Retro Review: Predator

2 10 2009

Predator

With the big news regarding Robert Rodriguez’s Predators coming out on Wednesday, we figured it was a good a time as any to go back and see how the original film, John McTiernan’s Predator from 1987, stood up against time and its sequels.

If the genre of science-fiction has an enemy, its name is technology. While some of the greatest movies of the genre were filmed during the 1970s and 1980s, watching them today is almost laughable. Computers have advanced so far in the past twenty years that movies like The Lawnmower Man or The Abyss look almost cartoonish in retrospect.

Today’s films are no different. As more and more CGI is used, no matter how lifelike it looks today, a few years down the line it will look rudimentary and hacky. Someday, Transformers will look like Clash of the Titans. The only way to combat the inevitable is to be subtle and not let special effects take over the film. It is for this exact reason that John McTiernan’s Predator remains a solid action film to this day.

Just in case you have forgotten, the film follows an elite team of commandos, led by a soldier named Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger), through the Central American jungle. While hired by the CIA for a rescue mission, they soon find themselves in a game of cat and mouse with an elite hunter hiding in the trees. As Dutch’s men begin to fall, they slowly learn exactly what they are up against.

Along with Schwarzenegger’s other films of the period, Predator is considered an action/sci-fi classic. Unlike today’s action films, such as this summer’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Predator actually has qualities that make a good film: suspense, plot, and restraint.

Watching the film for the first time is years, it became immediately clear what action movies from the 1980s had that somehow got lost in the fold: catchphrases and witty dialogue, and Predator is chock full of it. Be it Jesse Ventura scoffing at an injury, claiming he “ain’t got time to bleed” or Schwarzenegger, after the alien removes its mask, calling it “one ugly motherfucker,” the lines stick with the audience and make notable scenes rememberable. Perhaps the habit jumped the shark somewhere in the 1990s, but it is surely something that would be welcomed back.

Getting back to my original point, the reason that the film is able to stay interesting is because McTiernan uses the Jaws-effect when dealing with his monster. By making the villain nearly invisible, much like the shark in Jaws, suspension builds whenever it is not around, knowing that it could show up at any time. This is also quite effective when using the disarm/surprise technique, which is used repeatedly without getting tiring.

Also tamed is the amount of C4 that is used for the action sequences. With the exception of a five-minute scene before the film’s main villain even shows up and the final explosion at the end of the film, the most we get is equivalent to fireworks. Thanks to directors such as Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay, every explosion in a contemporary action film must be seen from space and preferably take out a world wonder/national monument. For the most part, McTiernan get’s his point across with heat vision and three bundled laser pointers.

At this time, the film must also be looked at through the spectrum of its sequels, which include 1987’s Predator 2, 2004’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator, and 2007’s AVPR: Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem. Needless to say, all follow-ups have been downright awful, particularly those made in the past five years. In all three, everything that is great about the original film is thrown in the gutter for the typical and overt. Instead of hiding the Predator, he is out in the open, be it in Los Angeles, Antarctica or Colorado. Alien vs. Predator alone completely emasculates the violent hunter by getting a PG-13 rating and provides a completely unnecessary opponent that would continue into the next film. Next year a fifth film will be produced, Robert Rodriguez’s Predators and we can only hope that the last twenty-two years have provided enough of a lesson.

Based simply on its own merits, Predator is a fun film that is more than is explosions and action sequences. Nearly one-third of the film focuses on the one-on-one battle between Dutch and the predator as our hero tries to learn more about the alien creature and it is ripe with suspense and tension, hoping that his “boy scout bullshit” will work against such an advanced killer. The film certainly has its flaws – the heat vision is more-than-occasionally a mess and the speed at which a Hispanic girl learns English is miraculous – but it certainly has earned its spot amongst the greatest action films of all time.

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2 responses

2 10 2009
The Daily Mississippian » Blog Archive » Theatre Presents Blues … « Wilson's Blog

[…] Retro Review: Predator « Geek on Film […]

5 10 2009
Photo Dump: Clash Of The Titans « Geek on Film

[…] warranted. If you remember seeing the Godzilla-like Kraken or just read Eric making fun of it in his review of Predator, you realize the pointless attempt at stop-motion special effects in that movie turned into more […]

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