The reason that Predator was so effective when I finally saw it a year or two after its release was that I missed the very, very beginning. I came in during the credit sequence when my dear old dad called me into the front to ask if I wanted to watch Predator. So I saw a tough-as-nails "Rescue Team" landing in South America getting ready to save a bunch of clowns who managed to get themselves nabbed in the jungle. When the title character finally appeared on screen I was like "Whoa... what the hell is that thing?"
The mystery of just what they were fighting was so brilliantly handled by director John McTiernan that the actual reveal could've shocked anybody... because there was no hint of a Sci-Fi element until that point.
Of course after that I re-watched Predator in its entirety and was jolted to note that the first thing we see is a spacecraft hurling through the stars towards Earth. Not exactly much of a mystery there. Johnny McT was flashing that high card right away!
Effective? Sure! But just imagine the mystery of NOT knowing what the film really was. Thinking you were watching another guerilla warfare action movie... Rambo in South America with Conan in the lead... and then that Predator shows up and the whole shebang changes!!!
And what a change it was! The look of this screen monster (Created by the brilliant Stan Winston based on the character in Jim and John Thomas' screenplay) was no mere repeat of Alien. This was something new and dangerous with an intellect as big as the mad-on it had for anyone his infrared vision deemed to be "Fair Game".
Yes, yes, folks! Infrared vision, extra mandibles, wrist mounted blades, parrot guns, laser cannons, armor, a skewed but strong sense of honor and a foreboding menace even when invisible thanks to actor Kevin Peter Hall (not to mention one cool-as-hell voice, courtesy of Optimus Prime himself, Peter Cullen)! Needless to say, as soon as this monster Predator shows up in South America with his light-bending Chameleon technology he starts to hunt man and beast alike, especially the prerequisite ruthless warlord type jackasses that are always a thorn in the side of the USA!
It's this very greedy glory-seeking camouflaged posse of rebel guerillas that raises the interest of, you guessed it, the Americans, especially CIA Agent Dillon (played by the extra-buff Carl Weathers). He and General Phillips (R.G. Armstrong) bring in the only Elite Commando Squad that could possibly take those fuckers down... Yes, folks, the future Celebrity Governors of the United States! HUZZAH!
I feel like I'm forgetting something... what is it? Um... something I always do in reviews of this kind, um... oh, yeah! Send in THE ELITE COMMANDO SQUAD!
That's right, Shane Black! The team is so friggin' tough it features the very CREATOR of Lethal Weapon, not to mention three tough-guy body builders turned Politicians (yeah, you know all about Ah-nuld "Cally-Fawnya" Schwarzenegger and Jesse "Mini-Sooooda" Ventura, but Sonny Landham also ran for governor of Kentucky once). Yeah, man, mercenaries and aliens are one thing, but politicians... that's scary, dudes!
Moving on... even though the astute audience member (who didn't spend the pre-credit sequence in his room) already knows that the team is up against the ultimate Alien from interstellar HELL, the Commando Team from the good old US of A thinks, at first, that they're just dealing with a super-sick South American criminal... the kind that skins people alive... and takes their polished skulls and spinal cords as trophies. Ew, man, ew! Luckily, any remaining questions are easily answered by sweet, sweet refugee Anna (Elpidia Carrillo)! The way the tension and the revelation builds is a credit to the direction of McTiernan and the execution of the kick-ass cast... including Hall himself. That's not even mentioning the incredible effects work by Stan Winston and his studio!
Like Alien the plot begins to resemble a big game of And Then There Were None until the shocking final act, however, while Predator may sound derivative, it's actually quite the original sci-fi action thriller! Or... it was before the many sequels and rip-offs!
The special effects are fantastic (right on down to the chroma-key manipulated invisibility cloak), the script is tight and exciting and if the action doesn't pump you full of testosterone (regardless of your gender) then check your pulse... you may be dead!
Further the directing is dead-on, which is only to be expected from the future helmsman of Die Hard! His interpretation of the Thomas' script is really something to see, especially when put in the hands of these action heroes! And the more desperate they get, the smarter the script tends to be. Yes, folks, believe it or not, Predator is often at its best during the more silent and contemplative moments.
Of course, that could, just maybe, have to do with the fact that some of the acting here is, to be kind, a bit challenged. Look, man, I realize that Schwarzenegger is nobody's first choice for Hamlet and, yeah, I know home-dude's got quite the Austrian Accent but once in a while the all-too-human Terminator sounds a lot like he's reading off a cue-card or struggling with the Lingo in ways that might make the man positively un-electable.
Further, in spite of the ultimate original feel, there are the occasional predictale moments for those familiar with, say Aliens or First Blood!
Still, in spite of the few flaws herein, it would be a DAMNED SHAME to underestimate Predator as a Science Fiction film, an action film, a horror film or just a damned cool movie worth somewhere in the bloody jungle of Four Stars out of Five! Although there have been a number of antecedents, there are a whole hell of a lot more imitators and pretenders to the predatory crown. Yes, there have been official sequels and tie ins, but the original is still the very best. Sure, at core this really is another of your 1980s era Arnold Schwarzenegger Action Flicks but taking a good look at this film, one doesn't have to hunt too damned far for the diamond in the jungle of this very cool film. Action, Horror, Science Fiction and the incredible title monster that has impacted official following films, adaptations and much more, not to mention a whole Team of Copy-Predators! Because of (and in spite of) all of this, the film still manages to stand up today and we're not terribly likely to find its like again... and until we do, I'll see you Hunting Commandoes in the NEXT reel!
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