– Summary –
Director : John McTiernan
Year Of Release : 1987
Principal Cast : Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Richard Chavez, Bill Duke, Elpidia Carrillo.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of mercenaries are sent into the jungle to rescue some kidnapped presidential aide, taken hostage by renegade operatives. However, the mercenaries soon come to realise that they aren’t alone in the jungle, as a creature intent on hunting them down lurks in amongst the darkness.
What we think : Balls to the wall, this movie is the shit. Far and away one of Arnie’s most quotable films, aside from the Terminator franchise, Predator set the bar for 20th Century Fox really, really high. The second of the studio’s major monster franchises, after the Aliens films, Predator is a truly extraordinary example of an action film done right. Terrifying, hilarious, bloody and fingernail destroying, Predator remains in the upper echelon of sci-fi action films to come out of the 80’s.
It seemed, during the 80’s, that Arnold Schwarzenegger could do no wrong. Almost every film he appeared in was an enormous financial success. His ability to touch a nerve with audiences around the world would not only propel him to stardom, but give us one of Hollywood’s greatest ever box office draws. With a string of relatively successful box office films behind him, including the campy Conan series, The Terminator, Red Sonja and the bloody Commando, Arnie was becoming well known as a major action star. As if he needed to become typecast, producer Joel Silver and his team approached Arnie with the script to a monster flick entitled Predator. Set in a tropical jungle, and featuring an unstoppable alien creature, intent on hunting him down, Arnie saw potential for the role and for the film’s success. Directed by 80’s action supremo John McTiernan, a man who would go on to helm the 1st and 3rd Die Hard films, Predator had the perfect recipe – throw a bunch of brute-force mercenaries armed to the teeth into a jungle, and then have them chased down by an unstoppable alien killing machine. The result: cinema gold.
Predator remains, to date, one of the most oft quoted films in history, up alongside Aliens as an “every line is a classic” example of great 80’s action cinema escapism. The film centers around a group of mercenaries, led by Dutch (Arnie), who are sent into a Guatemalan jungle ostensibly to rescue a presidential cabinet minister (who’s probably wishing he’d taken the plane instead) taken hostage by some rebels. After engaging the rebels in a firefight, they discover that their mission is a sham, and the CIA agency responsible for their engagement has, effectively, shafted them. As the team move towards the extraction point, they are pursued by a near-invisible, highly weaponized life-form that sees in infrared – an alien creature intent on hunting them down for sport. One by one, the team are decimated in a variety of gruesome methods, until only Dutch is left to fight the creature alone and unarmed.
Predator is a mans movie. It’s the kind of film that has testicles and, to borrow a phrase used in Ocean’s 11, a big swinging dick. There’s more testosterone per second than an entire three seasons of The Big Bang Theory. No doubt pumped up on ‘roids, half the cast look like a Mr Olympus competition, and the other half feel like redneck rejects from Alabama. Alongside Arnie, the likes of Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and Sonny Landham strut their muscular, sweaty selves through this film with the subtlety of gunpowder in a kindergarten. Jaws clenched, biceps flexing, it’s almost like Weathers and Arnie had some kind of bet on as to who’d look the most ripped (hint, it’s Arnie) as the cast jostle for prime cool-factor in the film. Throw in Hollywood screenwriter Shane Black (playing a role quite similar to that of Radar in the M*A*S*H TV series), Bill Duke and Richard Chaves, and you have a cast of big egos who all, thanks to McTiernan, get a chance to shine. The film has, in the years since, been the topic of many a Hollywood gossip: according to various sources, a bodyguard was hired to protect the cast and crew from the increasingly unstable Sonny Landham, whose character on-screen was surprisingly similar to his real-world personality: completely nuts. Not only that, but talks of secret body-building sessions at 3am, chronic bouts of gastro among the cast and crew due to filming in Mexico, as well as difficult filming conditions all led to a sense that perhaps the best action in Predator was off-screen rather than on it. That said, Predator is one of the most effective monster-action-thrillers of the 80’s, and in no small way either.
The story itself isn’t what you’d term a highbrow concept – it’s like somebody decided the best way to get teenage boys into the cinema without showing boobs was to have the three other things boys liked: muscles, guns and aliens. Damn, those Hollywood boys came up with a ripper. The script is peppered with corny lines, most of which are delivered with all the tobacco-chewing square jawed machismo the almost all-male cast can muster – which is a fair bit, I have to admit. All of the boys, from Arnie down to the scrawny Shane Black, deliver their lines like they’re reading Tolstoy, which is perhaps where the ironic humour the film has comes from. The now iconic repartee between Jesse Ventura’s Blain and Richard Chaves’ Ramirez, in which Blain states that he doesn’t have time to bleed, to which Ramirez responds with a volley of grenades into the Bad Guys bunker and a blithely sarcastic “Yeah? You got time to duck?”, remains one of the high points of the scripts modest comedic value. This isn’t Shakespeare. It’s pure, beer-addled blokey brutality. Bloody, violent and in-your-face action, large scale destruction and some awesome weapons to boot. The sight of Jesse Ventura striding through the undergrowth, the massive barrel of the mini-gun he hoists about like it’s made of cardboard is pure, sweaty ball-swinging man-love. The camera loves this kind of thing, the kind of film Michael Bay might wish to make with his obvious penchant for what has often been described as “military porn”. Taking that word coinage and aiming it at Predator, makes this film the kind of heterosexual gay-porn wet dream you would bust a nut over.
The only female in the cast, Elpidia Carrillo, plays Anna, the unfortunately feminine guerrilla captive of the mercenary group, who is dragged along as an informant when the mission goes south. She’s not the worlds greatest actor, nor is she the stunning token breast-fest you usually find in a genre piece like this. Instead, she provides the film with the “angry female archetype” character, who spits in the face of Arnie and knows how to keep herself from being killed…. mainly by making sure the men stand between her and the alien. McTiernan’s camera offers token love towards her, instead remaining focused on the primary mission of the film – to scare the shit out of you, gross you out, and keep that heart-rate up.
As far as the production of the film goes, Predator raised the bar to other films, and stood there afterwards, waving down at those poor imitators. Musically, the score by the legendary Alan Silvestri is spot on: a stunning malevolence and echo of what’s happening on-screen increased the tension within the film overall. The timpani rolls, the staccato du-du-du-du-du-doh of the creepy, eerie alien theme as it hunts our heroes, the brassy horn section giving us the chest thumping moments: Silvestri’s first major action score remains one of the most imitated across the 80’s films that followed. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect blend of visuals and music. The films glorious visual style, from the lush green jungles to the creepy infrared POV of the Predator creature, are captured by the amazing lenswork of Aussie DP Donald McAlpine, a man whose work on local films such as Don’s Party, My Brilliant Career and Breaker Morant allowed him the stepping stone to Hollywood. McAlpine captures the sweaty braggadocio of Predator, from Arnie’s rippling muscles, the ugly Predator finale reveal, to the gung-ho gunbattles and firefights, each facet brought into your face with an eloquent, simple style. Editor (now Director) Mark Helfrich cut this film superbly, alongside John Fink, the slow-build of the first half amping up the tension before the carnage is unleashed in the last. McTiernan’s keen eye for the story, coupled with the really sweet editorial decisions (especially not to show much of the Predator early on) make Predator a genuine film lesson in action storytelling.
Today, Predator is seen as something of a mini-classic, especially when it’s since spawned two sequels (Predator 2 and the most recent, Predators) as well as a duo of clashes with the other Fox property, the Alien franchise. While the sequels and off-shoots are often described as lackluster by most critics, the reverence and awe with which this original film is held remains as deserved now as ever. Sure, the story ain’t that flash, and the “acting” is virtually non-existent (unless blokes chewing through such classics as “I’m a goddam sexual tyrannosaurus!” is your evidence of the superiority of humanity) but this isn’t a film for soft-cocks and whingers. This is a mans movie, a movie for blokes who like steak, beer and bad-ass dogs that swallow purse puppies like Paris Hilton’s and shit out collars. And in what is the most amazing thing about it all, the film hasn’t dated one iota in the years since. The creepy infrared effects still hold up, and while perhaps lacking the crisp, high definition sheen more modern productions display by the reel, Predator remains as cool now as it did then. Exciting, jarring and (for the time) game changing, Predator is one of the small number of films you can list as genuine genre classics.