Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Predator

Film: Predator
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’m often a little nervous going into a movie that was important to me in my past. If you grew up roughly when I did, you knew Predator when it was new. You loved it for Jesse Ventura and Arnold saying, “Get to the choppah!.” The predator itself was cool and the effects were like nothing anyone had seen before. It wasn’t Citizen Kane, but it was crazy and had cool effects and lots of explosions and paramilitary garb. It was absolutely the sort of movie you grabbed for a weekend from the local video rental place.

But when a movie like this is 30+ years old, whether or not it really holds up is a real question. There are plenty of movies from this era that do, of course. Ghostbusters is still funny, for instance. But not all of them do. I rewatched Stripes a couple of years ago and spent most of the running time waiting for it to be funny at all let alone as funny as I remembered it. So what about Predator? Does it still pass muster more than 30 years on?

I’m happy to say that for the most part, it does. Oh, there are some moments where the special effects aren’t that special and look like they were built on a Commodore 64, but a lot of it holds up really well. The predator in particular looks great, and the cloaking device is still really effective. Okay, it’s not the “holy shit” moment it was the first time I saw it 30 years ago, but it’s pretty great.

I’ll cover the plot quickly for two basic reasons. First, there’s honestly not a great deal of plot here. Second, the chances are very good that you’ve seen Predator and probably seen it multiple times. After we see a spaceship land on the planet we jump to the Special Forces team who will be our heroes. They are leader Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), medic Mac (Bill Duke), heavy weapons specialist Blain (Jesse Ventura), radio/comms man Hawkins (Shane Black), demolition expert Poncho (Richard Chaves), and tracker Billy (Sonny Landham). The team is called in by the CIA to extract hostages from a jungle at the behest of Dillon (Carl Weathers). They soon discover that this was just a cover—there aren’t hostages, but a group of Central American insurgents complete with Russian intelligence officers. But things are still hinky. The reason is that the area is being attacked by a creature from that spacecraft that showed up at the start of the film. The creature inside is a big game hunter who has come to Earth to hunt humans.

Now, in something that is wildly different from the typical of a movie like this, our predator critter isn’t attempting world domination. It’s here for the sport and the desire to return to its world with some trophies. It holds to very specific rules. We learn, thanks to surviving insurgent Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) that the creature will not attack anyone who is not actively engaged in self-defense. Of course our special forces team and CIA operative are unable to really do anything without being actively armed to the teeth, so they start getting picked off one man at a time until we get our final confrontation between Dutch and the critter.

One of the main selling points of Predator was the special effects, particularly of the alien creature. The creature’s cloaking device was described as resembling a chrome man in a room made out of mirrors, and that’s pretty close to what it looks like. It’s one of those effects that holds up surprisingly well despite its age. When the cloaking device malfunctions, the malfunction looks very much like rudimentary computer effects. The makeup/costuming job on the predator is also excellent—it still looks great and surprisingly real.

Predator isn’t really intended to be much more than it already is. It’s a vehicle for Schwarzenegger to hold guns, shout monosyllabic lines, and kick a little alien ass. It’s almost certainly made with the intent of being really nothing more than that. Arnie and team bite off more than they can chew, and the good guys get slowly picked off as they head back to something resembling civilization.

The truth is that I don’t know how objective I’m going to be here. I like this movie quite a bit, and I have liked it since I first saw it multiple decades ago. I love that it genuinely holds up in almost every respect, but I suspect that there may be more than a little nostalgia in that opinion. Still, “Got to the choppah!” will never die and will always be classic.

Why to watch Predator: It’s ‘80s science fiction royalty.
Why not to watch: It doesn’t quite hold up as well as you might like.


  1. I haven't seen this in a long time, but I did quite like it and never had really any problems with the visuals or anything. Did you ever see Predators (the one where they're on another planet)? I liked that one quite a bit. It was a good sequel/reboot thing that I'm kinda sad they didn't follow up on.

    Also, I watched Stripes for my 50/50 or 60/60 List back in the day, and I remember not thinking it was funny like... at all. I just remember being kinda bored.

    1. You might want to watch this again. It does hold up pretty well, but there are a few moments where the effects are tacky.

      Still, it's pretty great.

  2. I think you're under-selling this one, my friend: "Predator" IS the "Citizen Kane" of '80s Action/Sci-Fi.

    True, there's not a lot going on thematically, but it is a great subversion of what to expect in a Schwarzenegger film. Before "Predator" Arnold was the hulking, unstoppable killing machine ("Commando," "Terminator," etc.), but for all his strength and skill he's very much the underdog here.

    Also, this is just a well-constructed thriller. The film takes the time to establish the characters (and how they relate to each other) and show them excel at what they do so that when the Predator starts doing its thing, we really understand how formidable it is. You'd think just about every action movie does this, and you'd be wrong. McTiernan does a great job cranking up the tension -- so much so that it's a bit obvious that the second unit did the assault on the base.

    Finally, and I don't think this is an exaggeration, "Predator" is the most manly movie ever made. It's all flexing and fronting and smart-ass remarks. It's 1,000% testosterone. The majority of my chest hair grew in upon my first viewing. It's glorious.

    1. You make a fair point about the nature of Arnie's roles. This one is a little different despite being essentially the same in so many respects. And it's a fair point about just how well it works.

      It really does hold up, I was happy to discover. There are those moments of pure camp, but they don't detract from it at all.

      In terms of its manliness...I'd have to think about it.

  3. Predator is great. One of the 80s science fiction movies I made sure to show my kids.

    The script is tight and the story is incredibly gritty, dark and, in its own way, realistic. The claustrophobic jungle adds a great deal to the tone.

    I love it.

    1. Yeah, I do, too. I'm so happy that it's held up as well as it has. Like I said about Stripes, some movies just don't hold up. I had a similar reaction to watching first season Saturday Night Live clips. They just don't hold up.