An Appreciation of ‘Predator,’ A Modern Action Masterpiece
Two future governors, Apollo Creed, and the screenwriter for “Lethal Weapon” take on a alien killing machine in a primordial jungle
I will spoil the movie because to be honest, you should have seen the movie at least a few (dozen) times by now. But this will not be a facetious appreciation full of hyperbole, I genuinely do enjoy watching this movie, which itself is deeper and more complex than it appears.
With my background as an action cinephile, I maintain 1987’s “Predator” deserves to be immortalized in the pantheon of greatest action films of all time. This movie has it all: a heavy hitting cast, suspense, drama, man’s triumph over alien lifeforms, muscles, firepower, CIA cover-ups and then some. It is beyond me how the film was only nominated for best visual effects at the 1988 Academy Awards, and it didn’t even win…
I remember watching bits and pieces of the movie growing up before I realized had to sit down and watch the whole thing and cogitate. The basic plot is a group of elite commandos is on a mission to rescue captured Latin American cabinet leaders. But this clandestine mission was actually a cover-up intended to retrieve key CIA documents from rebel guerrillas deep in the jungle. That is until the soldiers of fortune unknowingly meet a clever dreadlock-wearing alien killing machine intent on hunting them for sport and taking their skulls for war trophies.
This cable favorite touches on numerous profound themes that belie its 80s action movie exterior. Among them are friendship, vengeance, a sense of duty, man struggles versus the jungle and then versus the Predator, man’s resolve in the face of insurmountable odds, redemption and others in its 107 minutes run time.
The cast, which is a murder’s row of talent and testosterone, features future Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger as the leader Dutch, WWF Superstar and future Minnesota governor Jesse “the Body” Ventura as Blain, Apollo Creed as the evasive Dillon, Sonny Landham as Billy the preternatural tracker and the screenwriter for “Lethal Weapon” Shane Black as the radio man.
The commandos are supposed to be on a rescue mission, but carry no food or water and enough firepower to equip a small army. And the marquee weapon for this group is Blain’s Old Painless, technically known as M-124 mini-gun capable of shooting up to six thousand rounds per minute. Blain uses gun to vaporize a number of rebel guerillas in the raid on the jungle hideout before trying to take on the Predator, which he fails to do after the alien uses his futuristic shoulder cannon to blow a giant hole through him. Mayhem ensues, his best friend Mac then picks up Old Painless and ends up emptying rounds clearing the forest, but does manage to wound the hunter exposing his fluorescent green blood. And all hunters know, if it bleeds, you can kill it.
One of my favroite exchanges has to do with the two main battle-hardened protaganists. Following Blain’s loss of his entire midsection due to the Predator’s futuristic cannon. Mac takes it upon himself to avenge his fallen friend, and in a crazed blood lust takes off into jungle to hunt the alien creature. Dutch attempts to go after him, before Dillon interjects.
“Hold it Dutch, I’m going after Mac,” Dillon says, confusing his friend.
“That’s not your style Dillon,” replies Dutch, possibly recalling his old friend’s habit of looking out for only himself.
“I guess I picked up some bad habits from you, now get your people the hell out of here,” Dillon says forcefully.
Dutch knows going after the Predator is a suicide mission, and tries to persuade him not to join Mac.
“You can’t win this Dillon,” says Dutch.
“Maybe I can get even,” Dillon replies.
Dutch then call his name for a final time and throws him another machine gun. They look at each other one more time knowing this is goodbye, before Dillon enters the undergrowth to exact his revenge, and regain the honor he has lost.
My Australian friend Dave and I connected in college with our love of 80s action movies and Predator was always at the top of that list. We were obsessed with Dillon and Dutch’s machismo greeting at the dirty bar in the depths of the Central American Jungle. The two action movie demigods greet each other in a shot that accentuates their large muscles and ill-fitting collared shirts before it devolves into an arm wrestling match.
A play in three acts.
And I am not going to lie, that scene specifically has inspired me to hit the weights and turn these garter snakes I call arms into 22 inch pythons that would make 1969’s Mr. Universe proud.
The Predator takes natural selection into his own hands, and takes out the cadre of commandos one by one, until one man stands alone. Dutch is stripped of his friends and humanity, and with nothing left becomes one with the jungle and takes on the extraterristal being.
In the penultimate scene, the alien perhaps recognizing himself in Dutch, as an unrelenting hunter, takes off his futuristic weapons to battle him mano-a-mano. The fight is one-sided at first before the Predator falls into the booby traps Dutch previously laid across the jungle, and the alien lifeform is ultimately defeated.
The movie’s title and plot (for most part) make it seem like the alien creature was the predator and the humans were the prey, but on the contrary, and the alien warrior was the prey all along, he just didn’t know it yet.