Predator (1987) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: R for strong, bloody violence, sexual references, and language
Running time:
107 min.

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Elpidia Carrillo, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black, Kevin Peter Hall
Director: John McTiernan
Screenplay: Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Reviewed on September 2, 2013

Arnold Schwarzenegger (Commando, The Terminator) stars as Dutch Schaeffer, who, along with his crew of elite special ops commandos, is sent to the jungle of a hostile Latin American country on a covert rescue mission to save the bacons of a previous military crew rumored to be held hostage there.  However, he soon finds out there's more to the mission than he had originally been told by his old friend, Maj. George Dillon (Weathers, Rocky IV), leaving them in a firefight with other military factions in a country they aren't supposed to be in.  Worse, they discover that some of the soldiers in the area have been killed in a most disturbing manner, skinned, disemboweled, and left for vultures to feast on.  And worst, Dutch's crew appear to be the next on the prey list.

John McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October) made his mark as one of the best action directors of the 1980s with Predator, a unique and very skillfully made mash-up of guerilla action flick and science fiction backbone.  It's deceptively simple, yet absolutely gripping once it gets going, thanks to the time McTiernan takes, working from a script by the sibling team of Jim and John Thomas (Executive Decision, Mission to Mars), in establishing its characters, their mission, and reducing the plot down to just what the audience needs to know, which makes the events that happen later in the film all the more horrific.  (The one knock is that this sparse screenplay uncharacteristically gives Arnie some unnecessary exposition toward the end as he explains to himself, and to the predator, just what he's thinking, as if we couldn't figure out what was going on through body language alone.)

In addition to McTiernan's tight direction, Predator soars to the top of the 1980s action flick pack through its brilliant camera work, with some breathtaking cinematography by Donald McAlpine (Moon Over Parador, The Hard Way), and a gorgeous score from Alan Silvestri (Flight of the Navigator, Back to the Future), one which is worthy of a major sci-fi epic franchise.  It also features special effects that are simple but very appropriate, which makes it one of the few sci-fi flicks of the Eighties to stand up equally well today. Particularly memorable is the use of first-person, infrared technology to clue us in as to how the "predator" manages to thermally see the men who are camouflaged, and also its ability to use voice mimicry to separate the men from the rest of the pack for an easy kill.  And once you see the 'predator' close-up, it's a sight you will not soon forget.

Schwarzenegger, in his prime as an action star, is mostly subdued, giving a few of his traditional one-liners ("Stick around" punctuates a scene in which he impales someone standing, and his unintentionally funny line, "Get to da choppa!" would become a popular internet meme), but his physical action performance ranks among his very best. It also features a fantastic supporting cast of macho actors, including Carl Weathers, Bill Duke (Car Wash), and ex-pro wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura (The Running Man).  Trivia: both Schwarzenegger and Ventura would go on to become U.S. State Governors. Not to be outdone, Sonny Landham (48 Hrs., Action Jackson), who plays Billy, unsuccessfully ran for the governorship of Kentucky in 2003. Shane Black (Robocop 3), who plays Hawkins, the bespectacled commando with a gift for raunchy jokes, would go on to greater success the same year as the screenwriter for Lethal Weapon, kicking off a long and lucrative career as a screenwriter and, later, an action director in his own right.

Though testosterone-charged, action movie fans will enjoy this the most, this cross-genre excursion should also please the science fiction crowd, as well as aficionados of horror, as its plot feels very much like a slasher film, though with much better technical specs and a more developed premise.  It's not a brilliant piece of cinema by any stretch, but when you're in the mood for exciting, intense action, few films out there fit the bill better.   As Bill Duke's character of Mac might say, 'You're gonna have you some fun".

-- Followed by Predator 2 (1990), AVP: Alien Vs. Predator (2004), Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), and Predators (2010).

 Qwipster's rating:

1997, 2013 Vince Leo