Predator (1987)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall

Directed by John McTiernan

Expectations: High. One of my all-time favorites.

OK, I’ve dicked around with enough questionable Arnold films such as Jingle All the Way, Hercules in New York and Batman and Robin. It’s time for the big guns; it’s time for Predator, baby!

I have an interesting history with Predator. I grew up in a family that scraped by any way they could, and in a house of movie lovers, that meant recording as many movies as possible off of TV. I grew up watching Predator in its edited TV form thanks to a broadcast one night on FOX, so after seeing that version 50+ times, the legitimate theatrical version will forever seem like some sort of extended, unrated cut to me. For whatever reason, even though I’ve seen the real version a number of times now, the “new” scenes never make enough of an impact on me to override my memories and therefore they always feel fresh.

Predator kicks off in style with a cool space intro scene (half of which was missing from my original copy), followed by an equally cool scene of Schwarzenegger and his team arriving at a remote HQ by helicopter. There’s no dialogue, instead we hear the thunderous and incredible score from Alan Silvestri. This is absolutely one of my top film scores of all time, and it’s never far from my mind. Every time I hear it, I get pumped to arm wrestle my buddy standing up, to shoot indiscriminately with a mini-gun into the dense jungle, to call an alien an ugly motherfucker. The score’s main theme, which kicks off the film, manages to simultaneously evoke the military team aspect of Arnold and his men, the jungle setting, and the alien predator hunting them down for sport. While I’m tempted to say something about wishing that Silvestri was still delivering scores on this level, after something as amazing as this and Back to the Future, I think he’s given enough. Silvestri has many other strong scores from this period (I’m especially partial to the fun steel drums of the Summer Rental score), but for me Predator and Back to the Future are the pinnacles of his career, elevating their movies infinitely higher than would otherwise be possible.

So after some very overt male bonding, we’re thrust into the mission at hand: Arnold and his men must drop behind enemy lines and rescue some high-profile hostages. No prob, we’ve got a crack team of kick-ass dudes on board this choppa! If anyone woulda said that two of these sons-of-bitches jammin’ to Long Tall Sally would one day become legitimate politicians, no one would have believed it. Anyway, very quickly after dropping into the jungle, their tracker Billy realizes that something is definitely not as they were told, and from here the action begins.

This time through I noticed how Predator was as much of a horror movie as it is an action movie. I’ve never really thought about it before, but Predator takes the simple “dudes with guns behind enemy lines” story, and augments it with the most badass alien stalking them in thermal vision. This takes what might be clichéd and “done before” to the next level and creates something unique. My girlfriend remarked right as the film was starting, “So is this like Alien?” And I replied that it wasn’t, but then I quickly took it back after some thought. It really is similar to Alien in a number of ways, but with the focus shifted to action instead of sheer terror.

It’s all the more impressive to consider that this was only John McTiernan’s second film. I’ve never seen his début — a horror film called Nomads starring Pierce Brosnan — but I’m sure it exhibits at least a hint of the quality contained in Predator. McTiernan would go on to make Die Hard the following year, thus firmly planting his name near the top of the action director debate for all time. While his later films don’t seem to have lived up to the legacy that those two did, like I said about Alan Silvestri before, after the flawless perfection of Predator and Die Hard, he could make a hundred shitty movies and it would never water down the intense adrenaline shot that those two movies provide.

If somehow you haven’t seen the film and you’re still not sold, perhaps a description of two amazing, stunning montages illustrating the sheer willpower of testosterone will sway you. Hundred-foot trees are literally bent down to form weapons —

I just want to break in with a point that illustrates how much I love the score to this movie. If it’s readily available, I try to listen to a film’s score as I write the review as it quickly places me back in the head-space of the film and gives my brain something to groove on while I get all stream of consciousness. Anyway, I started the Predator score about a half hour ago and I only just now noticed that it has been repeating the first track the entire time. That’s how much I adore this score. I’ve listened to the same track for over 30 minutes straight, and even after discovering it, I just left it alone.

Anyway, the montages! The first one is definitely a highlight, but it’s nothing compared to the final montage as Arnold prepares to face off mano-a-alieno with the Predator. While everything Arnold does in it is badass, I especially love the cutaways to the Predator’s overconfident trophy gazing. The montage ends with Arnold announcing himself to the Predator by lighting a torch and roaring a roar to rival beasts that went extinct 65 million years ago. That’s about as pure as you can get your badass on cinema, folks; the search is over. Arnold then proceeds to fake the Predator out, making him blast away the jungle like a frustrated madman. I had never noticed it before, but this mirrors the scene when Bill Duke goes apeshit and takes out the jungle with the mini-gun; the Predator might be struttin’ like a boss, but he’s quaking on the inside.

There are a few logic holes in Predator, but I refuse to really acknowledge them or make any mention of what they are in my review. Logic holes are beside the point in a film as great as Predator, and I would hate to be the guy to ruin someone else’s Predator experience. You might not agree that this is four-star film, but I feel that a film is perfect when the sound, visuals and substance (either entertainment or art substance) all come together to create something that transcends time or genre. Predator fits that bill with ease for me, and that’s why in my book, it’s one of the few perfect films out there. I’m not saying it’s Grand Illusion or anything, but I am saying that there ought to be room at the top for genre films of this caliber. At Silver Emulsion there is, and Predator rips the spine out of most action hybrid films that came before or since. Do it. Do it now.

