Predator (1987) – Directed by John McTiernan – Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Richard Chaves, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Kevin Peter Hall, and Peter Cullen.
I really wanted to call this review Dillon and the Alien Hunting Machine. or Dillon and the Bungle in the Jungle.
PREDATOR is my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and not because it stars two future governors, a former porn star, Apollo Creed, Harry (from Harry and the Hendersons), the guy who directed Sister Act 2, the guy currently directing Iron Man 3, and Optimus Prime.
No, PREDATOR is my favorite Schwarzenegger film because it sits in the perfect place between Schwarzenegger the actor and Schwarzenegger the star, and the film is the perfect mix of story and action. He’s still learning how to act here, not in a place where he thinks he knows what he’s doing, and the film neither relies too much on him nor caters to him. Director John McTiernan does an excellent job using Schwarzenegger in this film, pairing him with other serious dudes. These are big guys in the film and Schwarzenegger ends up looking better because he’s one of the guys and not THE guy.
When you take serious guys and put them on a serious mission, it makes the threat all the more effective. There is a bit of over-exaggerated fear in them when they begin to realize they’re up against something even more serious than them, but it doesn’t detract too much from the film.
PREDATOR is really an excellent example of minimalist storytelling. Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team of commandos are tricked by Dillon (Carl Weathers) into going on what they think is a rescue mission. When they get behind enemy lines and hit the compound where the hostages are allegedly being held, they realize Dillon lied to them. And then the rest of the movie is them fighting the Predator, who they can’t see, can’t understand, and can’t kill until after he’s taken all of them out but Dutch.
Smartly divided into three acts, PREDATOR concisely walks us through the raid, the group being taken out by the Predator, and finally the Arnold vs. Predator showdown. McTiernan smartly uses the heat and claustrophobic nature of the jungle to raise tension and even though none of these characters beyond Dutch and Dillon have a lot to do, PREDATOR does a fantastic job making me feel like Dutch’s crew has been working together for years.
And yes, there’s a bit of Skittles casting here: we’ve got the Euro, the black guy, the white guy, the American Indian, the Chicano, and the dorky white guy, but I never feel like this crew was put together by central casting.
One of the ways McTiernan accomplishes this is is by focusing on paired relationships. There’s not a lot of time for character development here, of course, but what little time there is, McTiernan uses it very effectively. Rick (Shane Black) tells Billy (Sonny Landham) a few p*ssy jokes, Mac and Blain (Bill Duke and Jesse Ventura) served together prior to joining Dutch’s group, and Dutch and Dillon have a history. In the director’s commentary, McTiernan mentions how he really wanted to cast Weathers opposite Schwarzenegger because Weathers could stand toe-to-toe with Arnold. You don’t hear a lot of people giving Weathers credit for his acting chops, but McTiernan heaps a lot of praise on him for his professionalism and notes how the pivotal scene between Dillon and Dutch where Dutch realizes he’s been played works primarily because Weathers carries the scene. The director also gives Arnold plenty of praise for how attentive he was at watching Weathers work.
I enjoy details like that in director commentaries because it shows how much an industry guy like McTiernan appreciates what Weathers can do for a film, and how much a still-relatively-new-to-acting Schwarzenegger appreciates what Weathers can teach him.
Another reason why PREDATOR is my favorite Schwarzenegger film is that the one-liners are delivered with sufficient pathos in order to highlight the grimness of the situation, not to afford the audience a chance to laugh in their popcorn. When Blain is told he’s been hit and grunts back, “I ain’t got time to bleed,” the effect is to let you know that he’s a tough guy in an incredibly tough spot. When Dutch is told the Predator has bled after one encounter, he remarks, “If it bleeds we can kill it,” signifying a ray of hope for the group. And when Dutch finally sees the Predator’s true face and remarks, “You’re one ugly motherf*cker” it’s a sign that the true horror of what he’s been facing is finally driven home.
I can’t leave out Elpidia Carrillo’s Anna, either, as she plays scared just about as well as anyone. She’s a constant reminder, amid all the machismo, that Dutch’s crew really has no idea what they’re up against. It’s fitting that she’s the one person who survives who isn’t played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the film rewards her proper fear and respect for the Predator (and the sacrifice of Dutch’s men) by allowing her to keep her life.
When Dutch finally asks her to tell him what she knows, she calls the Predator, “el diablo que hace trofeos de los hombres,” which she translates for us as “the demon which makes trophies of man.” As the Predator series developed, the character became characters and they lost both the mystery and the power of their initial appearance. If for some reason you only know the Predator from its more heroic appearances in the Alien vs. Predator films, do yourself a favor and hunt (Shalit!) PREDATOR down – it’s the best film of Arnold’s career and one the best action movies we have.