Skip to main content

Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #366: Predator

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. 


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…