Catching Up: Predator

We all have gaps in our cinematic knowledge, films which, if we confess our ignorance of, someone, somewhere will say, “How have you not seen that?!” Catching Up is about these films, and viewing them so long after seemingly everyone else has. Some of these entries may be shocking, some are embarrassing, but all of them are classics.

The Film:

Directed by John McTiernan, originally released in 1987. A team of commandos lead by Major “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) infiltrates the Guatemalan jungle on a rescue mission, only to find themselves stalked by an extraterrestrial hunter.

Wait, you really haven’t seen this?

Until now, the closest I’d come to seeing this movie was a four-second clip of Carl Weathers losing his arm that played alongside his appearance as himself in Arrested Development. I know this is a nostalgic staple for many, many people of my generation, but I was a sheltered kid. I didn’t get to watch R-rated movies like this until high school. I had, however, already seen Alien vs. Predator, but I know that isn’t really a positive.

The Legacy:

Academy Award nominee for Best Visual Effects. Helped solidify Arnold Schwarzenegger as synonymous with action movie herodom. Began a franchise of… somewhat less-illustrious sequels, and which would eventually cross over with the Alien franchise to even less than illustrious results. The 336th-greatest movie of all time, according to Empire (Do you take Empire lists seriously? I kind of don’t).

What did you know about it beforehand?

Well, I knew Carl Weathers would end the film with at least one fewer limb than he started it with. I knew that, at various points, someone would say, “If it bleeds, we can kill it,” “You are one ugly motherfucker,” and, of course, “Get to da choppa!” And since I’d seen Alien vs. Predator and the various movies and television shows that reference this film, I already knew pretty much all the details of how the Predator looks and what it was capable of.

Did what you know matter?

A little. Part of the movie’s thrill comes in how it gradually parcels out the Predator’s powers and abilities. We see its spaceship before we see it, which immediately informs us of its origin and sends the signal that it could potentially do any crazy thing. We also see its gruesome handiwork before even a (cloaked) glimpse of the monster itself, a classic method of building suspense. Knowing all of that ahead of time undercuts the tension, and I found myself wondering when the heck the movie would get to the predation action (predaction?).

I kind of feel that I would have been impatient for the Predator even if  I didn’t know anything about it, though. What no one mentions about this movie is that it takes a pretty long time for it to really start taking an active role in the plot. I didn’t use a stopwatch, but it’s at least a third of the way through the running time before it starts getting down to business. But then again, it’s vitally important to establish the characters we follow before getting into the dirty business with them. Otherwise, what reason do we have to care? The raid on the guerilla camp may not really have anything to do with the rest of the film, but it demonstrates what badasses the elite team are, which helps the Predator seem all the more intimidating when it starts cutting them down with ease. Could the earlier sections have been better integrated with what comes after the plot actually kicks in? Perhaps, but it still works for what it’s meant to do.

Did anything surprise you?

I didn’t really anticipate what a… well, what an Eighties movie this is. Not only are all the aesthetic elements – the cinematography, score, editing, etc – all totally Eighties, but Predator exemplifies the Eighties action film to a purer degree than any other specimen of the genre, with the possible exception of Commando. Extreme military fetishism? Check. Evil Central Americans? Check. Extraordinary, ridiculous, extraordinarily ridiculous bodily harm? Check. Hilariously cheesy one-liners? Check. A white and black guy as best friends? Check. A distinct lack of females in any capacity other than a damsel in distress? Check. Muscles larger than my midsection?

Check.

This movie is like the result of a horrific steroid experiment that resulted in the creation of a pulsating sac of gristle that oozes testosterone and chewing tobacco, which subsequently walks the Earth wearing a tight shirt with an outrageously large popped collar.

Also, it was kind of perversely delightful to realize that these guys were likely on some kind of Contra-like bit of black ops action, most likely striking at people rebelling against a US-installed and/or -backed dictatorship. Wait, did I say “delightful?” I meant “mildly horrifying.” I realize that I am probably not patriotic enough for this movie’s liking.

So, did it live up to the hype?

Yeah, mostly. Once it gets going, it’s fun as hell. It’s exciting and tense at equal turns, and does a great job of escalating the odds against Schwarzenneger’s character as it goes on, as his team and equipment are whittled away until he’s left with nothing but his wits and ginormous musculature. I didn’t really care for any of the other characters all that much besides Carl Weathers, and that’s only because he’s Carl Weathers. The woman (and I only have to say “the woman” because there are no others here) is beyond useless, and probably could have been cut out of the movie entirely. I found it kind of curious that the Predator’s glowing blood never really came into play; you’d think that would be helpful for anyone fighting it. But I’m nitpicking now. It’s a good movie.

While I liked it a lot, I get the feeling you might have to see Predator at a younger age to truly and fully love it. When I watched it at a 25th anniversary screening at a local theater, the only other person in the room who hadn’t already seen it was a twelve-year-old boy. I suspect he’ll have fonder memories of it than I will.

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