Director: John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Jesse Ventura, Kevin Peter Hall
Words – Nathan Scatcherd
“If it bleeds, we can kill it.”
“I ain’t got time to bleed.”
“GET TO THE CHOPPER!”
I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this, you know all the lines.
Predator is simply one of those films which planted itself in the popular culture landscape upon its release in 1987, and has stayed prominent over thirty years since in the minds of sci-fi action movie fans everywhere.
Following James Cameron’s Aliens from the previous year, it’s obvious the film was an attempt to ride the contemporary trend for a certain kind of alien monster movie action (although it’s more of a cult film than Cameron’s gung-ho crowd-pleaser, and as a whole, Predator has charms very much its own). The film would launch director John McTiernan into the big leagues of action film-making – he would of course go on to make Die Hard a year after this – and showcases a consummate muscle-flexing, vowel-manging action hero performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger was by this point one of the biggest movie stars in the world – people knew him as Conan; John Matrix; The mother-flipping Terminator – and it was arguably his star power that drew audiences to Predator, which could have easily been written off as another alien movie trying to cash in quick. Of course, the cult of personality surrounding Arnie has had no small part in sustaining the film’s general popularity since then, although the film does amount to more than a simple vehicle for The Austrian Oak.
Our story is appealingly uncomplicated. A team of soldiers, led by Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Schwarzenegger), are dropped into the (fictional) Val Verde jungle along with CIA agent and former commando Dillon (Weathers), an old friend of Dutch’s (who Dutch is nevertheless hesitant to have along). They are told they are to be rescuing allies being held hostage by rebels in the jungle, although they soon find their efforts at rescue are in vain, as they realise they are the ones being hunted… and not by any mere rebels. What is, for its first hour or so, an entertaining if fairly standard ‘men on a mission’ movie slowly becomes a tense game of cat and mouse, as these hardened military men are picked off by a (mostly) unseen hunter until – much like Ripley towards the end of Ridley Scott’s Alien – it’s down to Dutch and the titular predator in a one on one battle of wits as much as brawn.
Dutch’s team is made up of a solid cast of character actors; Bill Duke as the unhinged Mac and Jesse Ventura as the team’s “God damn sexual tyrannosaurus” tracker Blain are particular highlights, and Shane Black (who would go on to direct Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys) is the team’s wiry, smart-mouthed radio operator.
Shane Black is due to helm the upcoming The Predator movie, and it’ll be fascinating to see what he does with his return to the franchise, this time in the director’s chair.
Of course, the titular Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) is as much a star of the film as Arnie. Despite not being visible for much of the film (a neat trick which no doubt saved a ton of money on special effects), the extraterrestrial hunter makes its presence felt with chilling tactical precision, picking off its prey, skinning them and taking their spinal columns with skulls still attached.
Anna Gonsalves (Carrillo), the local guerrilla woman the team take with them, calls it “the demon who makes trophies of men”, and that’s pretty much the Predator’s whole MO right there; an alien hunter who sees Dutch and his men as worthy quarry, and fancies a few new spinal column CD racks.
The Predator’s design, by the great Stan Winston, would of course go on to become an instantly recognisable piece of sci-fi iconography; a sleek, tribal, instantly marketable alien badass which has gone on to inspire comic books, video games and all other manner of merchandise (as well as of course three ‘official’ sequels and two Alien vs. Predator movies) based pretty much solely off how cool it looks. The original design during production featured a long neck, backwards-bent legs and a Cyclopean eye; due to the difficulties of filming the design in the jungle environment, the idea was scrapped and Winston had to come up with something else in short order.
The rest, as they say, is history, and over thirty years later, the Predator remains one of the most intriguing sci-fi monster figures, with a primal code of honour and apparent dark sense of humour (the Predator takes vocal recordings of its prey, and uses this to laugh mockingly at Dutch during their climactic chase/fight).
Predator is over thirty years old now, and stands up as a prime example of violent, darkly funny, macho-laden 80s action goodness. And of course, the Predator itself remains one ugly mother…
You know the line.