8 comments to Predator (1987)

  • Will! You son of a bitch!

    Man, I’ve been waiting for a legitimate Arnold classic to be reviewed here since like forever!! I had no clue that you grew up on the TV edit of Predator, and your eventual exposure to the theatrical release makes for a pretty interesting take on this excellent movie. I remember when my dad first rented this back in the day. Sure, everybody knows what Predator is about nowadays. But back then I had no idea what I was getting into other than the fact that it was the latest Arnold movie and therefore I must watch it. I have strong impressions of that first viewing and distinctly remember having no clue about the plot. The movie begins and I really thought it was just gonna be another “macho dudes with muscle shirts in the jungle fighting militia guys” movie. I had no clue about the actual Predator! So when I saw the skinned guys dangling from the branches, and finally the predator itself, transparently cloaked in the trees, it was a curveball of epic proportions. It’s the 80s equivalent to watching Janet Leigh getting murdered in Psycho. Here I was thinking Arnold and company were just gonna dust some Columbian guys in a village, and now they are fighting a fucking Alien!! It’s genre bending of the highest caliber, fucking awesome, and you just don’t see it anymore. Nowadays films are so heavily marketed that you know the entire thing before you even lay down your ten bucks at the ticket booth. There are not a lot of surprises left in the movies anymore.

    Every time I rewatch Predator I try to psych myself out and go into it with that clueless mentality that I had back then during that initial viewing. This film has not lost any of that magic that stunned and mesmerized me as a kid. It’s one of the formative viewing experiences of my young years, and every bit deserving of your 4 star rating.

    • Hahahaha! Sorry to make you wait so long. The classics are easy for me to ignore as I’m usually more focused on watching new stuff. As I finished the Alien films, I was gonna jump into the AVP stuff, but then Stephen reminded me that I should review the Predator series! Oh yeah, duh! So that’s the plan and then I’ll reluctantly hit up the AVP stuff in November after Horrific October!

      I remember that same slow discovery of the plot and Predator stuff when I first watched it as well. Talk about a great fucking build-up. It’s easy to forget how awesome that final reveal of the Predator was when we’ve all been inundated with Predator shit ever since. And you’re so right, it’s exactly like Janet Leigh getting murdered in Psycho! It’s also true that so few movies guard their surprises in any way, instead blasting everything out to you in hopes that something will stick and make you want to see it. They’ve forgotten the power of “What the fuck was that?” to put asses in seats.

      Fuck yeah, man, Predator! I love this fucking movie.

  • Your review has made it painfully clear that it has been way too long since I last watched this. I don’t even remember 90% of the stuff you mention. It’s high time to dust off that DVD. I know it’s lying around here somewhere.

    I’m not sure if I should kick myself for having neglected it for so long, or just ride the impending awesome that’s going to come from seeing all this crap for what will feel like the first time.

    Maybe I should just call in sick tomorrow…

  • I got a nosebleed while I was reading this review, but since I didn’t have time to bleed, nor time to duck, I just got on with it.

    See what I did there?

    Predator is such an awesome film, directed with such masterful suspense by McTiernan. I do wonder, however, what the film would have been like without Silvestri’s score. It’s not one that sticks with you months later, with an easily hummable tune that latches into your brain, but it’s a perfect melding of music to images that, as much as I agree with you, is hard to beat.

    • I have to completely disagree with you, as I’ve hummed and played air drums to the Predator main theme for the last twenty-some years. It has always stuck with me and I can replay it in my mind at will. If I ever make a list of my favorite scores, it’s a top contender, no question. I think the film wouldn’t be near as good without the score, just like Star Wars or Back to the Future’s success hinges so much on its music. I never hear shit about this score, but it’s nothing short of perfect.

  • Stephen

    I dug it up, and it did totally feel like something I’ve never seen before. Of course I may have only seen that TV version anyway. It’s definitely a weird feeling knowing that it’s going to be fantastic even though you can’t remember why.

    But, man, this movie was even better than I thought it would be. I loved every minute of it, and it certainly deserves that four stars as much as anything does. The only thing I maybe had an issue with was using the predator vision just a wee bit more than I thought was good, particularly when he was in the fist fight with Arnold. But that’s such a piddly complain it doesn’t even register in the face of all the glorious action going on.

    At first I was a little put off that Arnold takes a couple hits from the predator’s gun, but then I thought, screw it. It’s Arnold. Of course he can take it.

    • Yeah! Predator is a force to be reckoned with! I never noticed any problem with overusing Predator vision, because I love Predator vision.

      As for Arnold taking the hits, I explain it one of two ways. One: Arnold is badass. Two: The Predator purposefully hit him with a less-powerful shot because he specifically wanted to save killing Arnold for his pièce de résistance. I lean towards the first one because I grew up in the ’80s, but I think the second one makes enough sense given the hunter context to satisfy everyone else.

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