Released: 12 June 1984
Director: John McTiernan
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $15 to 18 million
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Richard Chaves, and Kevin Peter Hall
Major Alan “Dutch” Schafer (Schwarzenegger) and his crack rescue team are recruited by Dillon (Weathers), an old friend turned government operative, to rescue an important group of hostages from guerrilla forces in a Central American jungle. However, they soon find themselves being picked off one at a time by a mysterious extraterrestrial hunter (Hall) who kills for sport.
After the release of Rocky IV (Stallone, 1985) there was a joke circulating around Hollywood that Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) had run out of earthly opponents and would have to fight an alien next time around. Writers Jim and John Thomas took this concept and expanded it into a screenplay initially titled Hunter that, after being bought by 20th Century Fox and placed into the hands of producer Joel Silver, was transformed from a pulp sci-fi tale into a big-budget action vehicle. Initially, the then-relatively-unknown Jean-Claude Van Damme was cast as the titular alien creature, which was originally conceived of as a more agile and bug-like monster; however, after Van Damme bowed out after issues with the original suit, the creature was redesigned by special effects legend Stan Winston (with some input from director James Cameron) to accommodate a new actor, the monolithic Kevin Peter Hall.
Filming was rough for the cast and crew, many of whom became ill from food poisoning and the intense heat, and the lead actors (all big, beefy boys in their own right) became obsessed with working out and appearing in peak physical condition. Upon release, Predator was met with largely negative reviews; despite this, the film made nearly $100 million at the box office and quickly became a cult classic that is now regarded far more favourably. Of course, it also spawned an under-rated sequel and marked the beginning of a multimedia franchise that includes further sequels, videogames, and comic books. There were even crossovers with 20th Century Fox’s other sci-fi/horror franchise, the Alien saga (Various, 1979 to 2017), and a fan movement to declare June 12th as “Predator Day”; although this clashes with “Superman Day”, any excuse to revisit this franchise is a win for me.
I know how it sounds but let’s not beat around the bush here: Predator is as much a man’s film as you can get! I say that having known plenty of girls who enjoy the film, and the franchise, but come on now, this is a film made for a very specific type of audience at a very specific time when films such as this were popular and the fact that it is so unapologetically hyper-masculine really plays into its strengths as an enjoyable sci-fi/action/horror romp that can be appreciated by anyone and everyone, regardless of gender identification. Right off the bat, Predator isn’t pulling any punches: first, we get the blatant shot of an alien craft shooting a capsule to Earth, then the manliest team of men who ever menned disembark a helicopter while Alan Silvestri’s fantastic, iconic score plays, and, finally, we get perhaps the single greatest interaction between two characters ever put to film as Dutch and Dillon reunite with the world’s most powerful handshake! The excess and testosterone is practically oozing out of the film at every moment but, perhaps, none more so than in these first ten minutes or so where we learn all we need to know about Dutch and his team: They’re the best at what they do but have certain principals, seeing themselves as “a rescue team, not assassins” and being suspicious of outsiders joining their party.
Though one of Arnold’s early roles, Dutch is a fantastic part for the Austrian Oak; rather than being a stoic and silent character, Dutch is confident and instantly likeable, with a playful sense of humour and camaraderie with this teammates. However, when on mission, Dutch is all business, exhibiting a keen sense of his surroundings, comprehensive knowledge of guerrilla tactics and survivalist skills, and a natural ability to adapt to any and all situations. We first see this when he provides a distraction by sending a truck careening into the guerrilla camp and, later, when he sets traps for the Predator and learns how to use mud to camouflage himself and put together a proactive plan to bring the fight to the alien hunter. Of course, while Dutch is a physically capable mountain of a man, he’s no one man army (well…he is but he’s part of a team so I have to talk about his team…); while you can make the argument that Predator’s characters are all largely interchangeable, with the majority of them being heavily-muscled, snarky brutes who attack with a cold, clinical efficiency, each of them has many opportunities to stand out and be a little more than a one-dimensional caricature despite the fact that we really know and learn next to nothing about them.
Hawkins (Black), for example, is the awkward bookworm type, one of only two members of the team to sport a more slender physique, whose “thing” (beyond his ridiculous glasses) is trying to get Billy (Landham) to laugh with so-bad-they’re-good Dad jokes. Billy, in comparison, is the strong, silent type; introspective, with an aptitude for tracking, he is the first of the group to really sense that something otherworldly is afoot in the jungle. Superstitious and an appropriation of the Native American spiritualist, Billy believes that a spirit or some cursed demon is stalking the group yet, while he doesn’t rate their chances of survival, he never gives in to despair and is the first of team to confront the Predator head-on in single combat…with results so disastrous that they’re not seen onscreen.
