and picked off by a deadly, unknown enemy.
Review: As said before, I watched this movie to death in my formative years (nowhere near the most inappropriate thing I watched, mind you) and am very happy to find how well it holds up. Not unlike Mad Max: Fury Road part of the success is the simplicity of the set-up and how well executed that set-up is. We have a group of characters to get killed off by a terrifying alien monster, but first we spend a solid third of the movie establishing their individual roles, their friendship and what unbeatable badasses they are.
Oh, by characters I mean ridiculously shallow but larger than life caricatures. We have Mac, who is stoic, and his bestie Blain who chews tobacco and wields a minigun. Billy is a Native American tracker, whilst Poncho is also part Native American and speaks Spanish. Hawkins (The Predator director Shane Black himself) wears glasses and handles the communications. Finally there’s Arnie himself playing Dutch, the one whose badassery exceeds all others. Feared and respected in equal measure. One of the big selling points of the cast is their energy. They come across as real friends, joking and poking fun at each other. It feels as though they had a great time making this movie.
Dutch and his crew are recruited by CIA operative Dillon to conduct a rescue operation. Things go awry early as the team make their way through the jungle, with Dillon, to the Soviet’s base of operations. They find the downed helicopter of the previous team along with the skinned remains of the the soldiers. Seeking revenge, Dutch’s team attacks the Soviet camp, brutally wiping them out. It’s a montage of explosions, slow motion flying bodies, people of fire running around, helicopters, one-liners and flexing. It’s peak 80s action mayhem. Once the team is done Dutch confronts Dillon about him lying about a rescue, instead conning them into performing a strike to collect intelligence. Now with a healthy distrust running through the group, and guerrilla fighter Anna as a hostage, they head out for extraction.
This is when they find themselves being picked off one by one, with the fallen being ripped to shreds or blown open. Initially thinking the enemy is circling them they come to realise (with help from Anna relaying local legend) that they’re being hunted by something that may not be off this Earth. It’s fast, strong, invisible and utilising advanced weapons. What they’re facing is very alien, a deadly hunter from another world who has come to our planet to collect trophies. Dutch and his squad have shown themselves to be the best game available, so they’re in the crosshairs.
After a night in the jungle getting killed the only survivors are Dutch, Anna, a heavily wounded Poncho and Billy. The latter decides to stand his ground, Poncho gets finished off and Dutch sends Anna running to the CHOPPA. It’s then that Dutch, having lost his weapons, discovers that their pursuer only sees heat and he can hide by coating himself in mud. Having evened the playing field (the Predator has also shorted out his invisibility) Dutch prepares for a final confrontation.
Whilst the Reagan era of macho, right wing action stars isn’t always reflected on fondly decades later these character still come across as cool. They’re like G.I. Joe figures come to life, and the dynamic between them adds to their likability. Shit, one of them WAS a G.I. Joe figure in their hey-day. The point is that we’re kinda attached to the big galoots when the Predator kills them. We also know how unstoppable they are, adding the impression that the Predator is a serious threat.
The slow introduction of the Predator is extremely well handled, working well within the limitations of the time. Until the squad have mopped up the insurgent camp we see nothing of the creature, and for a long time afterwards we only see through his eyes. The Jaws technique is given a spin by using the Predator’s heat vision. It’s a great way of building suspense. They drip feed us glowing eyes, shimmering outlines, close ups on hands, building effective to the reveal of an alien we hadn’t seen the likes of before.
Amazingly this movie started life as a Hollywood joke. After four Rocky films people joked about Rocky fighting an alien in order to up the stakes. Some people took the joke and developed it into Predator, and it’s in the third act that this idea really takes root. Arnie and a hardcore alien hunter beat the snot out of each other. Perhaps it’s the origins of the idea that make the film successful. It didn’t from a place of high ambition, but a simple concept done to the best of ability. It’s just a good thing they remained open minded after the initial design didn’t work out.
This movie is so much fun that it continues to permeate popular culture 30 years later. It’s dialogue gets quoted almost as much as McTiernan’s other classic, Die Hard. The character of the Predator has expanded beyond this film and its sequels to appear in comics, video games and cross-overs. The design work and concept is completely spot on, a real lightning in a bottle moment. Hell, a new meme based on the original film just started doing the rounds the past few weeks.
Obviously this isn’t some kind of artistic masterpiece. It’s a simple film at heart and the characters are borderline ridiculous. Some of the effects have aged badly, the invisibility in particular makes Predator look like a lump of jelly. But it’s gory, stupid and fun.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN
Coolest Moment: Dutch challenging the Predator to a showdown. Stupid, cheesy and perfect.
Rating the Predators: Obviously it’s the only one on the list.