It’s not often I review films that majority of the general public know about (haha). I spend most of my time helping out the little guy, but occasionally I make an exception. The year was 1987, Arnold Swartznegger was at the peak of his career, coming off the 1984 blockbuster hit, Terminator. Directed by John McTiernan, with a script written by Jim and John Thomas, Arnie took the lead role of Major Dutch Schaefer in “Predator”, an Action/Sci-fi film set in the South American jungle. It’s about a team of special force commandos, whom are sent on a rescue mission deep in the jungle and find themselves hunted by a warrior from another planet. The film stars Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black, Elpidia Carrillo and Kevin Peter Hall (r.i.p). Surprisingly, Predator is one of the few films I can think of to have been so well received by the general public, yet shunned by the critics. It’s arguably one of the best action movies, if not the best over the last 30 years. It came at a time when the genre was void of creativity or originality.
The Thomas brothers script was such a breath of fresh, and the location the story was set in was perfect. The decision to actually shoot it on location in Mexico was a great one. This was long before the days of shooting everything with green screen, and then digitally re-creating entire backdrops. This was heading into unknown terrain and getting your hands dirty, all in the name of movie-making and I really respect that. This is a review for the newly transferred 3D version of the film. McTiernan uses a lot of lovely establishing shots and nice transitions between opening scenes. Simply put, It’s a superbly shot film. The shot choices are fantastic, and everything the camera does helps to build the suspense. The quality of the cinematography is clearly enhanced by the location, every frame is calculated and very precise. This is also one of the first times I can recall POV (point of view), camera shots being used. It’s not presented in the film, until we know that all is not what it seems in this jungle. Once the audience is hooked, we are given a look at things from this creature’s point of view, and it’s great. Technically the best thing about the film is the music and score. I can’t recall specific names, but I know a countless number of people were involved in the structure and tone of the score. It’s completely original and probably close to the best score that’s ever been written for an action film.
The characters in Predator all have their own specific personalities, and each one is thoroughly entertaining. Weathers plays Dillon, a C.I.A agent that asks Dutch and his teams for assistance in the rescue operation. He is just as hard and bare knuckle as Dutch is, and of course that leads to the inevitable alpha showdown. Dutch’s team consists of Mac (Duke), who’s the quite, nervous type that sweats profusely and incessantly glides a razor up and down his neck. Then we have Blaine (Ventura, who of course we all know went into politics), he’s the tobacco chewing redneck, and operates the heavy weapons for the team. Billy (played by Sonny Landham, another who eventually ended up in politics), is the tracker, whose sole purpose is to decipher what has just gone down and what might go down. Chaves and Black, play Poncho and Hawkins respectively. One is responsible for communications and radio operations, the other is there as an extra enforcer. Each cast member gets their moment to shine, but of course it’s Dutch that stands out with some truly memorable lines. “If it bleeds we can kill it”, and “Get to the chopper” are two that I’ve heard repeated countless times. My personal favorite is “I ain’t got time to bleed”, I’ve been prone to use that one while on a job site (haha).
The most impressive thing about Predator, is the quality of the action and how it combines with the suspense. It drops you straight in the deep end, and it only lets up just enough for you to catch your breath. The biggest action sequence in the whole film occurs before the 30 minute mark. Upon that first viewing you have no idea what you’re actually in store for in its last 70 minutes. Our group of specialists think they are dealing with simple militia, and it all goes tits up when they realize they are the ones being hunted. It’s such a massive action sequence during the raid on the campsite, that you feel like they’ve gone to big to early. Let’s give the writers even more credit here, because this was all new territory and they had to feel their way through it, and to end up with the second half they did was a true feat. The conception of the Predator in of itself was amazing. Of course, when you put that idea in the extremely capable hands of famous effects and makeup artist, Stan Winston (r.i.p), you are guaranteed to see it come to life in ways you probably never imagined. Winston was a genius, he knew everything there was to know about design and showcasing that design. Everything in this film looks amazing. From the futuristic, sophisticated weaponry, to the invisible cloaking the Predator has at his disposal, down to the blood and gore effects during each of the death sequences. Stan was the man for the job, and Predator wouldn’t be Predator without him.
Most of the issues with Predator are small ones. I think given it’s a pure action flick with an element of Sci-fi, you have to be willing to let some things slide. Parts of the acting weren’t perfect, but now looking back at it, given the time and amount of experience from the cast it was probably above average. There were a couple of continuity issues between scenes, that transitioned from day to-night and visa versa. If this was a real group of highly trained soldiers they wouldn’t have wasted thousands of rounds of ammunition on something they couldn’t see. For starters, you wouldn’t be able to carry that amount of ammo on you. It would weigh too much and just wouldn’t be practical given the landscape. Ultimately that scene accomplishes nothing because they don’t hit anything anyway. Real military would conserve ammo, and wouldn’t want to give away their position either. My other misgivings are mostly with the script. For example, a better introduction as to how the Predator got to earth would have been a nice inclusion. It’s easy to begin a film by showing a space craft as it descends down to earth, relatively cliché in modern film-making. Considering the amount of creativity surrounding this whole idea and story, that could have been conveyed in a much more interesting and subtle way.
Moreover, It’s also quite a long time before we actually get to see the predator. I understand they are building suspense and for the most part it works, I just think we could have had a few more glimpses here an there. After all, you want the creature on display as much as possible because of how impressive it looks. Most of the deaths were original, and allowed the predator to use different weapons etc. While, Billy was arguably the most interesting character in the group, he had the most lack-luster and defeatist death. It takes a bit of imagination to believe that this guy can recall past events and see the future anyways (well kind of), but I can deal with that I suppose. However, at least give the guy a respectable and hard-fought death like most of the others had. The fact he cuts himself and then the camera switches, and off in the distance you can hear a manly scream, I mean C’mon, I thought that was pretty lame, given what I’d seen up to that point. The lack of story is one thing I have to agree on when it comes to the critics thoughts about the film. It’s a very one-dimensional, thin script, but the question is did it need to be multi faceted??. Anytime there’s any actual drama it does tend to miss the mark. It’s not because you don’t care about the characters, it’s just that we don’t know much about them. Sure, they are a unit but the friendships don’t seem that strong and therefore becoming over dramatic when they are killed off, doesn’t really work.
I think Predator is one of the best Action/Sci-fi films of the last 30 years. I think critics expected something more from this that wasn’t really necessary. In that sense they shouldn’t have bothered watching it. Even though the script is pretty thin, the characters are thoroughly entertaining and the dialogue/one liners are awesome in that cheesy kind of way. The beautiful location, fantastic suspense based score and the brilliant design and effects from Stan Winston make this one the instant classic it turned out to be. I didn’t mention the 3D transfer, but it was great and only aided in enhancing the aesthetic appeal this has. I’m a tough critic when it comes to action, but this one has always been one of Arnie’s best and if you haven’t seen it you must do so asap.
My rating for “Predator” is 7.5/10