Easily the most amusing and memorable character, beyond Dutch and Dillon, is Blaine (Ventura), a gigantic, musclebound soldier who exudes a macho charm that is both endearing and entertaining. Oh, and, he’s also got a fuckin’ galting gun that he uses to mow down guerrillas with reckless abandon and shrugs off bullet wounds like they’re nothing! Blaine also stands out through his love of chewy tobacco, some fantastically memorable one-liners (his “sexual Tyrannosaurs” line is a personal favourite but who can forget “I ain’t got time to bleed!”, perhaps the most unforgettable line of the film) and his brotherly relationship with Mac (Duke). Mac’s “thing” is the little razor he uses to constantly shave sweat from his face and his friendship with Blaine; he’s the only one to refer to one of his team mates as a friend and he’s deeply affected by Blaine’s violent death. Mac is also the only one of the team to really crack under the pressure of the Predator’s assault; grief-stricken and hungry for revenge, he blindly rushes into the jungle to pursue the creature and tries to make good on his promise to avenge his fallen comrade. Of course, he is unsuccessful, mainly because he is so emotionally distraught that, despite being the first to really “see” the camouflaged Predator, he’s unable to think rationally enough to get the upper hand on the alien.
Perhaps the most underwhelming and easily forgotten member of the team is Poncho (Chaves); in fact, Poncho is so inconsequential that I’m also surprised that he manages to outlive Hawkins, who appears the least physically capable of the group. Poncho, instead, does very little beyond asking rhetorical questions, taking a log to the gut, and ultimately being killed by an unceremonious plasma blast to the head when the last few survivors are trying to escape. The team is also joined by Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), the last remaining hostage from the guerrilla camp; like Billy, she’s a quiet, superstitious, and perceptive character who believes that a devil is stalking them, having heard stories of similar events happening in the past. She adds very little to the team beyond being a hinderance and to add an extra layer of dread to the proceedings, especially when the Predator is still being hidden from view and is a mysterious presence, but she’s largely inoffensive. Best of all, there’s no awkward romantic subplot between her and Dutch; he orders her to “Get to dah choppah!!” the first chance he gets and is left to fend for himself, with no sexual distractions or damsels to rescue.
The wild card to the team is, of course, Dillon; numerous vague hints and references are made towards Dillon’s past and friendship with Dutch but, even with that in mind, Dutch is immediately suspicious of the mission when he is ordered to take Dillion, now a CIA operative, along with him. The rest of the team, particularly Mac, don’t care much for Dillon’s presence, seeing him as a liability to their operation, and these suspicions turn out to be well founded when it’s revealed that the team was drafted in to take out a group of terrorists rather than rescue hostages. This causes tensions within the group, who are already on edge thanks to the mysterious killer picking them off, but they are nevertheless forced to work together to try and corner the Predator. Dillon is the only one of the team that is unwilling to believe in a supernatural or extraterrestrial threat stalking them from the trees but, when the Predator is exposed, he willingly joins Mac in attempting to extract a measure of revenge against the alien for all the death and trouble it has caused him. For Dillon, it’s pride that causes his downfall; had he stayed with Dutch, he may have been in with a chance of surviving but, in the end, he’s dismembered and skewered with an effortless efficiency.
It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the titular Predator who brings the most appeal and distinctiveness to the film; although we know that an alien presence is clearly stalking the team, we don’t get out first real look at it for a good hour or so and, even then, it’s a fleeting shot. Instead, we see through the Predator’s unique and costly thermal vision, watching as it pursues and observes its prey from the treetops and attempts to mimic their speech (a haunting feature, to be sure). When the Predator does appear, it’s little more than a pair of luminous glowing eyes and a vague, distorted shape and, despite almost the entire film taking place during the day, the creature is kept well hidden. We see glimpses of its blade, spend a lot of time watching its arms, legs, and torso as it ritualistically cleans up its gruesome trophies, and only get a good, lingering look at the creature when it follows Dutch into the water and its cloaking device is disrupted. The result is one of the most iconic alien designs of all time; rather than the bug-like creature that was the Predator’s original design or the animalistic nature of the Xenomorph, the Predator is a humanoid being made up of two arms, two legs, and sporting an impressive frame and physique. Garbed in light armour and sporting a vast array of weaponry (that ranges from low-tech but incredibly lethal wrist-mounted blades to the creature’s iconic plasma cannon), the Predator is instantly recognisable thanks, in large part, to its helmet and dreadlocks but also because of its monstrous crab-like visage and mandibles.
