Review: Predator (1987) (If It Bleeds…)

predator

“You’re looking good, Dutch”

Can you believe that ‘Predator’ is 30 years old this year? 30! The plot is simple. Spaceship lands on earth, alien comes out of said spaceship, alien hunts and kills humans. A military task force headed by Dutch (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger come face to face with it…It’s not the plot that really matters here, but the visual language and what the audience interprets along the way. It’s a more thoughtful film than you’d think.

The film begins with two separate invasions; the alien spacecraft falling to earth, and the military choppers flying into Guatemala. We hear the mission given to Arnie and co., about saving a US Cabinet Minister from South American rebels. He is essential to operations there; the implication being that he’s involved in North America’s intervention in South America. Arnie (Dutch) and Dillan have an arm wrestle as a ‘hello.’ Then we have the second invasion, of macho Arnie and co. travelling to Val Verde in a helicopter. The machismo drips off the screen; we hear the rock and roll tunes of Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally,’ pro wrestler Jesse Ventura (Blain) call his friends a bunch of “slack jawed faggots” for not chewing tobacco, and Hawkins telling an obscene sexual joke.

Then we are plunged into the jungles of South America. The task force encounter a downed helicopter and skinned corpses (Army Special Forces soldiers). Billy, the Native American guy, says to Dutch “Do you remember Afghanistan?” “I’m trying to forget it,” Dutch replies. Aren’t we all…Like any good horror film, we do not immediately see the murderer straight away. We only see it camouflaged with its chameleon cloak until about 45 minutes in. And we are not sure what it is until the first visible appearance. Predator is an action film, so we see plenty of gore and dead bodies. But it takes cues from horror films as well. Like Halloween before it, we see the point of view of the ‘murderer’ before seeing the murderer. We have the thermal imaging viewpoint of the alien. Are we meant to literally see from its point of view? Stranded on an alien planet, the Predator is dealing with threats to its life. It sees these macho men with massive weapons and plans to wipe them out.

The ultimate 80s action hero!
The ultimate 80s action hero!

“Stick around”

Ahhh, that classic Arnie quip when he throws a knife at a South American rebel…and for the first thirty minutes or so, you could be fooled into believing this is a typical Arnie film. The assault on the rebel encampment could be thrown into ‘Commando’ comfortably. The high body count, the disregard for hostages by using massive amounts of explosives, the quips (“Knock Knock!” And the classic “I ain’t got time to bleed” from Jesse Ventura)…However, this is also when our confidence in this film being part of the action genre is shaken. First, we find out that Dillon has betrayed his ex-best bud Dutch. The Cabinet Minister was actually a member of the CIA. The rescue mission was set up by Dillon so the encampment would be destroyed. The Army Special Forces had been sent there to find two missing CIA agents, another example of US involvement in South America. “You used to be somebody I could trust,” Dutch says. “I woke up, why don’t you? We’re all assets,” Dillon says.

For once, Arnie is out shadowed by his nemesis, in the shape of the Predator. From its design, to its thermal viewpoint,it’s one of the great alien/monster in cinema history. Put simply: it looks bad-ass! Arnie has never been the best actor, but he’s vying for screen time with a great on-screen villain. Of course, the films that Arnie starred often include his character in the title: ‘The Running Man,’ ‘The Terminator,’ ‘Commando,’ etc. But this is called ‘Predator.’ And the Predator is more than worthy of standing up to the invincible 80s action hero. High-tech weaponry, camouflage, being an “ugly motherf**ker…” the Predator has it all. It’s the Austrian ubermensch vs an alien killing machine. When the film focuses on that, it’s brilliant.

However, it’s not a consistently great film. The quips, whilst amusing, threaten to derail the tension brewing as we learn more about the Predator (and why Dutch’s team are there in the first place). There is a plot about military deception, but it’s barely there. Sometimes, you feel like you are being distracted from the simpler plot about an alien killing machine killing people (or is it defending itself). But stripped down, it’s one of the essential movies that screams “MACHO MAN!” From Jesse Ventura chewing tobacco, to Arnie and co looking like sculpted gods, to the hyper-violence, it’s everything a man’s man wants from a film. A the showdown between Arnie and the Predator (really, who else could face the alien?) is a fantastic set-piece, showing Arnie’s cunning and his strength. Oh yes, and I haven’t forgotten about the Vietnam undertones. But they are obvious!

Arnie vs Predator...whoever wins...
Arnie vs Predator…whoever wins…

“Get to the choppa!!!”

‘Predator’ is not an excellent film by any stretch, but a very good film. The first half an hour, like I mentioned before, is little more than a typical Arnie action film. The quips almost spoil the atmosphere being built. However, the film goes deeper than you think. It can be seen as an allegory of the Vietnam or a straight action-adventure film. It can be seen as a commentary on our relation to nature, at once trying to destroy it when it attacks us, but then becoming at one with it when it suits us. It has many gripping action scenes, some beautiful lines, a strikingly realised alien, and Arnie at the heights of his fame and screen presence.

VERDICT: 7/10. Arnie and action go together like peanut butter and jelly. The same applies to Arnie and science fiction. Here, the blend (mixed also with a little horror) results in something uneven, but full of entertainment. ‘Predator’ is one of the essential MACHO MAN films, oozing testosterone with barely a woman in sight.

What did you think of ‘Predator’? Leave your comments below!

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