The raid on the rebel base was a typical Eighties action scene. Lots of loud boom-boom and shots of guys legs as they got blown-up. The tactics weren’t exactly sound. All of the weapons were on full automatic all the time and of course, they never ran out of bullets. And honestly the selection of firearms was a bit odd. But it was an Eighties blast-flick, so all of this was expected and good.
In any case the battle scene did its job. The team’s bad-ass cred is now firmly established.
After the raid on the rebel base our team of contractors takes off into the jungle to get to the extraction point.
At this point the Predator begins a more active pursuit. You see frequent shots of the team through it’s POV represented by thermal shots.
After establishing an interplay of the various relationships. The local Communist Rebel, (who only wants freedom, justice and to kill children and homosexuals like Che Guevara did), escapes. Shane Black gives chase and the Predator picks off the weakest of the herd.
The team tries to work out what just happened and who is after them. Couldn’t be the rebels because the girl would have taken off with them. Then Combat Carl says, “the same thing happened to Hopper (the Green Berets from earlier).
The team moves off into the jungle again.
I want to take a moment here to praise John McTiernan’s work. The guy is a genuine craftsman with a real gift for suspense. And he knew how to use long shots to best effect. I also appreciated the fact that he didn’t feel the need to explain every single little thing that happened. He would show you what was going on and you could fill in the gaps yourself.
He went on from this to make Hunt For Red October and the first Die Hard movie. Unfortunately, he tied his career a little too closely to Arnold’s consequently, his biggest flops were also Schwarzenegger’s. He enjoyed a brief renaissance with the Thomas Crown Affair but followed that with the 13th Warrior and then Rollerball. His last theatrical release was eighteen years ago. Which is a shame because he was one of the greatest action directors of his day.
Jesse the Body Ventura is killed next and what follows is the most awesome and pointless scene in Eighties action history:
A lot of sound and fury that signified nothing and I totally still fucking love it.
The team finds a green glowing blood trail blood-trail and Arnold says, “if it bleeds we can kill it.”
The next segment is when the prey turns. Which was a pretty sound idea and it feels natural for these warriors to do that. They picked a spot that the critter from the stars was going to have to enter in order to pursue them and they set up an elaborate ambush involving most of the tropes from the Vietnam period. Deadfall logs, punji sticks, and the like.
While they are waiting in the hide, the Rebel Girl fills them in on native lore regarding the Demon Who Makes Trophies of Men. Honestly, it was just atmospheric, she doesn’t add a lot to what we didn’t know already except it only shows up in the hottest of years.
The ambush almost works and if they had been faster on the draw when it was in the net they might have won the day.
But it wasn’t time for the movie to end yet, so it escapes. We get a good look at it for the first time and Poncho is then wounded by one of their own log traps.
Bill Duke chooses that moment to lose his shit and run off into the jungle after it. Combat Carl decides to redeem his honor in blood and goes after him. We know that he’s doomed because Arnold tells him he can’t win that fight.
The Predator clips out both of them in loud and gory fashion.
Arnold, the Girl, and Pancho are trying to get to the chopper. Billy decided he’s going to pick the time and place of his death and plays Horatius at the Gate. That is also one of the most iconic scenes in the movie. And again there was no exposition, it was all shown. The Predator didn’t use any of his energy weapons on Billy like he did with the rest of the team. You get some idea of the creature’s motivations here. It wasn’t just sadism, it appeared to have a code of honor. Because Billy was clearly challenging him to fight man to man with only blades and the alien had to accept Billy’s terms for the duel.
And unlike the rest of the team you don’t see Billy getting killed. You just hear his death-cry echoing through the jungle.
Pancho gets his brains blown out and Arnold had figured out why the creature didn’t kill the girl when it could have. She wasn’t armed.
Creature attacks again and Arnold barely escapes. He only does so because he ends up covered with mud. They did make it explicit that Dutch understood that the creature hadn’t seen him even while looking directly at him.
The climax is about to begin.
We get dueling montages. Dutch is setting up a lot of traps and the Predator is making a special project of Billy’s skull. This was clearly a more important trophy to it than the others. The audience assumes it was because of Billy’s challenging the predator openly.
So, it feels natural that when Arnold begins the fight by making a wordless primal bull ape roar into the jungle. It has to accept his challenge and fight.
This code of honor the Predator seems to have explained or at least justified some of its actions. When round one of the climax goes badly for Dutch the Predator doesn’t kill him immediately. He first examines Arnold’s skull with his thermal-optics and then instead of finishing him off, (which as it turns out would have been a good idea), the Predator discards it’s advanced weapons and takes off its helmet, which appears to significantly diminish its eyesight. But the sense of ritual is strong enough that you buy that it would discard it’s best advantages before roaring its own challenge to Dutch and fighting him barehanded.
The ending you know. Dutch finds one of the deadfalls from earlier and mortally wounds the alien with that. He then refrains from killing it with a rock when he sees it’s too injured to remain a threat to him.
The critter then blows itself up real good. Credit’s roll The End.
So, the first question that should be answered is does it hold up? Is it still worth a watch today thirty-three (groan) years later?
The CGI effects are easily its weakest aspect at this point. CGI was in diapers in 1987 and it showed. When I was rewatching it, that was one thing that tried (and failed) to tug me out of the story. Not so much the Predator’s thermoptic camouflage that still works just fine. But when a plasma shot would impact there would be a CGI blood burst that is very obvious by today’s standards.
Second and weakest aspect was the Battle of the Rebel Base. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad and it’s one of the best scenes of its type for that period. The problem is modern film school grammar for shoot’em up action scenes have moved forward. And that sequence was clearly pretty old school. Especially with the explosions followed by the stuntmen jumping into a somersault with their feet waggling in the air.
And I know I’m going to get push back from you on this but that gun:
Was just silly. There is a reason those mini-guns were vehicle-mounted weapons. They burned through a hundred rounds a second, it wasn’t physically possible for a human to aim it. It weighed eighty-five pounds unloaded, which brings us to the subject of ammo. This weapon’s primary purpose was to turn ammunition into noise Not to mention the fact that six thousand rounds would weigh about 300 pounds.
Apparently, Arnold was upset that while Jesse and Bill Duke got to fire it, he the star, did not. This was corrected in Terminator 2 and then everyone was using the dumbass thing for years.
It was just silly.
On to the good.
The music is a very strong aspect of this film. Alan Silvestri did a great job painting in background tensions and evoking the emotions the audience was meant to feel. Those things are critical to the success of a suspense and horror film.
The cinematography and direction were first-rate. While the action scenes are dated the suspense scenes should be (and probably are) used in modern film schools. And while the CGI is dated the practical effects work just fine.
The Austrian elephant in the room is Arnold’s performance. This was still pretty early in his career but McTiernan worked around his star’s limitations very effectively. The drama of his conflict with Combat Carl was weak but that didn’t matter since the fight with the Predator was what mattered in the climax. In that scene Arnold came across as a primal male doing battle as primitively as you can. That was what was most required of him and he delivered.
The answer is yes, Predator holds up.