Arnold in his prime. An otherworldy killer. The ultimate showdown.
If #17 doesn’t get your testosterone pumping, nothing will.
More muscles and manly handshakes than you can poke a sharpened spike at, it’s an 80s action classic if ever there was one.
So unless you ain’t got time to bleed, stick around…
#17. Predator (1987) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall. Directed by John McTiernan.
If there was ever a film that perfectly-encapsulates all things Arnold Schwarzenegger, it has to be Predator.
It has action, it has suspense, multiple one-liners and iconic quotes, as well as more than its fair share of testosterone-fuelled, eighties machismo.
It’s all Arnold – all the time.
But seriously, Predator is a brilliant movie. Directed by the highly-underrated John McTiernan (who would later give us the quintessential action movie in Die Hard), this film about a team of elite soldiers hunted by an alien foe created a lasting legacy few could have predicted.
Since its release in 1987, Predator has become much more than just a movie. In fact, it is nothing short of a phenomenon; a globally-recognised franchise that Hollywood is still milking. It has spawned multiple sequels, comic books and toys still sought after by pop-culture nerds to this day.
As I said, McTiernan certainly knew how to make an action film. And at only one-hundred-and-seven minutes, Predator is a pretty brief watch compared to some of the so-called ‘epics’ released these days. The film is perfectly paced. No time is wasted. Yet, we get all the information we need, little-by-little, to help the story move along and deliver some of the greatest movie moments of all time.
One ever-so-small nitpick I do have with the movie, is that I wish the introductory scene with the spacecraft entering Earth’s atmosphere had been deleted from the final film. It’s a tiny little grievance, but that one moment immediately informs the audience there’s something extra-terrestrial at play, and as such, we’re already a step ahead of the other characters before they’re even introduced.
But when they are introduced, we can’t help but love each and every one of them. Dutch’s elite military rescue team arrives on the scene as a diverse cast of misfits: War buddies, Mac (Bill Duke) and Blain (Jesse Ventura), the awkward Hawkins (Shane Black), stoic Poncho (Richard Chaves) and everybody’s favourite… Billy (Sonny Landham).
McTiernan allows each of these grunts to be personalised by both their idiosyncrasies and overall image. Case in point: While they’re all essentially dressed the same in identically-coloured combat gear, each of their facial camouflage designs are wholly unique. It’s a subtle touch that helps set them apart from one another amidst a jungle environment that threatens to diffuse their individuality.
No sooner have we met this raging torrent of testosterone, than we come across Dillon (Carl Weathers), CIA agent, former commando and pal of Dutch, who now seems more at home ‘pushing pencils’ than getting down and dirty in the field.
Weathers is wonderful in this movie. Like his role of Apollo Creed, he once again finds himself portraying a former warrior now confined to a suit and tie. But that’s where Weathers shines. His inability to give up his old ways threatens to hamper Dutch’s team when they’re whisked away on a covert mission to rescue government cabinet ministers from Central American insurgents.
Or so they think.
After discovering a crashed helicopter and three skinned corpses of several Green Berets, (one of whom might just end up being the Jim Hopper from Stranger Things) Dutch’s team quickly attacks and destroys the local insurgent camp in one of the utmost all-out action gunfights ever recorded on film.
Taking out the guerrilla camp is not only a fantastic set piece; it serves the story as well. It helps establish just how good Dutch’s team is. Despite being outnumbered, they easily take out the enemy in a matter of minutes without a single casualty (on their side).
No wonder the Predator sees them as worthy prey.
It doesn’t take long to realise the mission is a little more devious than first thought, when Dillon is discovered to be in on the ruse; a duplicitous plan to get Dutch and his team to do the government’s dirty work after the previous rescue team disappeared.
Dillon being used as a turncoat-type character works to add conflict among the team. It adds a challenge to overcome before the monster shows up. As such, Dillon becomes as much of an outsider to the group as their new guerrilla hostage and exposition-delivery-device, Anna (Elpidia Carrillo).
Having set up its characters, their obvious military prowess and a minor villain, the movie quickly moves into the meat of the story by introducing its antagonist: The Predator, the titular villain and in my opinion, the main reason this film works as well as it does.
Designed by the legendary Stan Winston, with help from fellow visionary, James Cameron, the Predator is an intergalactic adversary like no other. The idea of an alien killer was certainly nothing new, even in 1987, but a creature that hunts using a sophisticated, chameleon-like, cloaked camouflage was altogether unique to audiences of the time.
Like Jaws before it, for most of its runtime, Predator only teases us with rare glimpses of the creature, letting our imaginations run wild to haunt us as long as possible. Its fluorescent green blood and glowing eyes are a nice touch; a way for the audience to track the invisible stalker while the characters cannot. It also leads us to Dutch’s famous line, now synonymous with this movie…
Add to that, the now-iconic concept of a being that sees through a spectrum similar to heat-vision, and you get an otherworldly element that helps raise the tension and create even more intrigue.
Personally, I love that the Predator not only camouflages its body, but that it mimics the sounds of its prey. Starting with the cackle of crows, it soon takes on phrases of Mac’s, such as “Over here,” and “Anytime,” and even Billy’s boisterous laugh, all sampled as it watches Dutch’s team post-victory.
The African-styled war mask, the dreadlock-like mane and of course, as we see later in the film, its deadly mandibles, all combine to give the Predator a look worthy of the icon it became, given life by the late-great performer, Kevin Peter Hall.
