On this day, in 1987, 20th Century Fox released the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Predator. Little did film-goers at the time know but Predator was much more than just another Schwarzenegger vehicle. One of the best mixes of action, horror, and science fiction genres, Predator is widely regarded today as a classic from the decade.
Predator was a film based on a brilliantly lean and simple premise. A U.S. paramilitary squad of elite soldiers covertly enter a Central American country to rescue American hostages held by a guerrilla force. In the heat of the jungle, Dutch (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team discover the skinned corpses of U.S. soldiers. As they later attempt to reach their extraction point, Dutch and his team discover that they are being hunted by an unseen ‘predator’ that may not be human.
A Time Capsule of Everything Great with 80’s Action Films
The 1980’s was a decade defined by decadence. The hair was bigger, shoulder pads were wider, clothes were brighter, and the music was brasher and more … synth-y. Perhaps no other genre better reflects the decadence of the 1980’s than the action film. It was the decade of Sylvester Stallone and Predator star, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
For much of its first half, Predator plays like a traditional 1980’s action film. In addition to casting Schwarzenegger in the lead role, Predator’s cast is filled out with a ‘who’s who’ of recognizable action film regulars including Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse “The Body Ventura, and Sonny Landham. There’s also no shortage of macho posturing and chest-baring, like Schwarzenegger and Weather’s utterly fantastic handshake greeting, pictured below:
Familiar action film tropes characteristic from the decade abound. The dialogue is a game of tough-guy one-upmanship. Schwarzenegger gets to drop one of his trademark one-liners. You can almost literally identify the importance of characters to the plot by the size of their guns. Predator is vintage 1980’s action film, a time capsule of the decade’s excesses … until it isn’t.
“I ain’t got time to bleed.”
A Perfect Blending of Genres
Halfway through Predator, director John McTiernan subverts action film sensibilities and introduces the film’s science-fiction and horror elements. There’s some liberal borrowing from the slasher film as characters are picked off one after another. McTiernan effectively uses the jungle setting and composer Alan Silvestri’s brilliant score to create a sense of isolation and mounting dread. Indeed Predator becomes a surprisingly atmospheric film with its claustrophobic mood becoming as memorable as its earlier action sequences.
While Predator is not really a scary movie, its lean story allows McTiernan to wring out a maximum amount of tension from the film’s conflict. The subversion of the soldiers’ early hyper-masculine invincibility with their increasing helplessness as they become the prey gives Predator an additional layer that draws favourable comparisons with other classic action-horror films, including Aliens.
More Stan Winston Magic and Instantly Memorable Mythology
In the years following its release, Predator’s reputation among critics and fans alike has grown. It’s justifiably regarded as a classic and among the best films from the decase. Its central antagonist has similarly been elevated among cinema’s elite monsters. Legendary makeup effects guru Stan Winston once again worked his magic in Predator creating a visually imposing monster. Winston’s design was greatly assisted by McTiernan’s decision to keep the ‘Predator’ hidden for most of the film. As a result, the first full body shot of the ‘Predator’ as it hunted Dutch and its later unmasking were genuine cinematic moments.
In addition to its visual elements, the mythology behind the “Predator” character has engaged audiences in ways very similar to fan intrigue with the Xenomorph in the Alien franchise. The simple premise found in Predator has been subsequently expanded in other media ranging from comic books and novels to crossover films. To date, two Predator sequels have been produced with mixed results. I’ll go on record and say that 2010’s Predators was criminally underrated. Later this year, the mythology will be further expanded again with Shane Black-directed sequel The Predator.
‘Get to the Choppa” and Watch Predator
My first time watching Predator was a defining childhood moment. It’s one of the rare films that can stand up to multiple viewings without disappointing. Nostalgia is NOT the sole driving force behind Predator’s continuing relevancy. Even the film’s early 80’s action film tropes shouldn’t keep new audiences from enjoying it. Fans will hopefully get the sequel they been waiting for later this year when The Predator hits screens.