Okay, so it’s kind of a guilty pleasure of mine, except I feel no guilt whatsoever in admitting I love the original Predator (1987), which features the star of many other so-called guilty pleasures of mine, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I always thought it had great sequel potential, yet no great Predator sequels or spin-offs have emerged in the past 23 years. We’ll see if that changes this Friday when the Robert Rodriguez-produced Predators hits theaters.
What made the original Predator so cool was the way it blended a couple of different film genres. It begins as a “crack commando team jungle rescue” flick, in the style of Uncommon Valor (1983), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) and, to a certain extent, Schwarzenegger’s own Commando (1985). But then it deftly shifts to pure sci-fi action-horror when the members of the crack commando team sense a presence in the jungle and find themselves hunted down one by one, seemingly for no other reason than the sport of it.
Schwarzenegger stars as Major Alan “Dutch” Schaeffer (oh, for chrissakes, does anyone actually remember the names of Arnold’s characters in these movies?), who leads his team of badasses — including Carl Weathers as Dillon, Bill Duke as Mac, Sonny Landham as Billy, and Jesse Ventura as Blaine — into some Central American jungle to rescue some hostages from some guerrilla group. But along the way they discover the skinned bodies of some other special forces group, part of a previous rescue attempt that failed, and their mission turns out to be completely different from what they’d been led to believe — more politically motivated assassination than rescue, with Dutch confronting his old pal Dillon (the one who hired the team for the mission, now working for the CIA), shouting, “You set us up! It was bullshit, all of it!”
Whatever. The assault on the guerrilla camp is great ’80s-action-flick fun, and Arnold manages to get off two good one-liners in a row: “Stick around,” after impaling some dude to a wall with a machete, and “Knock, knock,” after kicking down a door before blowing away two dudes. But the movie really shifts into high gear once the team’s “mission” goes south and the Predator enters the picture.
The final confrontation is mano a mano, or rather man versus Predator, in which a mud-soaked Dutch discovers that the Predator’s infrared vision can’t penetrate the mud, so he exclaims loudly, “He couldn’t see me!” (Yeah, dude, it’s a minor miracle he couldn’t hear you.) This showdown also leads to the moment where Schwarzenegger delivers the greatest soliloquy of his entire career, the “Kill me, I’m here!” speech.
Predator was directed by John McTiernan, who certainly established himself here as a competent action filmmaker, but the film is shot on a fairly basic level. On the film’s DVD commentary track, he notes that several of the action scenes were shot in a very standard way by the second unit, and since it was his first big studio film (he made his directorial debut a year earlier with Nomads), he didn’t have as much control as he would have liked.
One of the few times McTiernan’s unique action style emerges is in all of the long shots during the climax, when Schwarzenegger is running away from the impending explosion. It wasn’t until the director’s next film, Die Hard (1988), one of my favorite action films ever, that he worked with cinematographer Jan de Bont, who collaborated with him again on The Hunt for Red October (1990).
When I saw Renny Harlin’s Die Hard 2 in the summer of 1990, Twentieth Century Fox attached a trailer for Predator 2, due later that year, and at the end of it a guy in military fatigues several rows in front of me stood up and applauded. I have to admit, that trailer looked pretty awesome. A Predator in Los Angeles in the near future — the film’s set in 1997 — wreaking havoc amid gang wars and a heat wave is a great concept, but unfortunately the Stephen Hopkins-directed sequel didn’t quite live up to its promise.
And then there’s the mess that is Alien vs. Predator (2004), directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. The only positive thing I can say about it is that you get what you paid for — within the first few minutes we see an Alien fighting a Predator. In fact the various Alien vs. Predator video games have better premises than the movie. (I never bothered seeing 2007’s Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, so if I’m missing out on something special, let me know.)
The newest spin-off, Predators, stars Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, and Danny Trejo, and is based on a treatment Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Sin City) wrote for Fox in 1994. It’s directed by Nimrod Antal (Vacancy, Armored), and both filmmakers say they aspired to deliver an experience that resembles the badassery of the original Predator. Here’s hoping.