It’s time for some Sci-Fi Saturdays reading! I ain’t got time to read!
Predator enters the science-fiction arena pretending to be an action film, but holding on to some time honored, alien invasion traditions.
The trailer begins by flashing Schwarzenegger’s name, making it seem like another in a long line of 80s action films with some mercenaries in a jungle. But soon it becomes evident that something is out there hunting the men as well, and it’s up to Arnold to track it down before it kills his whole squad. There’s very little to go on, but since this is the intro to a Sci-Fi Saturdays article, it’s obviously something out of this world.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
The Fiction of The Film
An alien spacecraft passes by Earth ejecting a pod that streaks into the atmosphere. Somewhere on the coast of a Central American jungle, General Philips (RG Armstrong) welcomes Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his squad of mercenaries who have been brought in by CIA operative Dillon (Carl Weathers) to rescue a cabinet minister who has become lost in the jungle. Dutch reminds Dillon that they’re a rescue team, not assassins before the Agent informs the Major that he’s coming with them.
The team rappels into the jungle with the gear and soon finds the remains of the missing man’s helicopter, stuck in the canopy. Native American team member Billy (Sonny Landham) finds the survivors of the crash hung upside down and skinned. Dutch finds the dog tags for his friend Jim Hopper, the previous mercenary hired by Dillon, and begins to get suspicious of the mission. The group finds a rebel camp and moves in silently killing the guards. Once spotted, Poncho (Richard Chaves) and mini-gun toting Blain (Jesse Ventura) blow up the watchtower.
Dillon finds a lot of paperwork proving that the rebels were about to attack, but Dutch is very upset with his friend for lying to him about this CIA operation gone bad. A female rebel, later identified as Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) is captured by the group and taken with them as they hike out to the LZ. Hawkins (Shane Black) is grabbed by something, dragged into the jungle and eviscerated. Blain thinks he sees something in the trees and suddenly has his chest blown open by a plasma bolt.
Mac (Bill Duke), Blain’s best friend, begins firing indiscriminately into the jungle, and the others follow suit. They can’t believe they didn’t hit anything, but Anna finds some luminescent fluid on a leaf that she wipes on her pants. They set up camp and traps, which are soon tripped by a wild pig. During that diversion Blain’s body goes missing and Anna reveals that the “jungle came alive” and took him. Poncho is injured by a trap and helped along by Dutch and Sonny while Mac and Dillon chase after a weird shimmer of a cloaked creature.
Mac and Dillon are killed by the invisible hunter, while Billy–who has sensed something for a while–makes a final stand on a bridge, giving Dutch, Poncho and Anna a head start. Poncho is soon taken out and Dutch orders Anna to get to the chopper while he stays and hunts the hunter. Falling over a waterfall and into some mud, Dutch realizes that the creature can’t see him, and must use infrared tracking. He rigs some traps for the monster and waits until dark.
Dutch makes it bleed and tries to lure it into a trap, but it’s too smart. The lizard-like alien hesitates, and Dutch drops a deadfall onto its head, stunning it. Dutch picks up a rock to smash it but pauses, when the beast begins laughing a strange laugh based on Dutch’s friends’ laugh. It activates a self destruct mechanism. Dutch gets clear of the giant explosion and is later rescued by a helicopter carrying General Philips and Anna, the only other people to make it out alive.
“If it bleeds, we can kill it.” – Dutch
History in the Making
Predator was an outlier in 80s sci-fi cinema. From its trailers and promotions, it reads as more of a typical action film from the era in the vein of First Blood (1982) or Commando (1985). The draw of the film to audiences, initially–and possibly still, is the overt action typified in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Outside of his sword and sandal films, like Conan The Barbarian and Red Sonja, Schwarzenegger’s genre consisted of intense action-over-story films like Commando and Raw Deal, with the sci-fi action film The Terminator being an exception. It marked the second, but not last, sci-fi film for the bodybuilder turned actor, and created a new franchise for 20th Century Fox to exploit in new ways.
