PREDATOR starts out with a shot of an alien spacecraft jettisoning a shuttle towards earth. We just see it from the distance, there’s not alot of detail visible, but we don’t live under a rock, so we know what’s going on here. The extra-terrestrial hunting enthusiast known only as “Predator” is arriving on Earth. The human characters in the movie get all the screen time, but Predator gets the first shot, so we know this is really his story.
Like E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, PREDATOR doesn’t give us any backstory on the alien star. All we know is the guy is no botanist. Maybe an exotic meat salesman. It almost seems like an alien remake of FIRST BLOOD because you got this one crazy alien maniac out in the jungle by himself, taking on a couple platoons worth of elite soldiers and doing a pretty good job of it. John Rambo did some sick shit but he didn’t skin a bunch of guys and hang them upside down from the trees. He didn’t pull out people’s spines. So Predator’s got one on John. You even get the scene where Predator, like John, is wounded and has to do some makeshift surgery on himself. The only difference is he uses advanced alien technology to heal himself instead of just crudely sewing himself up.
And that’s actually our key to understanding what this Predator dude is all about. If this guy was REALLY the great hunter he obviously thinks he is, he wouldn’t be fucking CHEATING by using advanced alien technology. The guy is making himself invisible, using laser cannons, all this shit. This seems more like Dick Cheney style bird torture than actual legitimate hunting. It’s not until the very end that Predator takes off his helmet and weapons and takes on Schwarzenegger man-to-man. But he probaly wasn’t planning that from the beginning, he probaly either got the idea from Billy when he threw down his gun, took off his shirt and cut his face, or from Dutch when he did the same kind of thing. That macho take-off-your-shirt-and-throw-down-your-weapons shit is contagious when you’re out there in the jungle away from civilization. But make no mistake about it, this Predator asshole is just some rich spacetourist coming here for some thrills. You don’t fly all the way to earth for hunting unless you got some serious money in your account. That opening shot of the shuttle firing off of the mothership and heading for earth? That’s the Predator Luxury Vacation Cruiser bringing Predator to earth for the Deluxe Big Game Hunting Package. I mean come on. Let’s not glamourize this guy.
On the other hand, I gotta be fair. We don’t speak predator and we don’t know what happened on that ship before he blasted off. Maybe they got in a big argument and he said fuck this, got in an escape pod and shot off to earth with both middle fingers blazing. Then he landed in the jungle and the soldiers there pissed him off, one thing led to another and the next thing you know there’s some skinned earthlings hanging from the trees. I mean I’m still leaning toward the rich tourist theory, but in the interest of fairness I gotta acknowledge “disgruntled predator on a rampage” as a possibility.
PREDATOR made the 2006 revised Badass 100 list, which is why I decided to re-watch it for the first time since the 1980s. I guess I owe some of you boys an apology because I’ve talked some shit about PREDATOR now and then, and it turns out you were right, this is a pretty good movie. I liked it at the time but I figured that was just the ’80s talking. And it’s true, this is clearly an ’80s movie. You got Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) with his thick accent, somehow getting away with playing “Dutch,” the leader of a platoon of elite American soldiers. We had our own special brand of excess back then so a soldier couldn’t just be tough, he had to be fuckin Mr. Universe, apparently spending all his time working out instead of going on missions. And we were fascinated with firepower back then so the best character in the movie, Blaine, played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura (I-MN), had to carry around a giant gatling gun he apparently pulled off of a helicopter (I’m not sure if it’s bigger than the purposely ridiculous “Big Fucking Gun” from the movie DOOM, but it’s comparable). There’s one laughable scene where everybody just stands around firing machine guns and shit into the woods, firing a HARD BOILED amount of bullets for a couple minutes at some innocent trees. Because back then we loved machine guns and we wanted to see as many bullets fired as possible, no precision required. Also, you got some terrible oneliners (“Stick around”) and reliance on the heat vision and camouflage effects that aren’t really as cool now as they seemed at the time. And I gotta be honest, I never knew the Predator was 7 feet tall until I watched the behind the scenes documentary. Maybe they shouldn’t have given him that giant helmet. So I’m against the helmet.
But that was the kind of stuff I was remembering when I wrote the movie off. All the good stuff I forgot is what made the World Badass Committee rate the movie so high this time around, and they were probaly right. The number one reason is that it’s very well directed by John McDIEHARDTiernan. With somebody else it could’ve easily been a cheesy monster movie with guns, but McTiernan knows what to do. The production values are great. It’s shot more like a serious war film than a horror movie. Instead of some cheeseball keyboard score or noodly guitars like you get in alot of movies from the era, you got a menacing score by Alan Silvestri, that BOMP-BOMP… BOMP-BOMP… type of score like THE TERMINATOR or Basil Poledouris. It sounds like a mix between a theme song and the footsteps of a giant coming toward you.
And then the other thing is, you have a great ensemble of badasses here, and you know it as soon as the helicopter shows up with the team of special ops guys. First you got Jesse the Body, who spits out a big mouthful of tobacco and says some macho bullshit, but you don’t really care how dumb the line is because Jesse the Body has such a cool voice. (Unfortunately his dialogue in the movie is pretty minimal.) Then you have Bill Duke, who I guess is supposed to be Jesse’s best friend, although I didn’t know that until he was all broken up over Jesse’s laser-death. And you got Carl “Action Jackson” Weathers in the #2 badass slot, the CIA guy that recruits them all for this mission. The new discovery for me was Sonny Landham (R-KY) who I don’t remember from all the other movies he’s in but he has a deep voice like Jesse and adds a tough guy edge to the mystical Native American warrior stereotype. (The making of documentary claims that the insurance company forced them to have a 7 foot bodyguard on set at all times to protect everyone from Sonny, but I can’t find any evidence of why this would be necessary.)
Also you got Shane Black (writer of LETHAL WEAPON) as the conpicuously less muscled guy on the team who tells jokes about large pussies, and one other guy.
And of course Arnold. I’m not against the guy as an actor, I really like TOTAL RECALL for example, and CONAN. But I don’t worship him like some people. You know what it probaly is, it’s like Mickey Mouse. The guy is such an icon, so synonymous with action movies, that after a while you’ve looked at him too many times and he’s lost all meaning. But still, it must be acknowledged, he’s cool in this movie. He smokes cigars alot, which makes him a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT character than what Arnold would often play, in a movie without cigars. At the end, after the spacetourist has murdered all his friends, he goes primal. He builds a bunch of booby traps and tiger pits and shit, he covers himself in mud, he picks up two huge torches and screams into the jungle like some kind of fuckin mad sasquatch on the loose. With the subtitles on it it should say COME HERE YOU FUCKIN TOURIST I WILL PULL OUT THOSE SPACE-DREADLOCKS ONE BY ONE, FORCE YOU TO EAT THEM THEN WAIT FOR YOU TO SHIT THEM OUT AND THEN FORCE YOU TO EAT THEM AGAIN, AND THAT IS THE NICEST THING I WILL DO TO YOU YOU DIRTY SONOFASPACEWHORE.
It makes no sense that putting mud on his face would prevent him from being seen by heat vision. At the very least Predator is gonna see his eyes. Unless maybe he’s wearing contacts and the heat vision is powerless over contacts, but I think they would’ve mentioned that if it was supposed to be the case. Oh well. The magic of cinema.
I like Arnold in the movie but Jesse the Body definitely steals the show while he’s there. The guy is so macho and arrogant that he becomes charming. The line “I ain’t got time to bleed” obviously comes to mind. And he has a cool hat. Honestly, alot of people wouldn’t be able to pull off that ridiculous gun, “Ol’ Painless,” but Jesse does it. They have on-set interviews with him on the DVD and he is so proud and bragadocious about the gun that it’s clear he’s the guy confident enough to pull it off.
Also, I read a little on Jesse’s political career and it sounds like he definitely beat Schwarzenegger in the governing department. I don’t agree with all of his views but he sure impresses me more than most politicians. Am I reading this wrong, or did he really give a tax refund and STILL get mass transit constructed? I wish he was mayor of Seattle. He also apparently supported gay rights, medical marijuana and third parties (obviously). At one point there was a bill to promote the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. I’m sure every other governor in the country would’ve signed off on it and got a little extra shine on their American flag lapel pin. But Jesse vetoed it and said, “I believe patriotism comes from the heart. Patriotism is voluntary. It is a feeling of loyalty and allegiance that is the result of knowledge and belief. A patriot shows their patriotism through their actions, by their choice [such as voting, attending community meetings and speaking out when needed]. No law will make a citizen a patriot.”
In PREDATOR he chews tobacco and says, “Bunch of slack-jawed faggots around here. This stuff will make you a god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus, just like me.” Same guy.
But even though Jesse is my favorite on the team, you gotta give the movie credit for how solid the whole team is. I mean, The Terminator, Apollo Creed, Jesse the Body, Bill Duke and this Sonny Landham guy all in one elite force? That’s a hell of alot closer to a real Dirty Dozen than you usually get in an action movie, especially in the ’80s. And when the action goes down it’s some good stuff, partly thanks to my man Craig R. Baxley. PREDATOR is important because of its place in Baxley’s career. It was the first time he got to be second unit director on a feature film. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was also his last movie as a stunt coordinator. A year later, he and Carl Weathers went off to make ACTION JACKSON together. And the rest is Baxlistory. Which is a real word, in my opinion. Look it up.
Anyway, what I’m saying is: welcome to the Badass 100, PREDATOR. I didn’t think I’d ever say this about a Schwarzenegger-fighting-an-alien movie, but I approve.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.