PREDATOR was released 28 years ago, on July 12th, 1987. The movie was written by Jim and John Thomas, with possible on-set contributions from Shane Black (LETHAL WEAPON), who also played the Sgt. Rock comic-loving Hawkins. It was directed by John McTiernan (whose very next film was DIE HARD). It’s one of my favorite movies, and I love it like a brother.
On the face of it, PREDATOR couldn’t be more simple: A platoon of commandos are dropped into a Central American jungle to find a downed helicopter, only to find that the previous team was massacred by an eight-foot-tall alien huntsman who hunts warriors for sport.
Simple. Pure distilled high-concept. Sci-fi for meatheads. Yes. Yes. Yes. But wait, there’s more. For one thing, PREDATOR is one of the most fascinatingly odd political anomalies of American cinema. It merges the typically uber-right-wing macho men-with-guns action genre with science fiction, the territory of dreamers, idealists, and lefties. John Wayne meets Steven Spielberg, and all of this right in the prime of Ronald Reagan’s America. That was overt enough in 1987, but what mesmerizes me about PREDATOR is how profoundly bizarre it is that three cast members out of a fairly tiny ensemble — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Landham — ended up becoming elected politicians (and two others — Shane Black and Bill Duke — ended up becoming film directors). And none of them were Carl Weathers! This film has socio-political life inside it, and outside of itself also.
So there are hidden depths to trawl here. You’d be surprised. I could write about PREDATOR all day. I won’t do that, but I will leave you with two more thoughts to ponder, the things about the movie that I find myself reflecting on more often lately.
For one thing, it’s worth noting that, coming at the tail end of the 1980s horror boom, PREDATOR is structured a whole lot like a slasher film. If PREDATOR were HALLOWEEN, the alien would be Michael Myers; a near-mute, black-eyed, brutally lethal phantom. A killing machine with no other apparent interests or aenima, a precision instrument, a masked figure who only loses the mask in the final reel — and when that happens, it doesn’t provide any answers; only a fiendish countenance that unnerves the audience one more time.
And clearly, if PREDATOR were HALLOWEEN, Arnold would be the one in the Jamie Lee Curtis role. This, in a roundabout way, explains TRUE LIES.
They love each other because they see themselves within each other.
And speaking of love, here’s the other thing that stays with me, the thing you’d definitely never even consider unless you were someone who has seen this movie over a dozen times.
PREDATOR shows a friendship in irrevocable decline — Dutch & Dillon — and contrasts it against one that will never die — Mac & Blain.
Think of how happy Dutch is initially to see Dillon, how their boistrous handshake quickly turns to competition, and how Dillon’s political cynicism breaks Dutch’s heart. (“I woke up. Why don’t you? You’re an asset. An expendable asset. And I used you to get the job done, got it?”)
Do you think it is any accident that Dillon later loses the very arm he once used to challenge his former friend?
Then again, think back to the moment right before that unfortunate dismemberment, where Dutch and Dillon see each other for the last time. Maybe the fact that Dutch tosses Dillon the gun means there might have been hope for their friendship after all.
On the other hand — no pun intended — Mac and Blain are ride or die for each other.
When Blain gets killed by an unseen enemy, it’s Mac who takes up his signature weapon (the GE M134 Minigun, nicknamed “Old Painless”) and shoots up the jungle until there ain’t much jungle left to shoot. Considering the way this movie fetishizes guns and the destruction they cause, it feels like it means something that Mac takes up his fallen friend’s trademark — in a lean-and-mean movie that doesn’t have much time for character-building, this is how character is built; on the fly, midst-mass-murder.
It’s Mac who gets the movie’s most outwardly emotional scene, reflecting over his brother-in-arms later that night, promising retribution. It wouldn’t be off-base to suggest that Blain’s death causes this stone killer to pretty much unravel. He goes from a concrete badass, breaking off razors against his cheek, to weeping at the moon.
And then when Mac finally gets a shot at revenge, hustling to get a clear shot at the galactic creep who slaughtered his buddy, Mac goes all-the-way-unhinged and starts singing a refrain from “Long Tall Sally,” the Little Richard song that played at the top of the movie, happier times for Mac and Blain.
This is his moment to get payback. You probably know what happens next. It doesn’t go our team’s way, but he sure tries.
That’s a good friend.
PREDATOR screens tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers.
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Tags: Action Film, Aliens, arnold schwarzenegger, Bill Duke, Carl Weathers, Elipidia Carrillo, Jesse Ventura, Jim Thomas, John McTiernan, John Thomas, Sci-Fi, Screenings, Shane Black, Shitkicking, Sonny Landham