Predator also marked the first of three consecutive films directed by John McTiernan that cemented his place as a thinking-man’s action director. McTiernan had made one film released in 1986 called Nomads–a horror film starring Pierce Brosnan. It was not a success, but had many of the same directorial traits that McTiernan would use in Predator and beyond. After the success of this film, the director followed with Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt For Red October (1990), two great action films that starred “everyday” men caught in extraordinary situations. They were different from Predator in that audiences would expect the Arnold of the time to triumph over all obstacles, regardless of the threat. He was a muscle bound action star. Die Hard took a comedic television actor and put him into the role of action star against everyone’s expectations, while Red October took an actor not known for his action roles, and certainly not considered “buff,” and cast him as the action hero.
Let’s face it, if you miss the first minute of this film no one would blame you if you thought this was a standard action film from the 80s. The film opens with Dutch’s group arriving in country, showing off their gear and their muscles. It contains one of the most meme-d moments as Carl Weathers and Arnold clasp muscled arms in a macho display, each trying to get the other to flinch first. The shot does not include the actors fully, just their glistening biceps and arms which bulge in an almost parodic manner. The film portrays these macho moments and early action scenes as an orgy of explosions and bullets, trying to top the outrageousness of previous films, and provide the audience their money’s worth of action and excitement. Predator does not flaunt reality as much as Commando did (known for Schwarzenegger’s minute-long gearing-up scene, plus his never-ending ammo which he fails to reload even once). But the focus on the pyrotechnics and action certainly was meant to equate the actors with adrenaline.
Jesse Ventura, a WWF wrestler turned actor (and later politician, much like Arnold himself), was the most testosterone driven character of the bunch. His tobacco-chewing, redneck-sounding, mini-gun-pumping demeanor was the epitome of 80s action heroes, outshining even Mr. Schwarzenegger for a brief moment. Previous action films with Arnold or Stallone featured muscle-bound stars with a variety of weapons. But when Ventura pulls out the mini-gun during the first threat, and turns it on, he became the the most macho action star of all, even if the moment seemed over-the-top. Yet, the film manages to top itself minutes later. After Blain is killed, Mac grabs the mini-gun and in a fit of anger and sorrow, begins firing indiscriminately into the jungle, his compatriots joining along with their “smaller” weapons. This on-screen orgy of violence lasts almost a full minute until the gun runs out of ammo. Predator equates this moment with the grieving over a lost friend. Mac is unable to process his emotions, because he’s so manly, and resorts to vehemently spraying bullets as a normal person would tears.
Much of genre based elements in this film do relate to the action film, but the third act does share some sci-fi based elements. The advancements in special effects and creature technology allowed the filmmakers to present ideas that hadn’t been viable a few years before, specifically the invisibility cloak of the Predator. The creature was a throwback to aliens from the 50s and 60s, coming to Earth hellbent on killing and destruction, yet it never seems like a man in a suit. Of course, it is a man in a suit, but the technology of the Predator costume allowed for Kevin Peter Hall to move and emote in ways previously unavailable. Even this alien beast demonstrates macho attitudes as he roars into the night sky before he begins his hunt. He also goes it alone on a strange planet as the ship that drops him off flies away.
Regardless of the macho presentation or the constant one-upmanship shown by the various characters, the theme of honor transcends. Even more specific is the code that the main characters live by. One of Dutch’s first lines to Dillon is that he and his men are a rescue team and not assassins. It’s as if Dutch already knew why the CIA would hire a band of mercs to work in a Central American jungle. Presumably, this was to differentiate Dutch from other films where the lead action hero kills bad guys with wanton abandon. But he’s probably saying that he fights with honor since moments later, in the team’s first encounter with a rebel encampment, Dutch and his team blow up and kill dozens of nameless men. This is seemingly the same code that the Predator lives by.
