Some movies are made to examine the human condition, to try to find meaning to life, to explore the tribulations of ordinary people through dialogue and subtle cinematography. Then there are movies filled with super soldiers butchering disposable bad guys with automatic weapons, grenades, bows and arrows, machetes and their bare hands. The 80s was prime time for such examples of the 7th art, and Austrian import Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of its biggest champions. In John McTiernan’s “Predator” (1987), he was surrounded by other muscle mountains such as Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Shane Black, who would later pen the first two “Lethal Weapon” movies. This is no “Schindler’s List,” but the unapologetic old school action makes it a classic of the genre.
I watched this testosterone funfest during my last year living in Chile around 2002. Appropriate, since the movie is set in the South American jungle. I actually went to the jungle during a 7th grade school trip, although I did not run into an extra-terrestrial hunter equipped with a cloaking device. The scariest moment was when a fish jumped in one of the canoes at night, sending the girls in a panic and nearly capsizing the boat. As for the movie, I just watched it from the comfort of my couch when it was playing on TV, making comments about the ridiculousness of it all, such as when Arnold screams in the night covered in mud: “Look, he thinks he’s Tarzan.” This is one of those movies that could use a drinking game. Take a sip every time someone gets shot, or every time Arnold says something unintelligible.
Yet the whole is played straight with little humour, except for the occasional badass one-liner. Arnold plays Dutch, the leader of an elite team of commandos who specialize in rescuing people from the most dangerous places on the planet. He has been hired by Dillon (Carl Weathers) an old friend from the C.I.A to go rescue hostages in the Colombian jungle. Dutch emphasizes they are rescue team, not killers, although you wouldn’t know it from looking at this merry band of body builders with guns. Jesse Ventura’s character Blain pretty much says it all in the helicopter ride when he defends his drug use with the line: “This stuff will make you a god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus, just like me.” Welcome to the jungle.
Once the team lands in the jungle they find what is left of the last Americans who had the misfortune of flying in the area. Their bodies have been skinned and hung upside down, leaving what’s left for the vultures. One of the dead was a friend of Dutch, so the team swears bloody revenge on the bad guys who did the slaying.
Except what did this is not human. The audience gets to see the point of view of a something that is watching the team’s body heat from high up in the trees. Once Dutch and his team take out the Colombians, this Predator begins to take them out one by one, evading their guns and their eyes. It becomes clear their enemy is not from this world, can somehow conceal himself in broad daylight, and is equipped with weapons even deadlier than the arsenal they’ve brought. May the best hunter win.
Of course as a whole this is not very original. When “Predator” first came out it was described as basically “Alien” on planet Earth, with a little mix of “John Carpenter’s The Thing.” But compared to other action movies, it stands the test of time thanks to its unapologetic macho attitude and total disregard for logic for the sake of having a good time. Case in point: Jesse Ventura carries an automatic minigun. It looks cool as can be when he uses it to mow down his enemies, but in real life a gun that big is attached to a helicopter. I read in a magazine article the heat from that gun would burn the skin off your hands. But if they were to stick to reality, we wouldn’t get to hear Ventura nickname the gun “Old Painless.”
Then there is the originality of the Predator. Designed by special effects artist Stan Winston, it was certainly not the first monster to be in a major Hollywood film, but it is certainly one of the deadliest and one of the most disgusting. Equipped with a laser gun on his shoulder, sharp claws on his hands, explosives in his belt, and a helmet that allows him to see body heat, that is one deadly hunter. Then there is the unique ugliness of his face once he removes said helmet, leading to one of Arnold’s best lines: “You are one ugly motherfucker.”
Oddly enough, both Arnold and Ventura later went into politics years after working on this movie. Shane Black is now directing the third “Iron Man” and last I saw Carl Weathers he was playing himself in “Arrested Development.” As for the Predator, there was a lacklustre sequel with Danny Glover and Gary Busey, the lame “Alien vs. Predator” franchise, and a worthy effort by Robert Rodriguez with “Predators.” It starred Danny Trejo, which is always good, but no movie can match the high-octane calibre of the original.