Film Review - Predator (1987)
'Predator' is a film in which a bunch of America's finest soldiers are pitted against an unseen enemy in a Central American jungle; literally an unseen enemy, because the Predator of the title is a monstrous alien being, with a disguise which renders it virtually invisible to human eyes. The disguise isn't the only weapon in the Predator's arsenal however. It also sports high energy firepower capable of burning a half metre wide hole in a man's body, vicious claws designed for hand to hand fighting, and something even more dramatic which it can deploy as a last resort (and does in this film). The Predator is here to hunt people, and the soldiers are its target.
That's basically it. There's little plot, little dialogue, and little character development. Just seven very tough soldiers and one monstrous alien adversary. But perhaps that's all you need for a highly effective sci-fi thriller which grips the viewer almost from frame one to the closing credits.
There is a major plot spoiler later on this page, which gives away which characters survive to face the Predator in final conflict. This paragraph will be in bold type, and will be headlined.
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WHAT'S THE STORY?
A small band of elite U.S commandos led by Major Alan 'Dutch' Schaeffer are dropped into a remote jungle location in an unnamed country somewhere in central America. Their task, ostensibly, is to seak out a camp in the forest where terrorists are holding three important local politicians hostage. They are to go in, do whatever is necessary to rescue the hostages, and get out. It is to be a quick, efficient operation, and there is no one better equipped to carry out the missione
But very soon after setting foot in the jungle, it becomes clear that all is not quite as it seems. The soldiers are already suspicious, and the suspicion changes to intense concern as they find the utterly gruesome remains of a previous mission by green berets, their bodies stripped of all skin and strung up in the trees like carcases of meat in an abattoir. It is clearly no ordinary guerrilla group which has done this. Nonetheless, the commandos press on, and soon find that there is indeed a camp in the jungle populated by a small army, and there are indeed some prisoners being held by these men. The commandos' hand is very soon forced when one of the hostages is executed in front of their eyes. They act, and they act decisively. They go in with guns blazing, and despite being grossly outnumbered, there is no contest. The terrorists are wiped out with a ruthless efficiency. You get the feeling that if there had been twice as many they could have been dispatched with equal ease. It's over. The opposition is dead, and our heroes are all alive. That's it.
Except of course, the terrorists are not the real enemy in this movie. The whole of this scene serves one purpose only - to demonstrate just how tough and invincible these commandos are; mere humans are no contest for them. Which brings us to the main theme. The real enemy which lurks in the jungle (and the one which had destroyed the previous green beret mission) is not a mere human, nor even an army of humans, but something far more dangerous. The Predator of the title has come down to Earth purely for the sport of hunting humans, and as far as the Predator is concerned, the tougher the better. The soldiers make ideal prey, and from the moment of their first encounter with this alien being, the whole of the rest of the film is taken up with the Predator's relentless stalking of its prey, and the soldiers' desperate attempts to stay alive whilst figuring out ways to fight back.
MAIN CAST & CHARACTERS
Alan 'Dutch' Schaeffer
Kevin Peter Hall
FACTS OF THE FILM
DIRECTOR : John McTiernan
WRITERS / SCREENPLAY :
- Jim Thomas, John Thomas
YEAR OF RELEASE : 1987
RUNNING TIME : 107 minutes.
GENRE : Sci-Fi
GUIDENCE : Some gruesome violence. Swearing.
ACADEMY NOMINATIONS :
- Best Effects
IF YOU LIKE THIS MOVIE ...
BEST CHARACTERS / PERFORMANCES
Arnold Schwarzeneggar wouldn't ever have won any awards for acting, even if he'd stayed out of politics and continued with the acting game for the rest of his life. Having said that, some characters are ideally suited to his personality, and 'Dutch' is one such role. All he has to do is look tough, act tough and throw in a few choice wisecracks, and there's nobody better at doing that than Arnie.
All the other characters have their own individual personalities and are distinctive in appearance - important in a film where everyone does exactly the same job and dresses in the same clothes. Sonny Landham is very watchable as a proud no-nonsense commando with Indian tracker roots, while Jesse Ventura clearly enjoys himself as the most macho of the whole macho bunch, as he gets to carry the biggest gun.
The sole survivor of the guerrilla camp raid is Anna, and she is subsequently taken prisoner by the commandos. This girl is played by Elpidia Carillo. She is, to be honest about it, largely superfluous to the storyline, but she doesn't detract from it, and I guess its nice to have someone attractive to set alongside seven battle scarred soldiers and a hideous monster.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was initially hired to play the alien creature, but Van Damme quit soon after filming commenced as the role was too much of a bit-part. Also, Van Damme isn't really all that tall, and it would have looked a bit odd if the monster had been smaller than the commandos, several of whom were played by seriously big, muscle-bound gentlemen. After Van Damme quit, the monster was completely redesigned and given a new look, and it was eventually played by Kevin Peter Hall, a 7' 2" tall actor (who played the Bigfoot in 'Harry and the Hendersons' that same year of 1987).