While both characters kill others, they do so under a code of survival. Dutch kills in a him-or-me situation where his job as a militant states that in order to complete his mission he must remove the obstacles in front of him, even if they are people. The Predator, on the other hand, only kills individuals that also hunt. While not everyone it kills was on the hunt for the creature, it does only take lives from those with weapons as Dutch points out to Anna when he tells her to drop the gun. The film then places these two characters in direct combat with one another, using their willpower, strength and their code to survive. Dutch declines to kill the alien when he has a chance, because…why? He pities it? Or maybe he sees an equal in that ugly face and respects the creature’s strength of character. Either way, the Predator tries to kill him in the final explosion, but Arnold, being Arnold, absolutely must escape to fight another day.
The Science in The Fiction
A lone hunter comes to Earth to hunt the most violent members of the species, and always in the hottest years. This brief line from Anna is further expanded on in the sequel where a heat wave in Los Angeles draws a number of Predators to hunt police officers in the urban jungle. These hunters come from an obviously advanced race. One that has mastered interstellar travel, invisibility, and advanced plasma like weapons. They hunt silently, for the most part, killing their prey who they deem the most violent and predatory members of that species. And while the Predator makes quick work of a number of Dutch’s men, it’s only because they don’t know they are being hunted. The humans don’t have superior firepower (though from an audience’s perspective, they have plenty) when compared to the Predator. It hides in plain sight and has the ability to kill with a single strike. But once Dutch understands what he’s up against, and that the being is not omnipotent or infallible, he sets to work using crude tools at his disposal to thwart the beast. Vines, logs, and rocks become his tools which the Predator is unable to differentiate from the environment. Its advanced technology is so far beyond these neolithic weapons that it cannot understand them. In this sense it appears that Predator is making an analogy to various real world jungle wars, most specifically Vietnam, where the superior firepower of the American armies was overshadowed by the guerrilla tactics of the indigenous population. In the end, it becomes the Predator’s undoing, having overestimated his place in the battle, and succumbing to the human will to survive.
The Final Frontier
Predator is a fun and exciting film that is mainly action-based but has elements of sci-fi and even a smidge of horror thrown in. It’s a loose adaptation of a story from 1924 called “The Most Dangerous Game,” which is about hunting man, usually by other well-to-do men. That story has been made into at least two-dozen filmed adaptations of one kind or another including the 1993 John Woo film Hard Target with Jean-Claude Van Damme (originally cast as the Predator in this film), The Hunt (2020), a 21st Century politically inspired version, and Apex (2021) starring Bruce Willis and Neal McDonough.
Twentieth Century Fox hoped to build a franchise around the characters with a 1990 sequel, creatively titled Predator 2. Unfortunately Schwarzenegger did not return and the film was underappreciated, even though it expanded the idea of the creatures hunting needs and took a page from the Alien sequel by introducing more aliens. However, popularity for these creatures survived when Dark Horse Comics got the license to publish comics based on the film in the mid-90s. They also had a license for the 20th Century Fox property Alien and had the brilliant idea of pairing these two IPs together (after the idea that Predators hunted Xenomorphs was teased in Predator 2). Aliens vs Predator films were made which led to a 2010 film called Predators and a 2018 reboot/reimagining, called The Predator. It was recently revealed that a prequel film has been shot with a planned 2022 release date, named Prey, which will take place centuries before the first film and feature a Comanche warrior defending her tribe against the alien Predator.
While the offshoots of this original film are hit or miss, the fun esprit de corps and over the top action still entertain. The film contains a number of great quotable lines, many from Schwarzenegger, including the continuation of having a pithy saying when killing a bad guy (“stick around,” is this film’s version, said after he throws a comically large knife through a rebel, pinning him to a wall). “Get to the chopper,” is another quoted line, and one of Arnold’s favorite from his career. There’s also a number of off-color and crude quotes from both Jesse Ventura and Bill Duke’s characters. Predator is another film from the 80s that showed sci-fi films did not need to be about space and robots. It found the right mix of science-fiction and picked another popular genre, the action film, to blend with, creating something greater than its individual parts.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.