I've always had a soft spot for Predator. I loved its simple, yet entertaining plot; I loved the fear factor turned on high; I loved Arnie, never mind his range or anything; as far as the role of the special-op-commando unit Major Dutch goes, he was right on.
Most of all, I relished the harsh primeval setting of a tropical forest in which the action takes place; that was a really nice touch and I think it talks to something deep in all of us, some remnant part of the simian brain that helped our ancestors tackle the arboreal environs of the early pleistocene; besides, it's always fun to recreate onscreen the severe conditions of a life at the receiving end of the food chain.
And yes, I absolutely adored the character of the deadly humanoid alien, warts and all - except that in this case it would be the mandibles. Master predator, expert in camouflage, relentless and yet, it should be noted, possessing a strict code of engagement!
Review by SAndman
February 24, 2009
Director: John McTiernan
screenplay: Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch
Carl Weathers as Dillon
Shane Black as Hawkins
Jesse Ventura as Blain
Bill Duke as Mac
Richard Chaves as Poncho
Poncho: She says the jungle... it just came alive and took him.
Predator begins when a team of soldiers led by Major Dutch arrive by chopper at a base located in the woods of Guatemala; here are their names and short descriptions, so you can try and guess in which order they are going to die, and who's going to be the first and who the last to get axed:
Hawkins, the radio man and the goof of the team; his jokes probably killed more people than his gun; provides a cover fire and constantly tries, to no avail, to get a laugh from the dead pan Billy.
Blain, a roughneck and big-mouth, he's handling the team's biggest gun, which he affectionately calls "Old Painless"; at first he comes across as a mouthy hunk but his imposing physique and especially his calm, business as usual attitude in combat makes him a valuable asset; there's a memorable scene in the inside of a chopper when he offers everybody chewing tobacco, and after they decline he exhorts:'Bunch of slack-jawed faggots around here! This stuff will make you a god damned sexual tyrannosaurus, just like me.'; he provides some of the few moments of comic relief in Predator.
Sergeant Mac, big and quiet, Vietnam War veteran, he and Blain were the sole survivors when their platoon was ambushed, they walked miles through the jungle and made it; comes across as cold and dangerous; plays with his razor scraping his cheeks up and down with it in the moments of tension; he takes dislike to Dillon when he accidentally all but betrayed their position; he said,'I don't care who you are back in the world. You do that one more time, I'll bleed you real quiet, leave here'. He brings up the rear and along with Blain is likely the most experienced member of the team.
Poncho, speaks the local language and handles a hand-grenade launcher; he is somewhat easily duped by the hostage after he just a moment ago successfully headed off her rescue attempt. Alongside Hawkins he is the smallest guy on the team, so it makes sense that he should climb up a rope to a wrecked chopper or do some other kind of lightweight work. His command of Spanish, and not to forget his pretty powerful weapon, makes him one of the more useful team members. He also thinks fast on his feet, one look into a crash scene was enough for him to figure out that something was wrong with the official story they were fed at the headquarters prior to the mission.
Billy, a Native Indian, good with tracks and highly intuitive-his buddies talk about his 'goddamned nose' in such a way as if he had some kind of a sixth sense, which makes him the perfect choice for a point man; he is the first to realize that they are not alone in the jungle; he is also the first to find out that ultimately their weapons will be of no avail, after which he throws away his gun in defiance and challenges their deadly adversary to a hand-to-hand combat.
Dillon, a CIA agent, not a team member in the strictest sense; being CIA makes him unreliable; that and his bragging about his Vietnam experiences; Blain makes clear from the get-go what he thinks of him when he spits a wallop across his boot. He lets that slide, which is a typical example of his less-than-rock-solid authority; another instance when he loses face is the moment when he clumsily loses his footing on forest foliage and risks blowing up their position. Even his first appearance in the movie is a dead giveaway - he and Dutch shake hands and being old buddies instantly engage in a little bit of mano-a-mano with Dillon making empty threats.
