A reboot of sorts is out for Predator right now in cinemas. Reviews are pretty dismal. But why is there another one? Well, it’s all thanks to the first Predator (1987), which is a macho, brooding, ludicrous sci-fi masterpiece. We’re here to celebrate it today, plus what is very possible weight lifting maniac Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performance. Stick around.
As high-concept films go, it’s very 1980s. After the likes of Alien, Aliens, and Blade Runner shook up the industry, people were starting to take science fiction seriously. Arnold Schwarzenegger was actually a big part of this in the 1980s. Despite remaining famous for his action roles, he’s always had a major part in the often geek-happy world of sci-fi. This combination worked magnificently for James Cameron’s Terminator films, but also rather splendiferously here, too.
Director John McTiernan (also famous for Die Hard, which launched Bruce Willis’ film career) heads thing up. Into the mix we have Major Dutch Schaefer (Schwarzenegger), who heads up a US Army Special Forces troop who deal with dead difficult situations. His crew includes the likes of ultra-macho Blain Cooper (Jesse Ventura on scenery chewing form as the ultra-macho man who chews tobacco and has an almightily big gun), Mac Elliot (Bill Duke), and Billy Sole (Sonny Landham).
Landham died in 2017 aged 76, but such was his troublesome reputation McTiernan had to hire some bodyguards to protect the rest of the crew from him. That fact there really shows off just how macho this production well and truly was!
Anyway, Dutch’s troop is charged with heading into the jungle to rescue some American hostages. This they do with explosive aplomb in one of the most OTT, brilliant action sequences from the 1980s. With this wrapped up, a bit of political wrangling kicks in, but all of a sudden this becomes a irrelevant. When Hawkins is wiped out (played by Shane Black, who directed the latest Predator film), the crew become concerned about what’s going on.
Gradually, as the Predator wipes out Dutch’s men one dude at a time, they have glimpses of the beast. It’s a highly advanced alien with dreadlocks – super tall, super strong, sporting invisible mode, and some really nifty weapons. It really looks like everyone is doomed – but this is Arnold Schwarzenegger, dammit, and if anyone can survive this mess, it’s The Terminator.
Machismo & Monsters
Predator remains one of the most explosive films of the 1980s, with macho man muscles sported by almost every cast member. But the film, whilst cliched in this respect, doesn’t make a mess of it. As was common at the time, there is some “eye candy” in the form of Elpidia Carrillo in one of her few film roles. To her credit, given the limitations of her role, she does a good job displaying a stoic sense of bravery. Also to the film’s credit, there’s no leering after her from the other men – they’re just doing their job and leading her to safety.
The special effects are also excellent. Early on in the product, a pre-fame Jean-Claude Van Damme was hired to portray an insect-like creature. With filming in the jungle so bloody hot (he was stuck in the suit you see below), he had a bit of a huff and was fired from the project. This led to some redesigns and, hey presto, we’ve got one of cinema’s most famous movie monsters. All thanks to humidity!
After Van Damme legged it, 7ft 2″ Kevin Peter Hall was drafted in for the more imposing monster design. Hall had, unsurprisingly, played basketball professionally when he was younger, but due to his height bagged various movie monster roles. Full credit to him here, as his performance as the monster includes remarkable body movements. So it’s with great shame a faulty blood transfusion led to his demise in 1991 of AIDS, aged only 35.
The man behind the costume dominates the film – it’s a threatening performance. But it was bolstered by some early CGI. Some of this looks a bit ropey now, but other than that a lot of effort clearly went into making the film as authentic looking as possible. The budget and skill involved pays off – the film has terrific atmosphere, excellent stunts, and committed performances. Predator is the type of film that could have easily turned into a mess, but instead we have a classic.
After Predator’s success, a sequel followed up the film in 1990 and starred Bill Paxton and Danny Glover. It’s since turned into a franchise… with increasing badness seemingly the goal. The Alien vs Predator films that have sprung up since 2004 are disastrous. Some directors have tried to restore order with quality efforts, such as the Adrien Brody vehicle Predators (2010) – it was okay. Now there’s this monstrosity…
Whilst the special effects are far better than in 1987, what appears lacking here is a decent script, subtly, and cohesion. Filmmaking is bloody difficult, so we prefer not to mock the hard work and efforts of hundreds of people, but The Predator only makes us want to go back and watch the classic original. If you haven’t yet, then head for that rather than to your 2018 cinema. It’s over 30 years old, but we’ve got time to bleed (for it).