“Predator” was released in 1987 and was directed by action-movie legend John McTiernan. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dutch, the leader of a team of U.S. army commandos sent on a rescue mission in Central America who find themselves hunted by an extraterrestrial hunter.
What makes “Predator” great is John McTiernan’s direction. No one can make thrilling action sequences like McTiernan can. He knows when to use shaky cam, when to use wide shots or close ups, and how to move the camera swiftly while still making things visible. He knows to keep the action in-camera, which is another important rule of filming action scenes; watching a wide shot of an explosion alone isn’t as effective as seeing the hero run away from it while it happens in the background. McTiernan also made great use of the jungle environment. The audience can feel the heat, sweat, rough terrain, and abundance of bugs in every scene, which is an effect that can only be executed by the most talented filmmakers.
I love how this movie uses tone. It starts out as a fun, cheesy 80’s action movie with one-liners and over-the-top violence. The epic handshake competition between Arnold and Carl Weathers’ baby-oiled biceps to see whose bicep is more godly is some of the most testosterone-filled, ridiculous imagery ever put into a movie. It’s fantastic. But then, after the initial action sequence, the movie gradually strips down the awesome 80’s over-the-top qualities of our heroes. We see the tone become darker and more horror-focused as these brave, nearly super-powered soldiers become more and more frightened and lose their cool. The best way to describe the tone shift is that the movie starts as “Commando” and becomes “Alien” by the end, with only Dutch and his survival instincts remaining to fight the predator. It’s a simple but highly effective deconstruction of 80’s action heroes.
The performances are another key element of this film. If the audience doesn’t buy that each actor can be a calm, collected, and gifted commando, then the arcs of the characters wouldn’t work. Luckily, every single cast member excelled at this, especially Bill Duke as Mac, who is probably the character most traumatized over the course of the film. He gives a legitimately tragic, emotional performance and does the best job at showing subtle changes to his character over the course of the film.
It’s also important to mention the Predator himself. It’s well-known that the original design for the Predator was an abomination and that Stan Winston came in to create the frightening alien warrior that has become so iconic. The alien and its armor have a ton of minute details which make it stand out from all other aliens in cinematic history (at least before the hundreds of rip-offs of this film which came after its release). There isn’t much more than can be said about it which hasn’t already been said, as it’s without a doubt one of the best costumes ever put to film.
My only gripe with this movie is the lack of consistency concerning the Predator’s rules. At times it will choose not to kill someone weak because that would ruin the “sport” (e.g. Dutch at the end of the film), but other times it will kill someone weak, like Poncho when he’s limping in the forest.
“Predator” is a highly enjoyable action film with terrific direction, a unique concept & tone, fun characters, and one of the most iconic movie villains of all time. This is a fantastic movie that I strongly recommend.