Predator (1987)

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*. It was thirty years ago and I was 18 and Predator was not a movie I or any of my friends would have dared to miss.
*. I went to see it a couple of times when it first came out, and I’ve watched it several times since. I think it’s held up remarkably well, earning a place among the best of the ’80s action crop.
*. It is, of course, a comic book. Apparently the initial idea was inspired by a joke running the rounds that had it that Rocky’s next opponent (after Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV) would have to be an alien. Our hero, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has veins like bungee cords sticking out of his arms. When he throws a massive knife at a bad guy, pinning him to the wall, he laughs “Stick around!” (I was neither surprised nor impressed to hear that this was an improvisation.) Despite presumably traveling light, the team manage to blow off what seems to be an entire truck load of ammunition (and ammunition is really heavy to lug around). There are lots of explosions, with stunt men flying through the air.

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*. But for all this cheese, or maybe because of it, Predator is a great action flick, the sort of movie Howard Hawks might have made if he’d been making movies in the ’80s. The concept is as old as The Most Dangerous Game, with the super-soldier Dutch finding himself no longer the hunter but the prey in a jungle game of cat-and-mouse. Pure cheese, but it’s all put forward with professionalism in every department.
*. Item one: the pounding — and I mean pounding — score by Alan Silvestri. It’s not there to build suspense but to increase the flow of adrenaline, and it demands attention whenever it’s allowed to kick in. As a complement also worth noting, listen to the wonderful use of sound in this movie. When the team attack the guerilla camp you can hear the rising whine of the helicopter preparing for take off long before we see it, making it almost seem like part of the score. And it could be part of the score for how perfectly it fits in with all the other elements. Then there are the various Predator noises, including what was the sound of a whip snapping to register shifts in its vision. You can’t beat the sound of a whip snapping in an action flick.

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*. Item two: the fluidity of the action sequences. Some of this is just good editing, but what struck me more is how well set up they were. Like the way we transition from one bit of action to another in the attack on the guerilla camp with a quick pan. Or the way the Predator is introduced in several different shots coming up behind Arnold.
*. Item three: the gradual revealing of the Predator. First we get the thermal-vision point-of-view shots. We see a hand that looks like a claw reaching out to pick up the scorpion. Then we see it as a camouflage effect in the jungle. Then its eyes. Then partially coming out of its camouflage, for very brief shots or only showing isolated body parts. Then, all at once, rising out of the water (ironically revealed at the very moment Arnold, covered in mud, has disappeared from its view). Then the climax in the final battle as it removes its helmet and we get to see the ugly motherfucker in all its glory. By showing us just little pieces a bit at a time, director John McTiernan makes the striptease last the entire film.

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*. Yes, on the surface it’s a brainless action movie full of musclemen blowing things up real good. But a movie like this is easy to underestimate because its effects are so direct and visceral. And as for those musclemen, well, two of them would go on to become state governors.
*. Some of it I don’t like. Shane Black’s crude jokes aren’t even remotely funny. The final duel between Arnie and the Predator is actually the dullest part of the movie. None of the plot points bear much thinking about. And yet it’s all good, silly fun and the idea naturally developed into a franchise. Along with the Alien creature the Predator would turn into one of the period’s iconic movie monsters. Eventually, the two would have to face off, like Dracula meeting Frankenstein. But that would take a while yet.

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