Originally Published on Set The Tape
I look back at the classic action movie Predator as the film celebrates it's 30th anniversary cinematic re-release.
I can’t remember the first time that I watched Predator, but I know that I must have been close to five or six years old, borrowing the VHS from my uncle when I stayed round my nan’s one weekend. I knew that I shouldn’t be watching it, he knew that I shouldn’t be watching it, but my family had a very laid back attitude to being allowed to watch older films. As such, I grew up with Predator in my regular weekly rotation of thing to watch when staying at my grandparents, with Saturday mornings being filled with SMTV or Live & Kicking, and the afternoon with Aliens or Predator.
One of the drawbacks of having watched the film so young is that I’ve always remembered it as a sci-fi action movie, a film that sets Arnold Schwartzenegger and his team against an extraterrestrial threat. As such, I’ve never been able to experience the surprise of having what appears to be a regular action film take a turn into horror sci-fi mid way through.
Whilst it’s hard to find someone that is unaware of what Predator is really about thanks to how popular the titular creature has become, if you can find someone that has never seen the film before and doesn’t know the twist it’s an absolute delight to watch them watch it. The marketing for the film a the time only kept this secret for a short while, with the fact that they were fighting an alien being revealed in the trailer, there were many cinema goers that would not have known this. As such, Predator shocked many of those watching it; which became one of the big factors in why people fell in love with the film.
Thankfully, with an excellent cast and some great directing, the rest of the film stands up so well on it’s own that even if you do know about the alien monster it’s a damn good film. The film begins like any other action film at the time, a special squad of soldiers that specialise in rescue missions are sent into South America to rescue some people who have been captured by guerilla fighters.
This beginning is very cheesy, and has each member of the team given their brief spotlight to shine, with Jesse Ventura’s Blaine chewing tobacco and being surly, Carl Weather’s Dillon very much the outsider, and Shane Black’s Hawkins telling awful pussy jokes. The characters are very arch, and don’t really develop beyond their sover the top stereotypes over the course of the film, but each one is played with such charm and humour that it’s impossible not to end up liking them; something that’s very important when they start being killed off.
Where the film really stands out, however, is when it shifts to include the Predator. Not only does the whole tone of the film begin to change when the hunters become the hunted, but the direction changes too. Where before our heroes were large and imposing on screen, they’re framed small within the jungle. Instead of fighting together as a unit, they become separated, becoming easy targets. And the quick cuts and fast paced editing takes on a slower approach as the camera slowly moves through the jungle, taking time to linger where before it would cut away.
It’s subtle, and a lot of people watching would end up missing it, but the film shifts in these subtle ways with the intention of putting the audience on the back foot, to challenge their expectations and put them at a disadvantage, much like the characters. Whilst the humans in the film are a pleasure to watch, and perform their roles admirably, the real star of the film is the Predator himself. With a design from the legendary Stan Winston (and apparently inspired by a suggestion from James Cameron), the Predator has gone on to become one of the most iconic movie monsters in the world.
Originally a more insect like creature that was going to be played by Jean Claude Van Damme, director John McTiernan realised that the monster was such an integral part of the film and made the decision to alter it midway through production. This change was definitely for the better (the original creature looked absolutely awful!) and helped make both the creature and the film a success. Despite being so alien, and not having any lines that weren’t just mimics of other characters, the rivalry between Schwartzenegger and the Predator is one of the best parts of the film, with the final act of the two hunting each other still being incredibly tense to watch, even after thirty years and literally hundreds of rewatches.
With no dialogue and no other human on the screen, Schwartzenegger’s fight with the Predator is still one of the best moments from any of his films, managing to put Arnie in one of his most vulnerable and dangerous positions. Whilst we know that there’s never a chance that he’ll die, the audience still end up fearing for him.
Predator was never intended to be anything more than a schlocky action film, but thanks to some great over the top acting, brilliant directing, and a monster design that still stands head and shoulders above other movie monsters after all these decades it becomes more than the sum of its parts and one of the best Schwartzenegger films ever made.
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