Director: John McTiernan
In the aftermath of his breakthrough appearance as the titular character in 1982's Conan The Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger became a mega-star in the world of big-budget Hollywood action movies. Though I doubt you'll ever see him winning an Oscar, he's amassed a résumé of some of the biggest action movies ever made. With movies like the The Terminator, The Running Man, and Commando, Schwarzenegger had become perhaps the most recognizable action star ever by the late '80s. By the time 1987 rolled around, Arnold found himself cast in a movie that, like the Terminator movies, would serve as a benchmark in both the action and science fiction genres. Helmed by Die Hard director John McTiernan, Predator has the same kind of recipe for action and sci-fi that Alien had for sci-fi and horror. I mean, take a look at what it has: Arnold Schwarzenegger, explosions, gunfire, angry commandos (which I guess ties into the gunfire), a jungle, and a seven-foot-tall intergalactic killing machine. With a blueprint like that, I'm not surprised that its earned a reputation as one of the premier "Guy Movies" of the '80s. Now let's see what all the hubbub is about, shall we?
Our story centers around Major Dutch Shaeffer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of commandos, comprised of stoic Mac (Bill Duke), grizzled Native American Billy (Sonny Landham), tobacco-chewing cowboy Blain (Jesse Ventura), foul-mouthed comedian Hawkins (Shane Black), and irritable translator Poncho (Richard Chaves). The CIA has drafted Dutch and his team to rescue a group of stranded CIA airmen being held captive by terrorists in a Central American jungle, with CIA operative Major Dillon (Carl Weathers) tagging along. The team arrive in the jungle but by the time they find the terrorist base camp, it's too late. The airmen have met a horrible demise, having been killed, skinned, and strung up from trees. Of course, you know this means war. The commandos retaliate in the grandest of fashions: Lots of gunfire, lots of explosions, corny one-liners from Arnold, the whole shebang. Of course, the whole terrorist thing proves to be a gigantic red herring. As the commandos wait for their helicopter pickup, a chameleon-like entity we know as the Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) begins to hunt down and kill them one by one. The chameleon violently thins out the ranks until the only ones left alive are Dutch and a girl from the camp, Anna (Elpidia Carrillo). Soon thereafter we learn the true nature of their adversary: the Predator is an intergalactic big game hunter that's named humans as its big game of choice.
In his review for the movie, Roger Ebert labeled Predator an amalgamation of Alien and a Rambo movie, and I find that description to be somewhat accurate. That's not bad, though. Predator is one rockin' movie, and everything good you've heard about it is probably true. In the same vein as the Alien quartet and Terminator trilogy, Predator is a sci-fi movie that action fans love, and it's an action movie that sci-fi fans love. Besides, how many movies can boast that it had three gubernatorial candidates in it? "But wait," you're probably asking, "weren't there just two?" Everyone knows that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura have occupied the governor's office in California and Minnesota, but what isn't as well known is that Sonny Landham was a candidate in the 2003 race to elect the governor of Kentucky before eventually dropping out. Fun fact: Schwarzenegger and Ventura were both the thirty-eighth governors of their respective states.
Since I don't really have any complaints about the movie, let's get to the good stuff. First off, I'm gonna hit the acting. Schwarzenegger's role here further solidified his reputation as one of action's biggest stars and he shines brightly here, but he's still playing the same tough-as-nails military guy that he plays in most of his movies. I bet you could swap the Arnold from Predator with the Arnold from Commando, and you probably couldn't tell any difference. But he's rockin' here, so no nay-saying from me. I also really enjoyed Jesse Ventura as Blain, who provided some good campy fun stuff. I bet his Navy SEAL experience helped him with the role, too. Also noteworthy were Carl Weathers and Bill Duke, both of whom I thought did a great job. John McTiernan's direction is excellent, as well. The jungle is a creative setting to begin with, and McTiernan, who would go on to greater fame as the director of Die Hard, utilizes it for many great scenes (with a little assistance from scriptwriters Jim and John Thomas and cinematographer Donald McAlpine). While Die Hard would not be released until 1988, his talent as an action movie director is evidenced here. On the music side of things, Alan Silvestri's score is absolutely tremendous. The bongo drums blended with the orchestra are really cool, what with the jungle setting and all, and parts of the score gave a strong military feel to go with the commando team. Meanwhile, Stan Winston's effects are superb, right up there with his work on the Terminator movies. The Predator's facial features are awesome, and that clicking growl is intimidating as all hell. The makeup was helped by the actor wearing it, Kevin Peter Hall. He's an frightening figure, and the fact that he's 7'2" helps. And to think, the Predator was almost played by Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Predator is one of those movies that any casual action/sci-fi fan should see at least once, if they haven't already. Granted, there's not much in the way of plot or character development, but come on. The movie is almost non-stop manliness for an hour and forty-seven minutes, and with that kind of groundwork, I'm not surprised that the plot is threadbare. But no matter, because the movie still manages to be unequivocally astounding. As one of the best action movies of all time and a fine sci-fi movie as well, Predator gets the full five stars and a hearty Sutton At The Movies seal of approval.
Final Rating: *****