A popular director of two of the Die Hard movies, in 1987 John McTiernan embarked on his first outing with good ol' Arnold Schwarzenegger. His second was the poorly received, yet in my own opinion more than worthwhile, Last Action Hero. His first though was the storming Predator which carried a franchise on for over 20 years.
Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his rescue team are detailed to infiltrate a Central American country, get in and get out with the hostages whom have been kidnapped by the revolutionary forces at the time. He's worked with his team for many years and feels uncomfortable when an old colleague, Dillon (Carl Weathers) steps in to lead the mission once it's deep in enemy territory.
All doesn't bode well for these soldiers though, they come across an earlier company whose members have been skinned alive and hung from the trees, the hostages are non existent and the only reason they are there in the first place is for Dillon to gather intelligence on revolutionary / Soviet activity. Obviously annoyed, as much as Arnie can be, at him and his men being used they decide to evacuate the area immediately, however they didn't bargain for the final fly in the ointment; an alien being using them as sport, hunting them down to the last man.
There's no doubt about it Arnie was at the height of his career when he signed up for this flick. Running on the back of Conan and The Terminator, two films which he was always destined to play, and any film where he had top billing was sure to bring in the crowds. It was fortuitous then that the bulk of his earning potential came in the Eighties when bravado and male machismo was at it's height. In more gentile times as the lust for death and glory waned you can see that apart from a few blips, spectacularly of course with T2, his career also slid downwards.
McTiernan himself knew a few things about bums on seats and with Predator coming in as only his second film he already knew which buttons to push, which actors to employ and which scripts to get his hands on to ensure box office success. He's been a sparse director throughout the years, but he seems to have chosen his projects carefully and wisely for the time. Last Action Hero for instance, again with Schwarzenegger; did he see the downfall of the bravado pieces and in turn took the complete mick out of them all, including his own earlier works?
Either way in Predator the pairing of McTiernan and Schwarzenegger produced an excellent contribution to the glorious action period of the Eighties. It's not a fantastic piece of work by any means, Arnie and his ensemble cast don't really give the viewer any food for thought, their characters are so one dimensional that when each in turn feels the mighty dark cloak descend the viewer is only interested in how gory they are dispatched and not the loved ones they may or may not be leaving behind. Their characters are throwaway and only appear for the blood lust demanded of the viewing audience at the time.
Equally McTiernan knew that this wasn't going to win any accolades in the awards market, but he did understand a good enough story when he saw one and he probably realised that this would perhaps propel him onto greater things. Sure his continued escapades into the action/adventure arena produced some of very worthy note; specifically the two Die Hard films, The Hunt for Red October and certainly I believe Last Action Hero.
It was the predator of the title that all had come to see though. Like The Terminator before it when people flocked to see a film based solely on one badass character so it was repeated here. A production from the legendary Stan Winston Studios the predator stands up alongside other memorable alien fodder and will do so for most of movie history. People still remember the subversive aliens in The Body Snatchers, the cute E.T. the original Thing From Another World and of course the eponymous Alien from Giger's haunted psyche. As these aliens will always be remembered for the feelings, good and bad, which they gave us so the predator here will always be remembered, fondly or otherwise.
Photography in the Mexican jungle is excellent and produced an arena which our heroes certainly feel slightly uncomfortable with, coupled with the fact they have been double crossed you can't help but take pity on them as you know they will shortly be facing their own doom. Encompassing the photography is the excellent score by Alan Silvestri, heightening the fear the men feel, adding edge or urgency to their trek through the murky jungle, funnily enough Silvestri was also responsible for the score on the recent Beowulf, a storyline which Predator has been likened to in terms of basic plot lines.
Ultimately it's not about the acting, it's not about the photography or score but those big muscles, big egos and darn big glasses (and if you can't remember how big these were then you have to take another look at this film to try and understand why a combat soldier goes into battle wearing something akin to a divers mask). It's about the hunted turning the tables on the hunter, defeating technology with nature, and how many rounds of ammo you can let loose in the jungle in a three minute time slot. It makes little sense at times, for instance after deploying the forces from Hell on a small Central American encampment, blowing it and it's occupants to kingdom come Dutch turns around and says... "Leave no traces.." my favourite quote from the film. It's altogether wonderful because of it though, it doesn't try to be anything more than what it is; a good romp for 106 minutes.
Predator spawned a worthy enough sequel in the imaginatively titled Predator 2 yet perhaps it's time has come to a close. One of the best aliens of the last 30 years resigned to laughable fodder in AvP and certainly AvP:R. here's hoping the producers can steer it back on track and give the fans something they've been waiting for for so long; a vicious single minded being intent on hunting for glory's sake, and not one who's out to make allegiances with others to ensure their survival. I for one feel there's life left in the old demon yet, but on it's own not as part of another worthy franchise.