Take away the alien and Predator would be a largely forgettable, by-the-numbers action film about a troupe of crack soldiers fighting terrorists. The Predator, though, takes that concept and the film’s various clichés and completely flips them on their head; as soon as we first see the Predator’s thermal vision, and definitely after Hawkins’ brutally swift death, the film becomes something entirely different from a hyper-masculine action film. It transforms before your eyes into a survival/horror film against an alien presence that is far beyond that of man, changing from a routine mission to defend America’s freedoms to one about man’s battle for survival.
Before we get to the point, it’s important to make mention of the wide variety of action scenes on offer in Predator: the film starts off relatively simple, with Dutch and his team gunning down the entire guerrilla camp with a clinical efficiency and a bevvy of one-liners, before escalating into a paranoid firefight into the dense jungle in a desperate attempt to kill whatever is responsible for the deaths of their team mates. When it becomes apparent that they’re facing something beyond their understanding, Dutch leads the survivors in setting up a series of low-tech traps, using survival tactics to create a perimeter to ensnare the creature so that they can get a clear shot at it. Though Dillon is sceptical, he helps with this task regardless and it works…until the full extent of the Predator’s capabilities quickly render all their planning mute. Dutch, however, continues to employ these same tactics out of desperation and necessity more than anything else when he’s left the sole survivor; he loses his gun and is left with only a handful of shells and melee weapons with which to make his final stand. He does this through simple guerrilla strategies, using mud to mask his heat signature after a close call with the Predator and then fashioning a bow, a series of explosive arrows, and a number of deadly traps with which to enact his last, desperate stand against the creature. In this sequence, the film’s title takes on a double meaning as Dutch becomes both predator and prey, turning the Predator’s weapons and technology against it to draw it out into the open for a more even fight.
While the sequels and extended media would, of course, greatly expand upon the Predator’s society and culture, there’s enough evidence towards the race’s ethos in this first movie: the Predator only attacks those who are armed and that it deems worthy prey (with the exception of Hawkins and Poncho, who were largely defenceless…), methodically stalks its victims from afar to ascertain their strengths and weaknesses, and makes trophies out of the skulls of those it kills. With its cloaking device compromised and faced with an enduring, persistent, and adaptable foe, the Predator chooses to ditch its signature plasma cannon to engage Dutch in a one-on-one fight, even hampering its vision by removing its helmet. Of course, the fight is anything but fair since the Predator is inhumanly strong; I watched a lot (basically all) of Arnold’s films as a kid and it was massively impressive to see a foe not only tower over him but also lift him up by one hand and beat him to near death. In the end, of course, Dutch is able to outsmart the Predator and lure it into a fatal trap; mortally wounded and defeated, the Predator chooses to activate a devesting self-destruct device in an attempt to take Dutch with it but, just as Dutch casually shrugged off a plasma blast early, no small-scale nuclear blast is enough to put down Arnold and he manages to outrun and avoid the blast but is left clearly affected, traumatised even, by his encounter with the creature and the Predator’s systematic slaughter of his friends and comrades.
To me, Predator will always be a near-peerless classic; everything about the film, from start to finish, is so gloriously over the top and entertaining that it never fails to be an enjoyable sci-fi/horror romp. Endlessly quotable and immensely fun, Predator is a fantastic film to throw on with a group of friends with some pizza and a few drinks and just have an unapologetic good time. I regard Predator as one of Arnold’s best films since it was a role with some real meat to it that really showcased his charisma and what he was capable of as a subtly complex action hero: Dutch isn’t just some muscle-bound meathead; he’s intelligent, experienced, and highly adaptable while also being charismatic, well-respected, and tough as nails at the same time. The film is full of testosterone and ridiculously macho characters yet, despite this, they’re all really endearing and likeable; there’s a real sense of camaraderie amongst the team, who all work together as a unit, and even the tension and suspicion regarding Dillon is largely a non-factor in the face of their struggle against a greater, common enemy. The titular Predator is a fantastically unique creature; here, it and its culture are, largely, a mystery and a lot of what we learn about it comes from inference and speculation, all of which adds to the otherworldly nature and appeal of the alien, to say nothing of its horrific appearance and impressive weaponry and physical skill, and I will always have time for Predator and the Predator concept because of this.
So, tell me, what did you think to Predator? Did you see the film in the cinema back when it first came out and, if so, what did you think of it at the time and how do you think it holds up today? Which of the film’s characters did you like the most, or the least, and why and did you enjoy the film’s excessive machismo? What did you think to the Predator and its design and weaponry and how differently do you think the film would have turned out if Van Damme had remained in the role? Which of the Predator sequels and merchandise was your favourite and did you celebrate Predator Day this year? If you’re a girl and you enjoy Predator and over-the-top action films, chime in with your thoughts about how any one can enjoy these films but, either way, do please leave a comment below sharing your thoughts and opinions on Predator.