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Should I Watch..? Predator
What's the big deal?
Predator is an action sci-fi film released in 1987 and was directed by John McTiernan, the director of Die Hard (1). It was the first film to feature the alien hunter also known as the Predator and would go on to spawn two sequels - Predator 2 (2) and Predators (3) - as well as appearing in cross-over films with another legendary space-based lifeform such as Alien Vs Predator (4). Despite negative reviews at the time, opinion has shifted over time and it has since appeared on a number of "best of" lists. The film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Landham, Bill Duke, Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura as elite special forces operatives attempting a hostage rescue in the jungle but forced into battle with an invisible, technologically advanced enemy.
What's it about?
Major Alan Schaefer, known as Dutch, leads his squad of six elite Special Forces agents into the jungles of Val Verde to rescue an official who has been kidnapped by local insurgents. CIA agent George Dillon, an old friend of Dutch, is assigned to the mission to supervise. Dropped off at a remote location, they begin making their way through the jungle and soon uncover a crashed helicopter and a number of bodies that have been skinned. After eventually taking out the insurgents, Dillon admits to Dutch that his true purpose is to discover what happened to the previous team sent in by the CIA and to gather intelligence.
They apprehend female guerrilla fighter Anna and proceed with caution to the extraction point, unaware that they are being followed by an invisible alien hunter equipped with advanced weaponry and thermal imaging. As his men are picked off one by one, Dutch realises that there is something far more deadly waiting for them than the local militia...
Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer
Kevin Peter Hall
The Predator / helicopter pilot
Jim Thomas & John Thomas
Release Date (UK)
1st January, 1988
Academy Award Nomination
Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Derided at the time for being poorly written, it strikes me that only a critic would watch Predator for its story. Instead, what they should have written about was how this is a brilliantly tense and thrilling watch despite its silly macho cast and sillier plot (the idea originally stemmed from a joke in Hollywood at the time about Rocky's next opponent being an alien like ET (5)). McTiernan knows how to direct an action film and he doesn't disappoint with Predator but unlike his later and more successful film Die Hard, he keeps the action to a minimum and allows the threat and tension to raise to unbearable levels as the creature stalks our heroes one by one.
Schwarzenegger leads possibly the most muscle-bound cast outside of an Expendables (6) movie and displays for the first time that he can do something other than monosyllabic monsters. You can sense his fear as well as that of the others. Effects are also pretty good, given the age of the film, and Hall's performance as the alien is first-class and creates the myth of the beast in just one film. Despite the situation clearly being the stuff of fantasy, you still kinda buy into the film because of the performances of the cast. Even future Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura is memorable with butch one-liners and an enormous mini-gun.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator but he was dropped for being too short - 5' 9" compared to an average height of the rest of the cast of between 6' 2" - 6' 5". Kevin Peter Hall, who was later cast as the alien, stood 7' 2".
- Sonny Landham was only hired after the insurance company insisted he had a bodyguard at all times. He was there not to protect the actor but everyone else from Landham who had a reputation for starting bar brawls and fights.
- Shane Black, who plays Hawkins, is better known as a screenwriter who wrote films such as Lethal Weapon (7), The Last Action Hero (8) and Iron Man 3 (9).
What's not to like?
The addition of Carrillo felt almost superfluous to the film other than to provide scary testimony to the alien's raw power. Plus, her performance also wasn't the strongest either - she never looked as fearful as the rest of the cast, as though she'd grown up alongside the Predator and knew he wouldn't hurt her. And it goes without saying that while the effects were good at the time, they would benefit from a digital touch-up for a Blu-Ray release.
The problem with Predator is that it's simply too macho. Even a handshake is replaced with humungous arms gripping each other, sweat glistening off improbably big biceps. At times, it almost feels like a homo-erotic action movie! And what starts off as a standard action movie descends into familiar territory, especially if you've seen the likes of Alien (10), as our band of heroes are picked off in increasingly gruesome ways. It doesn't offer much in the way of surprise, except when the creature appears to dispatch another cast member. It's great at building the tension up but somehow, it never seems to get to the point of making you jump out of your seat or scream in terror.
Should I watch it?
It may be strictly for a male audience and especially one that doesn't mind the odd flaw here and there but Predator remains an exciting and tense blast of old-school action. It does feel a little derivative and almost silly at times but the performances from Schwarzenegger and the rest make up for the daft plot and redundant characterisation. It's not about being clever or being an allusion to anything - this is big men with big guns hunting a big alien in a big jungle. End of.
Great For: boys night in, action fans, the makeup department
Not So Great For: the squeamish, children, anyone wanting a woman kick ass
What else should I watch?
Having not seen Robert Rodriguez's 2010 sequel Predators, I cannot comment on that yet. But Predator 2 was a disappointing waste of the character which moves the action from a real jungle to the concrete jungle of Los Angeles and replaces Schwarzenegger's nail-spitting super soldier with Danny Glover's sweaty cop. It's OK but hardly a classic.
As a result, I'm afraid that I prefer the Alien franchise instead. The first film is a brilliantly tense face-off between a terrified crew and an unstoppable alien creature, making it feel more like a horror film than a straight-forward shooter. However, James Cameron's Aliens (11) is much more like it as it counters the alien's sheer weight of numbers with serious military hardware. It's worth noting that the Alien movies feature Sigourney Weaver's Ripley as the protagonist which gives the films an added edge over stuff like Predator where you still want to back Schwarzenegger in battle even when it's just him. Ripley feels vulnerable and scared and this is what makes the movies so good.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox