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Review: “Predator”

PredatorDirected by: John McTiernan
Produced by: Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver, John Davis
Written by: Jim Thomas, John Thomas, Shane Black (Uncredited)
Edited by: Mark Helfrich, John F. Link
Cinematography by: Donald McAlpine
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Kevin Peter Hall, Richard Chaves, Elpidia Carrillo, Sonny Landham, Shane Black, R.G. Armstrong, Peter Cullen
Year: 1987”


Apparently inspired by a gag about Rocky Balboa, having bested all his human opponents, fighting an alien contender, Predator always felt, to me, like a cheap and uninteresting action film with next to no characters I fully cared about. Given, I had formed this opinion around the age of 10, when I had first seen the film and at a time when I thought Batman Forever was a great entry in the franchise, so I’m not sure how much weight I’d give that assessment, but it’s one that I held on to for quite some time – in fact, I have basically avoided every possible opportunity to actually see it again in full length from that first viewing onward just based on the fact that it was a boring, super-macho action film with an ugly alien creature. I’ve seen both Alien vs. Predator films more times than this (though that’s more because they’re so entertainingly bad). For Guy Movie Month, however, I decided that it was time that I got past my distaste for the film and give it another go…

Predator - This is how real men greet one another apparently

… and I pretty much came out of the experience feeling pretty vindicated that basing my relationship with the film on 10-year-old CJ’s distaste for it was pretty much spot on with how I’d still feel about 17 years later. Seriously, it’s a film about a bunch of macho muscle studs heading out into the jungle to rescue a kidnapped politician only to find themselves getting caught up in the crossfire of a very small scale alien invasion. Simple premise with some promise, but it’s possibly too simple, at least as it’s presented.

The big action shootout happens early, when they take out the kidnappers’ base and take one of their women hostage, and while the movie tries to build up the tension to the alien’s big reveal using inexplicably skinned dead bodies of American soldiers and creature-perspective camera shots of the action, it never really picks up the pace again, and you’re left watching a sort of Vietnam-throwback allegory about soldiers losing their mind in extreme situations – something Aliens did much much better the year prior, being a more entertaining, better acted, better directed, and all around just more interesting movie than Predator.

Predator - Sonny Landham, Carl Weathers, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Richard Chaves

You can’t blame someone for getting kind of bored somewhere in the middle, when the villain begins to just pluck them off, one-by-one, watching them shoot their guns into open spaces until there is only one left. (And, yes, you already know which one is going to be left standing if you know who is in the movie.) I couldn’t help but notice the way that the film focuses on the masculine form, the way they treat the sole woman in the story, the emasculating insults they jokingly hurl at one another, and *SPOILER* the suggestive way that the alien basically only goes after the men in the movie *END SPOILER*. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out there has some kind of theory about the film’s homoerotic subtext. Oh wait, here you go.

Predator - Elpidia Carrillo

Predator was John McTiernan’s second film after the poorly received Nomads, and writer Shane Black was apparently brought in to supervise him in his progress on what could’ve been a sophomore slump in what looked like an already unpromising career. While the film did end up being an uptick in quality and earned money, Predator was still a critical dud upon release. It seems like nostalgia has pretty much fueled the franchise taken over in most people’s minds when it comes to this movie, and that’s largely the reason I think the studio was mostly just coasting on its popularity with audiences, releasing a poorly received sequel and two spin-offs before finally striking gold with professional “trash” movie maker Robert Rodriguez’s Predators a short while ago – a movie even I enjoyed, but it’s likely that this is due to Rodriguez’s own fondness for this first film and expressing it in a more me-friendly manner than McTiernan. At least McTiernan would go on to do better things… well… direct better things. Can’t say the same for his personal life.

Predator - The alien

Predator isn’t a total loss for me, mind you. For what it’s worth, Schwarzenegger and the rest of the cast are able to carry the dead weight of the film on their muscular shoulders, and the alien itself, despite sporting a design that is mostly kind of dumb-looking (tentacle dreadlocks?), is technically a great achievement on the part of Stan Winston and his crew. My second full viewing also resulted in a milder appreciation for the film’s simplicity and small scope sprouting up in the process, though that’s a somewhat more polite way of saying, “I didn’t get as bored this time as I did when I was just a kid.”

I guess what I’m saying is that I just can’t get into Predator. But I also can’t say that it’s a bad film since I’m fairly certain that it’s objectively satisfying the requirements for an 80s-era action flick, and I know it could be far worse. But that doesn’t, in my eyes, make this a particularly entertaining or compelling film that I would easily consider adding to my own collection. I suppose the fact that I’ve moved up from disliking to not easily choosing to buy it is a step up, however. Perhaps a third viewing’s in order? … Nah.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5

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