As the story continues, we quickly lose Hawkins and Blain, the death of the latter causing a noticeable shift in the sanity of Mac.
Mac becomes obsessed with hunting down the creature to avenge Blain, who he describes to Dutch as … “My friend…”
But is there more to it than that?
Looking back at that scene over the years, the fan-theory that Mac and Blain may be a little more than just friends begins to make a lot of sense. Bill Duke’s delivery of that line is an interesting choice to say the least. He pauses before saying, “my friend,” as though there’s more to it. Not to mention, Dutch’s reaction is one of utter surprise.
It’s very subtle, and if there is something to the “they were lovers” theory, I wonder if it was just Duke either adding something himself… or he may have simply overacted his delivery.
Either way, for the remainder of the film, Mac inches closer and closer to psychosis, even outright chasing after the wounded Predator to his own rendition of Long Tall Sally.
This small section of the movie is perhaps the Predator at its most vulnerable. Unlike the others, when it kills Mac, it dispenses with the mind games and executes him as quickly as possible. It also doesn’t bother making a trophy of Mac, as it does with Blain and later, Billy, as though its short battle against the crazed soldier was more defensive in nature.
We don’t get to mourn Mac for long, as the movie almost-instantly hurls the death of another main character at us. Dillon’s redemption is short lived, but when he’s taken out (in one of the Predator’s more brutal kills), we do feel bad for him. It’s not just a case of getting his comeuppance like many characters of his ilk, proof of Weathers’ ability to craft a multi-dimensional performance.
At this point, I can’t go on without mentioning Alan Silvestri’s amazing score. I truly believe it’s one of the best movie themes of all time, right up there with the work of John Williams on films like Star Wars, Superman: The Movie and Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s haunting, it’s ominous, it suggests the supernatural, but then it also expands into a fully-fledged fanfare right when we need it most.
Predator continues to off its cast, similar to structure of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None… even foreshadowing its own final act with Billy’s last stand. When he challenges the Predator, we know things won’t end well, but McTiernan spares us from witnessing Billy’s no-doubt gruesome demise. Like the aforementioned Jaws, Alien and even The Blair Witch Project, less is more, allowing our imaginations to piece together the gory details.
Once Dutch finds himself alone for the final act, I consider it to be one of the best in action movie history. As he prepares for death, surrounded by the logs of fallen trees (symbolically replacing his fallen brothers), we finally get our first fully-fledged look at the creature, as it emerges from the water like some sort of aquatic demon.
If you can ignore the real-life physics of the concept, and accept it on face-value, the cold mud masking Dutch from the Predator’s sight spectrum is a terrific narrative device that turns the tables on the beast.
The montage that follows (everybody needs a montage) with Dutch setting up his various booby traps and reapplying his mud before outright challenging the Predator, is wonderful stuff. McTiernan gives us a nice contrast by cutting between Dutch and the Predator as each prepares for their final battle against the other.
Schwarzenegger certainly invokes his former character of Conan the Barbarian with his defiant war cry as he almost regresses into something a little less than human. Only by embracing a more primitive approach does Dutch stand any chance against his technologically-superior foe, while the Predator arrogantly heats its gauntlet blades.
McTiernan’s direction also cleverly has Dutch survey the area in which he’ll make his stand through the use of several establishing shots. They subconsciously give the viewers the lay of the land, so when the action kicks off (in the dark, no less), we know Dutch’s surroundings and are aware of the traps he has set.
The story keeps its villain strong though, eventually overcoming Dutch’s ambush. And just when we think Dutch might be safe due to his lack of weaponry (“No Sport”), the Predator changes the rules and decides to fight unarmed, removing its mask to reveal it’s true face.
What I particularly like about the final confrontation is that the Predator figures out Dutch’s plan with its wily intellect. He sees the little spikes that would seal his fate and refuses to fall for the trap as so many inept movie villains tend to do.
It’s only through Dutch’s quick thinking that he barely manages to defeat the thing. And even then, Dutch actually shows mercy when he sees the Predator is mortally wounded. But that gives the creature time to pull one last trick from its sleeve by triggering a self-destruct system – along with Billy’s now-infamous laugh.
Dutch’s victory is bittersweet. He finally “gets to the chopper.” But his team is gone.
And he’ll never be the same again.
Thankfully, like any great stage play, we get a curtain call of sorts, to see our characters one last time. It’s sad to be sure, but it does leave us with a sense of satisfaction as the credits begin to roll.
Once again, Predator really is an extraordinary movie, filled with heart-pounding action, gripping suspense and astute storytelling. I sincerely feel the movie is often overlooked as just another dumb action film, or a typical ‘Arnold’ movie, when in reality, it is right up there with the best of any action / adventure, horror or even science fiction story available.
Its various quotes have become part of the pop-culture lexicon over the years, with phrases like “Get to the chopper!”, “If it bleeds, we can kill it,”, and of course, “You are one ugly motherf**ker,” ingrained in the Hollywood psyche.
In today’s CGI-infested, short-attention span movie culture, Predator stands the test of time to remain a worthy addition to my 40 for 40, and a film that will continue to attract new fans as the years roll on.
Just keep your eyes on the trees…
Rating: 4 out of 5 Goddamn sexual tyrannosaurs.
Favourite Moment: Dutch takes on the Predator one-on-one.
Honourable Mention: “GET TO THE CHOPPA!”
Next week: #16 – “No, I am your father…”
If you’re looking for more Predator greatness, check out Episode #58 of our podcast!