Kevin Peter Hall actually gets to appear with his own human face in a very brief cameo role; he is the black helicopter pilot at the end of the film. He went on to play the title role in Predator 2, but sadly died soon after filming as a result of transfusion-related AIDS.
The Predator's mandibles were the brainchild of film director James Cameron.
One of the seven commandos has another life in Hollywood. Shane Black, who plays the bespectacled Hawkins, is actually a screenplay writer first and foremost. He wrote the script of 'Lethal Weapon' and he also contributed to the script of Schwarzenegger's 'Last Action Hero,' and was for a while the highest paid writer in Hollywood. It's believed he was selected to play Hawkins partly so that he could also act in an advisory capacity on script changes.
Any scene involving the Predator is good, because the idea behind this creature is so clever. Maybe today CGI could make for more realistic effects still, but I think the Predator was unique as a monster which was almost invisible, but not quite, and irredeemably ugly and inhuman, yet somehow capable of conveying intelligence as it considers its tactics and outmaneuvres its human foe.
(Plot Spoiler) Considerable time is devoted at the end of the film to the final conflict. It has come down to just two adversaries - the Predator (of course) and 'Dutch', the last man standing. The battle between these two is well executed; on the face of it, 'Dutch' has no chance when it comes to hand to hand combat, and so it requires some skillful fight choreography to make this a believeably equal contest.
This is not a film notable for its erudite dialogue; we're dealing with action men and aliens after all, so most of the conversation between the characters is not clever, and is liberally sprinkled with mild swearing. But there is some wit to some of the exchanges and a dry humour which is a welcome relief from the blood, gore and terror. One nice exchange which serves to highlight the mentality of the soldiers in battle comes during the fight with the guerillas, when Poncho happens upon Blain who is intent on putting an end to a few more of the enemy. Poncho notices some blood on Blain's clothing.
Poncho: 'You're bleeding, man. You're hit'.
Blain: 'I ain't got time to bleed'.
Poncho: 'Oh, OK'.
Poncho then hurls a few grenades into a group of rebels on slightly higher ground above them, and awaits the inevitable blast.
'You got time to duck'?
Predator is a film which knows its real strengths and sticks to them, ignoring all other aspects of film-making. Thus, Predator is strong on action, fear and suspense, horror and special effects, but no one is ever going to expect Shakespearean quality in the script. Sure enough the film is thin on good dialogue and character development (although there's nothing bad in what we see or hear from the actors). For this reason, Predator certainly won't appeal to everyone, and most viewers will probably either love it or dismiss it as trivial.
The battle in the guerrilla camp is fine, but what is it all about? I've never quite been able to work out who these people are, what Anna's role in the camp is, who the hostages are, or how much Dillon (the CIA man in the Commando team) really knows about this operation. That's a bit irritating, but does it really matter? As already mentioned, the terrorists are just an appetiser before the main course; all that really matters is that our seven commandos are stuck in the jungle with a monster.
WHAT'S SO GOOD ABOUT IT?
The main appeal of this film for most people is a rather perverse one; there's something satisfying about seeing a bunch of rough, tough, no nonsense macho guys who know how good they are, come up against an adversary who's even rougher and tougher, meaner and more macho than they are. Suddenly these men who know no equal when it comes to violent efficiency, discover that they are no longer the kings of the jungle.
The other big appeal of this movie is the special effects. A creature that can only be seen as a strange and hazy shape in the trees is a novel way of introducing the Predator. The script cleverly reveals the true form of the Predator slowly over the course of the whole film - first we just see the world through the creature's eyes, then we see its clawed hand and then its hazy shape, and it's only towards the end of the film that we see the Predator in all its glory. This technique keeps the suspense and mystery intact all the way through the movie.
The basic story is full of tension, yet simple and easy to follow, and the action never lets up.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
If you insist on clever dialogue and complex characters, intricate plots, and thought provoking themes, then this isn't the film for you. But what qualities Predator delivers, it delivers to perfection. It is without doubt one of the most stylish and powerful sci-fi films ever made which will appeal to fans of horror, fans of sci-fi, and fans of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
SOME OF MY OTHER ACTION AND ADVENTURE FILM REVIEWS
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
This is a review of the first episode in one of the most successful and profitable of all blockbuster series. This is light-hearted Hollywood adventure at its best
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The second outing for Spielberg's intrepid adventurer takes him to India, and encounters with crazed mystics, holy stones, and swarms of insects, and features a high octane concoction of thrills, spills, magic, gruesome comedy and an evil villain
- Master and Commander: The Far Side of ...
Russell Crowe is Captain Jack Aubrey in a tale of two dueling ships during the Napoleonic era. The Acheron is a tough, fast, state of the art French warship and more than a match for Aubrey's H.M.S Surprise. But Aubrey must find a way to defeat it