#ThrowbackThursday – Predator

Original US release date: June 12, 1987
Production budget: $15,000,000
Worldwide gross: $98,267,558

As I mentioned in my review of Incredibles 2 (which you can find here), Predator is another in the recent litany of theatrical intellectual properties set for a revival.  Hollywood has met with mixed results in these attempts to reignite enthusiasm for franchises that have hit various levels of success in the past.  Audiences have sent the message loud and clear that they aren’t usually interested in anything new (despite what they claim), so the studios feel the need to rely on older licenses in order to make worthwhile money.  With regards to Predator, however, this is not the first time that Fox has tried this and the property has never been that overwhelming popular to begin with, so I can’t imagine that The Predator will be any sort of blockbuster success when it’s released, later this year.  But, anything can happen, I suppose.

No matter what happens in 2018, it all started in 1987 when John McTiernan teamed with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was probably the most popular movie star in the world at the time, to introduce audiences to Predator.  For the most part, the film brought those audiences exactly what they looked for from Arnold, in those days: mindless, testosterone-fueled action.  Audiences turned out worldwide, gifting the film with a final box office total of just over six-and-a-half times its budget – plenty enough to make a tidy profit.  But the film was definitely aimed at a somewhat niche crowd and was a shining example of the old entertainment adage to “send the audience home happy”.

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As the story goes, Schwarzenegger plays a commando by the name of Dutch who is recruited for a mission to rescue an American cabinet minister who has disappeared in the Central American jungle.  When Dutch and his team arrives, they discover that not everything is as they were led to believe and that there is something dangerous in the jungle that absolutely no one knew about (spoiler: it’s the Predator).  Schwarzenegger is supported by a strong cast, including Carl Weathers (Rocky – and that #ThrowbackThursday is here), Jesse Ventura of wrestling and (eventually) gubernatorial fame, Bill Duke (X-Men: The Last Stand), and Shane Black, who would go on to have a very successful career as a director (including this overlooked gem from 2016, as well as – surprise! – the upcoming revival of this very franchise: The Predator!).

McTiernan would of course go on to direct Die Hard in 1988 but, in 1987, he was still finding his sea legs.  Near the beginning of the film is a battle between Dutch’s team and jungle rebels in a sequence that seems to exist purely to kill time.  The audience is here to see the Predator versus Arnold, but they’re subjected to standard, hyper-masculine, military fare that requires no imagination or finesse.  Put an automatic in the hands of a muscular actor then let him stand there with the trigger pressed as he opens his mouth and screams at the top of his lungs, and you have a standard action scene involving gun play.  And there’s a lot of that, here.

Predator1

Also in excess is stilted military jargon and, in a sense, that’s fine.  It’s natural for these characters to be conversing in this way, and it does contribute to the authenticity of the characters and the situation in which they find themselves.  On the other hand, it’s interminably boring.  There’s no way to connect to the characters for the majority of the viewers because the dialogue gives us little to no insight into who they are.  They’re self-professed tough guys; that’s all we know.  Shane Black’s Hawkins character occasionally interrupts the proceedings with various extremely crude jokes that one shouldn’t necessarily laugh at, yet it’s such a relief to hear something interesting and clever coming from one of these characters that these jokes become some of the highlights of the film.

As for the Predator, itself, there is a slow build, as it watches our protagonists from hiding for much of the film.  In fact, the Predator does so much stalking that it begins to appear less like it wishes to kill the commandos and more like it’s nervously trying to build up the courage to approach one of them to ask for a date.  It’s never really made clear why the Predator takes its sweet time making its move, as it had a clear tactical advantage from the outset, but, hey, there’s a minimum run-time to fill, right?

Predator

Once we finally get the Predator versus Arnold, like we wanted from the beginning, things pick up.  The Predator creature design by Stan Winston (who else, right?) is breathtakingly immaculate and frightening.  It’s truly just a glory to behold and it’s no wonder that this creature has maintained a spot in pop culture lore for over three decades, now.  I truly accredit its longevity more to simply the creature’s appearance than to any of the movies in which it’s featured.  Although, there are few movie moments more chilling than that of hearing a Predator laugh.  This climactic battle delivers, even if it lacks logic at moments.  Dutch and the Predator don’t just exchange blows and use guns; they use tactical strategy in an effort to outsmart and outmaneuver each other, which adds an extra element of fun and suspense to the proceedings.  It’s just a shame that it takes over seventy minutes to get there.

This is what I meant when I said that the film takes the “send them home happy” approach.  The majority of the film is actually a derivative chore, not picking up until the third act when audiences are finally treated to something new (at the time) and innovative.  I think that, as a result of that memorable third act, history has been kind and forgiving to the film, as a whole, allowing it to assume its place as a science-fiction classic.  Only a third of the film is truly good, but what a third it is!  We’ll see how Shane Black’s revival goes in September, but everyone should see where it all started, at least once in their lives.  Just go in with tempered expectations if it’s a first-time viewing.

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