The World According to Arnie – Predator (1987)
Amazingly, it’s been over a year since my last foray into the rollercoaster career of one Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger. For those out there who truly appreciate laziness, this one’s for the books. Since the ‘Raw Deal’ review was published, a lot has changed for Arnie. He’s no longer Governor of California, his wife divorced him because he was diddling the help, and his acting career is getting back up and running with an expanded role in 2012’s The Expendables 2, as well as his true comeback film, 2013’s The Last Stand.
What’s most surprising about the downtime between reviews is that I successfully navigated the stormy waters of Arnie’s dreadful early career, reached the pinnacle, the golden age if you will, and I stopped!? Does that signal an unconscious desire to hurt myself? Or just a steely commitment to procrastination? Anyhoo, the Austrian Oak’s golden age began with The Terminator and Commando, then came a slight hiccup with the not very good Raw Deal. But hence forth there be a brilliant streak previously unmatched by man or beast, featuring some of Arnie’s very best films.
Not one to do things by halves, Arnie kicks off his impressive streak with what is arguably his most awesome film. A little ditty called ‘Predator’, which is so astonishingly awesome that I can guarantee I’ll run out of superlatives approximately three paragraphs into this review and just repeatedly describe everything as awesome.
What do Ultimate Killing Machines like? A stinking hot climate! And when do Ultimate Killing Machines like it? Now! As it just so happens, the jungles of Guatemala are a stinking hot place, and make a perfect venue for intergalactic fisticuffs between two of the baddest, meanest and toughest bastards this universe has to offer. When Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnie) and his elite team of professional murderers first enter the jungle on a rescue mission, as far as they know, they’re the top of the food chain. The most fearsome killers on the planet. But little do they know what’s lurking in the trees. It seems this particular jungle, at this particular time of year is a rather exclusive vacation spot for an alien race who have one hobby and one hobby only. Hunting. They’re the inbred hillbilly’s of the universe. One such alien has come here for a spot of hunting, and takes a shine to Dutch and his crew. But the alien’s a bit of a prick, and doesn’t play fair. He has camouflage technology, heat sensing vision and some pretty impressive dreadlocks. He’s also over 7 feet tall and bleeds fluorescent green blood, which Dutch cottons on to instantly. “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” You bet you can, mate.
Predator is flat knackers AWESOME. I first saw this when I was about 10 years old (thanks, Dad!) and while the Predator himself scared the bejeezus out of me, particularly when he removed his helmet, Arnie was there to wallop him with his fists of fury then drop a tree on him. No one beats Arnie, not even an ugly motherfucker from outer space. I remember quoting the movie with my sister “I ain’t got time to bleed.”, drawing cartoons of Arnie boxing the Predators head, and watching the movie more times than what can truly be healthy for a pre-teen. I loved it.
Watching the film today, my opinion of it hasn’t changed one iota. Sure some of the effects are clunky by today’s standards, but apart from that, it holds up and then some. The film is structured like a well-oiled machine. As the film opens, the helicopter carrying Arnie and his elite team of asskickers touches down on a remote beach in Guatemala. There’s a quick scene introducing Dillon, complete with what at first glance is a hilariously gratuitous bicep shot. But this shot and the interactions between the two characters tells us a hell of a lot in no time at all. It’s brilliantly efficient exposition. “What’s the matter? The CIA got you pushing too many pencils?” It’s amazing how much just this short exchange conveys. From it we immediately know there’s a history between these two, and just a little animosity. It can be assumed that Dillon and Dutch served together, they were friends and Dillon gave up active duty for a government job. And being the CIA, probably isn’t to be trusted. The foundations are laid for some drama later in the film, even a bit of a character arc for Dillon, and the characters are fleshed out a little. All in one line and two flexes of ridiculously huge biceps. Terrific, efficient action film writing.
That brief scene over, we’re back on the helicopter and on our way. We briefly meet the team, with each given a moment that establishes their personality. The loudmouth, the joker, the strong, silent type and of course, the guy so tough he dry shaves and snaps the razer off on his face. Nothing says “Don’t fuck with me.” like a guy dry shaving. Once they’re on the ground, it’s nearly all action thriller mode. John McTiernan, who only had one low budget film under his belt at the time, handles it perfectly. There is no fat on this beast. ‘Predator’ rattles along at speed for nearly the entire running time, as the mission go’s south and the hunters become the hunted. There are brief moments of reflection, and I do mean brief. Mac (Bill Duke) is saying a heartfelt goodbye to a fallen comrade when a GIANT PIG bursts through the perimeter and decides to repeatedly run belly first into his knife. But the pace only stops momentarily. Otherwise the film is all thrillingly paced action.
‘Predator’ is stuffed full of tough guys. Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, Carl Weathers and Sonny Landham, who reportedly required a body guard to provide protection for anyone who wasn’t Sonny. According to Arnie, it was his idea to have the film follow a team of commando’s instead of the original script’s story that pitted a lone human against the alien. This change is imperative to the films success.
The supporting cast of characters, also including ‘Lethal Weapon’ screenwriter Shane Black, Richard Chaves and Elpidia Carrillo, add much needed colour to the film. Their interactions, such as self-proclaimed “sexual tyrannosaurus” Blain (Ventura) calling everyone “slack-jawed faggots”, or Hawkins (Black) having to explain his lewd jokes to Billy (Landham), give the film some much needed character. They’re also important to giving the story weight. In the early action scene where the team rescue some hostages, we see the efficiency of their killing ability. These guys are deadly hombres and it would take One Tough Bastard to defeat them. The fact that the Predator knocks them off one by one for kicks shows us just how superior he is as a hunter. Not that he plays fair, with all his techo gadgetry. So when Dutch faces him mano a mano at the finale, he’s seemingly outmatched and must use all his buttkicking skill, and a dirty tricks campaign, to come out victorious. And even when he does so, knocking the Predator on the head once and for all, he then has to outrun a nuke! Giant interstellar asshole!
Everything clicks into place for Arnie here. The writing, by Jim and John Thomas, is spot on, the score by Alan Silvestri is muscular, the cinematography by Donald McAlpine captures the encompassing, suffocating nature of the jungle, and Stan Winston’s creature design (with input by James Cameron) makes the alien baddie a unique and memorable villain. ‘Predator’ is so much fun, and so enjoyable every time I watch it, that it’s tied for first as my favourite Arnie movie, alongside ‘The Terminator’. This movie is AWESOME.