September 13, 2018
This week, the latest movie in the recent trend of sequels/reboots of classic flicks hits the screen with The Predator. It seems like a good time for Cinema Fearité to take a look at the beloved creature feature that kicked off the franchise, 1987’s Predator.
Predator stars action hero-turned California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator, Commando) as Dutch, a U.S. Special Forces soldier who is called into a Central American jungle by an old friend, a CIA agent named Dillon (Carl Weathers, better known as Apollo Creed from Rocky), to help rescue some officials who have been kidnapped by insurgents. Dutch and his men find the insurgents, but they also discover that another team of U.S. Soldiers is following the party as well. When the smoke clears after the inevitable showdown, Dutch and his men realize that they aren’t the only hunters in the jungle. While they have been tracking their subjects, a perfect killing machine from another world (played by Kevin Peter Hall, who also played the alien in Without Warning and the mutant bear in Prophecy) has been tracking them – and the ruthless alien visitor is not friendly.
John McTiernan (Die Hard, Last Action Hero) directed Predator from a script that was written by brothers Jim and John Thomas (Wild Wild West). That’s a lot of action movie clout. And, for the first half, Predator does play out like a Rambo-type military exercise movie. It’s when the hunters become the hunted that Predator becomes a creature feature. It’s still got plenty of action, but the stunt work is directed towards fighting a fierce monster instead of mere mortal combat. Although Predator does contain some surprisingly nuanced subtext about the American military and its role in the Vietnam War, the movie is, first and foremost, a popcorn-munching monster slug-fest.
The testosterone flows like a raging river in Predator. From the very first meaningful scene in which Dutch and Dillon are reunited and their handshake turns into an arm wrestling match, the viewer knows that Predator is a macho movie. There’s one single female character in the mix, a woman named Anna (The Border’s Elpidia Carrillo) who is “rescued” by Dutch and the boys from the insurgents, but most of the cast spends as much time flexing their muscles as they do fighting the Predator.
And there are plenty of muscles to be flexed. As if Schwarzenegger and Weathers weren’t enough manliness for the movie, former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura (who also appeared with Schwarzenegger in The Running Man, and went on to become the Governor of Minnesota – yes, two future governors are in in this one) shows up as Blain, a big soldier who carries an even bigger machine gun (which he seems to shoot with one hand). Sonny Landham (The Warriors) plays Dutch’s no-nonsense Native American tracker. Shane Black (best known as the writer of Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad), Bill Duke (American Satan) and Richard Chaves (“War of the Worlds”) round out the team of mercenaries. Lots of biceps and triceps.
Those biceps and triceps earn their paychecks, too. Although Predator is almost slasher-like in its stalk-and-kill methodology, there are very few genuine scares in the film. It’s all action. Schwarzenegger and his cronies spend a lot of time (and bullets) shooting into the trees at an enemy that they can’t see (there’s that nuanced subtext about Vietnam) before taking to more desperate measures that include everything from hand grenades to Ka-Bar knives. Bodies fly, guts spill, and Schwarzenegger saves the day. It’s the type of movie that makes audiences cheer, even if they don’t fully understand why.
There are two cool visual tricks in Predator that have become signatures of the movie. The first is the POV shot from the predator himself in which the hunter spots his prey with heat vision. The image of the bright yellow and orange subject juxtaposed with the blues and greens of the cold surrounding forest has become synonymous with Predator; it is what comes immediately to mind when people think about the movie. The second is the way the predator moves. The beast can camouflage itself with its surroundings, giving it the appearance of being invisible. The movie uses a slick ripple-motion effect to show the hidden creature that appears almost as if the predator is moving too fast for its chameleonic changes to keep up. It’s an awesome effect that, along with some bloody gore gags and the fearsome appearance of the beast itself once it is revealed, netted Predator its only Oscar nomination, one for Best Visual Effects that it lost to Inner Space.
Prolific film composer Alan Silvestri, who has scored everything from Cat’s Eye and What Lies Beneath to The Avengers and Ready Player One, wrote the score for Predator. Silvestri knows exactly what kind of movie Predator is, and his soundtrack reflects that. There are no horror stings anywhere, it’s all orchestral music that is highly militaristic, with pounding percussion and shouting horns. It’s the type of score that pumps its audience up for the fight. There’s no suspense or fear, only the sounds of impending victory, in Silvestri’s score for Predator.
Predator would go on to spawn two sequels (not counting the third coming this week), as well as a crossover with the titular character from the Alien franchise. None of them compare to the original Predator, though. Not even close.