And the last, Major Dutch, another Vietnam War veteran, whose resume reads like a textbook on the modern warfare. He's a top-notch mercenary with a difference - he has a code, which does not allow him to take part in assassination missions, which, I suppose, makes him an idealist. An idealist special-op-soldier?! Sure, why not. He knows his men and takes care of them. He and Billy often trade places walking point, and he is the first to engage the guerrillas in their base camp. He and his Vietnam buddy Dillon represent different types of leadership in the movie. Whereas Dillon commands from the back, Dutch is the classic example of a hands-on leader.
During the briefing they learn about their mission. They have to retrieve a government minister from the hands of local guerrilla forces which operate from across the border. Presently they mount choppers again and fly over some rough terrain covered with a tropical rain forest and mountains. As soon as they make the drop they stumble into a US army chopper, in which they find two dead bodies. They also pick up the trail the guerrilla left behind and they come across the prints of the US army-issued boots.
Though Dillon is too quick to deny any US army activities in the area Dutch begins to suspect that they have not been told the whole truth. But he doesn't have time to mull over that as they soon come across a truly disturbing sight - bodies of Green Beret soldiers hanging upside down from the top of a tree; the bodies have flayed and the viscera has been discarded in the surrounding foliage. Stunned they cut the bodies down but have no time to ponder this mystery as they presently catch sight of the guerrilla base camp.
In the ensuing showdown they make short work of the guerrilla, which for all their numbers and weaponry come across as surprisingly ineffectual, even dopey. I never could understand why the enemy is always running toward a gunfire instead of away from it, as they do time and again in Predator. But it's just me, I guess.
Using the maximum firepower and shredding half the jungle into something resembling a Caesar salad Dutch and his team prevail and in the aftermath of the battle they discover the true purpose of their mission. Just as Dutch has suspected all along, they have been tricked and manipulated by Dillon.
However, that soon turns out to be the least of their problems. During a march toward the extraction point one of their buddies gets killed in a mysterious and terrifying way. Somebody or something far worse and lethal than guerrilla fighters is on their tail.
Predator is a movie which offers a good blend of action sequences, thrilling score, and lots and lots of chills. For years I couldn't shake off the scene in which the lethal alien makes its presence known to Dutch's team - that's the one in which he just walks out of the surrounding foliage, like a ripple of liquid glass, and kills one of them just like that; this may not be one of the best scenes in Predator, and it's probably not my favorite one, but I got the creeps every time I thought back on it.
I guess I was half-expecting the alien would walk out of the walls of my house or a tangle of shrubs in a local park. Though the alien was terror itself with all its high-tech weaponry and strapping physique, I suppose the most fascinating thing about the freaky creature was that it never killed indiscriminately, unlike most of the humans in Predator - whatever the circumstance it always went for the biggest and most dangerous game. A real hunter!
Though some things in Predator may look dated today I for one still love watching the scenes in which the camera suddenly pans upward and you are forced to share in a bird view of the alien's unsuspecting victims; okay, the technology which rendered the thermal imaging in Predator may come across as obsolete, but accompanied with the thrilling score, and deft cinematography, it works wonders.
It may sound childish but I still love the way in which they made the alien's light bending armor blends flawlessly in with the surroundings. Or I could watch over and over the shots in which the alien realizes that he has finally met his match and goes on the rampage through the forest shooting up the trees and rocks and screaming its frustration to the night sky, or the shot in which Major Dutch beaten and helpless lies in the mud on the river bank in the tangle of driftwood and the alien passes him by a few inches. Yes, there is much to be remembered about Predator.
The theme of pitting a human versus a very unpleasant alien has been used time and again; as a matter of fact, it may be as old as SF movies, or SF itself; there may be better and more impressive takes on this theme before and since Predator, still I love this 80s piece - along with the big guns, loads of testosterone, the unforgiving jungle backdrop and the compelling foe. The tides of taste have ebbed and flowed, but this weathered rock still stands tall on my SF movies shelf.
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