Predator (John McTiernan, 1987)
Big Arnie (we all know who I mean – but am I the only one permanently distracted by that semi-lazy eye thing he seems to have going on? I can’t tell if it’s really there or it’s just me…) leads an elite special forces team of muscle heads deep into the jungles of Guatemala (because nothing speaks of stealth more than a bunch of beefy lugs traipsing through the woods dragging along weapons even bigger than themselves) to free some kidnapped politicians… only to find more than they bargained for when that bad ass Predator (an even BIGGER lug with better weapons!) starts picking them off one by one – for sport…
Continuing my effort to bathe my eyeballs and mind in all things “Alien” in preparation for catching the latest instalment, with the new one brought to us directly from the franchise-originating director himself, Ridley Scott, no less (that grand cinematic visualist who, it must be said, isn’t always as meticulously on-point with his script selection – though, fortunately, that wasn’t the case with the rightfully beloved, brilliantly conceived and told first Alien), I decided (well, I and the triumvirate of viewing partners who have taken this journey with me – and I don’t mean Father, Son and Holy Ghost) to delve into the ‘Predator’ series. The two franchises do cross over after all, for better or worse (okay, worse), with that later double dose of Alien Vs Predator films guided by that corporate-minded slickster known as Paul WS Anderson (NOT the There Will Be Blood guy – that’s Paul T Anderson, and he’s brilliant).
Re-watching Predator these many years later, I have to say… other than the really cool monster (and he is a creation worthy of a certain iconic status – perfect for graphic arts storytelling, though I’m not sure I’m gonna delve into the ‘Predator’ Dark Horse comics like I did the ‘Alien’ ones) and the last exciting twenty minutes with him (I mean, I guess it’s possible that the predator comes from a gender-neutral species, but I’m assuming he’s a male of the species? I know, I know… that gender assumption and the pronoun assignation alone just got me ejected out of the safe space party) and a mud-drenched Arnie (because somehow the predator can’t see him with that heat-seeking vision of his when he’s drenched in the good wet Earth) playing mano-a-mano cat-and-mouse in the jungle, it’s – I’m sorry, Predator lovers – a clumsily-wrought affair without much artistry. And it especially fails when you compare it against the more mature minded vision and auteur perspective of even the least of the original four “Alien” franchise films.
I’m not just saying this because I was (WARNING: Sycophantic name drop alert! Sycophantic name drop alert!) on a film festival jury with the film’s director John McTiernan (he was Pres of the jury, naturally) where he turned out to be, let’s just say, not the most amiable guy (I’m trying to avoid saying he was kind of a dick – oops, I just said it). In fact, I try and give him a bit of a pass for that, as he’d not only just gotten out of prison after serving one year for that whole Rollerball fiasco in which people were illegally wire-tapped and some such thing, but was scheduled to go back to trial soon after (which soon put him back in prison, no less), so… there might have been some extenuating circumstances (i.e., an understandable state of hyper-anxiety and perhaps a bit of persecution complex) for his overbearing grumpiness… and, it must be said, his spirits did briefly lift as he appeared actually momentarily appreciative when the festival did the whole Lifetime Award ceremony thing for him.
No, I’m saying it because the movie isn’t very good (for a somewhat revered film). The first hour of weapons- and muscular men-fetishizing is dumb fun in its way, but its execution doesn’t rise above what you see in the most standard issue, reactionary 80’s action movie (in fact, I’d argue director Joseph Zito showed more visual chutzpah with 80’s Chuck Norris fare like Missing in Action). With the constant drum-beating military style score bashing you over the head, the action sequences (where Arnie and his crew attack the evil South Americans in their camp) are rudimentarily staged, with the focus being simple wide shots to to capture the stunts and close-ups for Arnie to awkwardly deliver his unimaginative one-liners. Terminator and T2 makes me realize that director James Cameron must be given some serious props for using the screen presence that was Big Arnie… while being smart enough to cast him as a robot, fitting that stiff unnaturalness right into the character.
The film is filled with muscular sidemen for Arnie, but when the best they can do is have Bill Dukes (with that one note sneer of his) constantly running a razor down his sweaty yet entirely clean-shaven cheek, it’s a bit thin. Speaking of the Dukes’ character, for an elite special forces guy (‘the best of the best!’ as we’re told more than once), he sure does go hysterical when he first catches sight of the camouflaged Predator… I mean, he doesn’t even know what the creature is, or is not, capable of yet and he suddenly drops all his training, running shrieking into the woods after it and shooting like a madman. And they throw in a Native American (a big muscular one, of course) who is granted with a special quasi-supernatural ‘insight’ about the Predator that we all know those Indian people just, you know, have (or so believes the White Man who make these movies), played by the imposing, sharp-featured Sonny Landham, who, as an aside, I had coincidentally just recently seen in the 1975 Xmas porn flick The Passions of Carol at the monthly Nitehawk Cinema Deuce series having his semi-soft, pubic hair buried member (it was the pre-Viagra, unshaved 70’s after all) serviced by two women as “Tubular Bells” played on the soundtrack.
The last twenty minutes or so does build effective tension and mood, both through a more slowed down and quieter pacing (with less of Arnie talking, even if that annoying music just keeps banging away) and the actual creation of some nice shadowy lighting. We also start to get to see some more of that inspired creature, with helmet both on and off and not just as a camouflaged optical effect.