Predator (1987) dir. John McTiernan
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Sonny Landham, Kevin Peter Hall
By Alan Bacchus
“If it bleeds we can kill it”. A great line from one of the great action films of all time.
Schwarzenegger (Dutch) and his team of elite soldiers are assigned to rescue a group of South American politicians from some terrorists. After an impressive landing in the middle of the jungle the team has no trouble infiltrating the jungle encampment and blowing the hell out of everything. The gunpower is awesome, especially Jesse Ventura’s chain fed mini-gun. After they discover another military team skinned alive and hanging from the trees, they realize there’s more to the mission than just politics. The jungle is inhabited by an invisible alien creature playing his own version of the Most Dangerous Game. One by one Schwarzenegger’s crew is picked off the predator.
The star of the film is the predator (played by 7 foot tall Kevin Peter Hall) which spawned a not-so-bad sequel, a slight reboot in Predators and two cross-over vehicles with “Alien”, another Fox property.
Predator makes a good comparison with Alien. Like the original Dan O’Bannon/Ronald Shusett scripted Alien, Jim and John Thomas’s (spec) screenplay is as expertly constructed. They follow the rules of the creature feature to the line. Under John McTiernan’s direction, we only get snippets of the monster – first it’s his heat-source point of view, then brief sightings of his camouflage, eventually we see close-ups of the hands, legs, and body armour, and only at the second act turn, do we see him in his full glory.
McTiernan’s staging of this moment is great stuff, Dutch runs away from the predator and accidentally falls 100 meters off a cliff into a lake. He crawls away, only to discover the Predator has made the same jump. Dutch crawls through mud to shore and is ready to accept his death, when he realizes the mud on his body has rendered himself invisible to the predator. Here we see the Predator for the first time in the flesh.
The design of the Predator is the work of the great Stan Winston. From his wrist-operated, self-repair bio computer system, luminescent green blood, double mouth jowls to his shoulder-mounted laser sighting device, it’s so detailed, there’s a wikipedia entry about it HERE. Of course Dutch’s description of him is a bit more blunt - “you’re one ugly motherfucker”.
“Predator” is highly quotable, especially when you, ahem…watch it over 20 times between ages 12 and 15. Remember Mac’s psychotic last words, “I’m gonna have me some fun, I’m gonna have me some fun”, or the Schwarzenegger one liner before blowing a hole in someone, “knock knock”. But it’s Jesse Ventura’s Blaine who has the best lines: “I ain’t got time to bleed”, or “this place makes Cambodia look like Kansas.”
Remarkably “Predator” it’s also responsible for some notable career changes of its cast: Arnold (Governor of California), Jesse Ventura (Governor of Minnesota), Sonny Landham (ran for Governor of Kentucky), Shane Black (once Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter) and Bill Duke (now a successful director). McTiernan recently had become famous himself outside of his film career having served a four month prison sentence for a wiretapping fraud.
Looking back on the Predator, John McTiernan’s direction is still top notch. Between 1987 and the mid 90’s, he was arguably the best director of action in Hollywood. Unfortunately these actions movies (inc. Die Hard and The Hunt For Red October) has overshadowed his other skills, including his superb eye for casting and working with actors – ahem, remember what Bruce Willis was doing before Die Hard.
It’s a shame John McTiernan doesn’t get the good scripts anymore. His later work – Rollerball, 13th Warrior, The Thomas Crown Affair, Basic – is disappointing, but I can always watch a McTiernan picture, if only to sit back and marvel at his elegant visual style. Even in his worst movies, his mise-en-scene with actors and the camera is magnificent.
"Predator" is available on Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment