Skip to content

CLASSICS: Predator (1987) ***1/2

July 8, 2010

 

written by: Jim Thomas & John Thomas

produced by: Joel Silver, Lawrence Gordon & John Davis

directed by: John McTiernan

rated R

107 min.

U.S. release date: June 12, 1987

DVD & Blu-ray release: June 29, 2010 (Ultimate Hunter edition)

 

Back in the late 80’s, you’d be hard-pressed to find a worthy cinematic threat, let alone antagonist, present in any Arnold Schwarzenegger film. The Austrian beefcake was king of the action blockbusters at the time and it would seem like it would take something from out of this world to pose any real threat. Well, that’s exactly what screenwriters Jim & John Thomas thought when they came up with the idea to have an alien go toe-to-toe with Ah-nuld. “Predator” landed in theaters twenty-three years ago, and it became an enormous hit as well as the first time we saw a bloodied Arnold fight for his life. It may seem tame and cheesy compared to what we see today, but back then it was an instant gratuitous sci-fi action gratification.

For those who’ve never seen what is arguably one of the greatest testosterone-fueled action films, catching it now probably won’t have the same effect as it did when it was released. Compared to the type of action films that audiences have been exposed to since 1987, this classic is now quite tame and it’s violence comes across cartoonish and cheesy. But I vividly remember leaving the theater when it was released with a taking plastered grin on my face. After all, I was smack dab in the middle of high school and it was summer break.  How could I not see this movie as a pure sc-fi geek treat?

So, I suppose this movie maintains a fond place in my cinematic heart due to nostalgia and to that, I say so be it. I’m aware there’s no deep characterization going on here. Just hot and sweaty machismo, breakneck action that will skin you alive, and one ugly looking….well, you know the rest.

 
 
 
 
 

The story is a straightforward one that sees cigar-chompin’ Delta 5 leader, Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) dropping down into the Guatemalan jungle with his hand-picked elite squad. There he meets up with an old Army buddy and current CIA liaison, Dillon (Carl Weathers), who tells him they’re job is to swoop in and grab a kidnapped cabinet minister who’s been kidnapped by unnamed guerilla forces. Dutch knows there must be more to it but as a favor to the coordinator of the mission, Maj. Gen. Phillips (R.G. Armstrong), he follows through with the mission.

As they travel into the thick of the jungle, they come across more and more suspicious sights. There’s the downed chopper and the skinned human remains the team finds strung from trees high above. Dutch is puzzled to find they were Army Special Forces and then after they take out an entire camp of indigenous rebels, he learns who those bodies were and also of a set-up he and has men have now walked into. He also learns they are not alone in the jungle and have become hunted prey by what at first seems be the jungle itself.

As their numbers are savagely depleted, only Dutch is left and in order to survive, he must strip himself of all conventional weapons and heavily rely on his own tactical know-how over his muscled-brawn. The inevitable explosive standoff pits him against a cunning and creative intergalactic predator that sees the soldier as mere sport and the conclusion is a spectacular battle royale.

While the plot isn’t breaking a whole lot of new ground, credit must be given to the pacing of the story. Ambitious director John McTiernan (whose next film would be “Die Hard”) had the arduous task of dealing with dense Mexican jungles and introducing a creature to audiences while navigating a large cast. Of course, there was also the ground-breaking special effects, that would slowly unveil this hideous hunter (Kevin Peter Hall) and would go on to earn an Academy Award for Visual Effects. No one can ever forget the first time they experienced the perspective of Predator thermal-vision or came across the glowing green blood from what was clearly an inhuman being. There’s a reason that now two sequels (let’s forget about the forgettable crossovers, shall we?) have been made around a creature that remains captivating and curious to behold on the big screen.

The screenwriters give the cast much to chew on by way of one-liners and tirelessly quotable lines. As male-heavy as it is, a pivotal role goes to Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), a quiet village girl who winds up as the team’s prisoner and sole witness of the predator. She not only tells the team that, “the jungle came alive” but she also eludes to past Predator vacation trips to our planet. But how about that supporting cast? It’s probably the only time two future Governors (Arnold and Jesse “The Body” Ventura) and one wanna-be Governor (Sonny Landham) ever rumbled in the jungle on-screen. Bill Duke, who had previously appeared with Schwarzenegger in “Commando” also appeared as Mac, a character with an obsession with disposable razors. The team was rounded out by screenwriter (“Lethal Weapon”& “The Last Boy Scout”) Shane Black starred as Hawkins, the Sgt. Rock jokester and Richard Chavez as Poncho, the Spanish-speaking with an incessant sarcastic wit. Each of these actors are given enough to do with what little time their characters inhabit the screen. None of them are characters with much depth and all of them are pretty much stock commando team characters but they sure are fun to watch.

 
 
 
 
 

Another memorable aspect of the film is the driving score by Alan Silvestri that is full of a variety of approaches to follow the action and suspense. Silvestri also composed the score for the sequel but it was here where many of the rhythms and driving horns (often repeated in the series) were introduced. It’s a memorable soundtrack that amplifies the intensity of the story, as the best soundtracks do.

Those are just some of the many reasons why this is a classic sci-fi action flick. As mentioned above, if you came to this film for the first time now, without a fond nostalgic glaze, you just won’t have the same experience. But, if you’re like me and have lost count at the amount of times you’ve caught yourself saying “If it bleeds, we can kill it” or “Get to the choppah! Go!”, well then this review need not persuade you.

I’m a firm believer that this remains one of Arnold’s best non-Terminator films as well as one of my all-time favorite action movies that I can watch over and over again. I’m sure in a couple of years, on the 25th anniversary of the film, 20th Century Fox will release yet another DVD/Blu-ray version….and I’ll be picking that one up, for sure.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: