Predator (1987) Movie Review
This iconic 80s alien blockbuster did not only set new standards in action & special effects but is one of the most entertaining Schwarzenegger movies!
Genre: Action / Horror / Sci-Fi
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carillo, Bill Duke, Shane Black, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura & Kevin Peter Hall.
Run Time: 107 min.
US Release: 12 June 1987
UK Release: 01 January 1988
German Release: 27 August 1987
With The Predator being released this year and me sitting at home injured, I decided it would be the best time to review this action sci-fi franchise. Today I will be kicking this review series off with the first movie Predator, released in 1987 - my birth year! McTiernan’s first blockbuster wasn’t exactly a hit at the time, receiving mixed reviews, although in later years, reviewers came to see it as what it is, a masterpiece of its genre.
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
A US special-ops team, led by the hard-cut Dutch, is hired by old-time comrade Dillon, on a mission to rescue a group of political hostages in Central America. Not everything looks as it seems, though and soon they discover that they are being tracked by an alien hunter, with advanced technological weaponry. As the team starts fighting for their life, one thing becomes obvious; not everyone will make it out alive!
Written by Jim and John Thomas, the script was inspired by a Rocky joke circulation Holywood at the time. Originally titled Hunter, the first rough drafts centred on various alien species, banding together while searching for prey to hunt. Eventually, the screenplay was reworked and trimmed down to just one alien from a hunting race, stalking the most dangerous species on our planet, humans. The jungle of Central America was chosen as a setting since at that time there were a lot of special operations going on.
This might be one of the simpler premises brought to the screen, but it was done with such craft for the art; the end product ended up better than it had any right to. The story contains the typical 80s macho extravaganza, with a lot of over-the-top explosions, gunfire and muscle exposure. However, it also revolutionised this era's action genre, by including aspects of horror and thriller, all enveloped in a sci-fi story. McTiernan effectively winds up the tension slowly throughout its runtime, until reaching the breaking point, when Dutch faces off against the villainous Predator alone, barely making it out alive.
Predator’s narrative is essentially a two-acter. The blockbuster starts as a stereotypical cheesy 80s combat flick; the first 35 minutes are displaying over-the-top schlocky gunfights and explosions. The audience only obtains glimpses of something lurking in the shadows but doesn’t get to see the monster until halfway through the runtime. After the firefight segment, at the rebel camp; revealing Dillon’s betrayal, the first act slowly begins to shift into horror territory. Dutch’s commando starts getting picked off one by one in the bloodiest way possible, which is when the second act kicks in.
Eventually, what McTiernan did was to slowly strip away all those clichéd facets, until nothing else was left but Arnold facing off against the alien, in all its raw, primal viciousness. He deceived audiences by beginning the film with a familiar tone, only to end it with something completely new and unseen for those times.
The dialogues might just be the biggest gripe I have with the movie, containing a lot of cheesy one-liners while talks between characters are mostly shallow. The first couple of tacky sentences might still be funny, but get cringy quickly - especially Shane Black’s jokes about his girlfriend didn't age well.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is the lead, portraying Dutch, a commander of a special-ops S&R unit. The team is sent on a mission to Val Verde, believing to be rescuing presidential cabinet members that were kidnapped by guerilla forces. Dutch is depicted as a highly skilful operator, proving it by using his wits to survive the alien’s attacks and eventually defeating it. This is one of Schwarzenegger’s better performances; yes he has silly one-liners at the start, nonetheless, these are gradually reduced once the Predator comes into play.
Elpidia Carillo as Anna might have the minimum amount of lines, staring mostly out into the distance. Even so, she ultimately holds up well against the testosterone-filled ensemble! Anna is a prisoner of war, who Dillon wants to interrogate. She is portrayed as a tough female character, being the only other Predator survivor, next to Dutch.
Ironically Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed in the Rocky franchise, signed up to play the role of Dillon, an old Vietnam buddy of Dutch. Now working for the CIA, he tricks his friend to assassinate a whole guerrilla camp, which obtained reinforcement from the Russian government.
The visual storytelling pretty much reflects the narrative one-to-one, with kitschy close-ups of manly muscles, along with silly exaggerated fights and explosions throughout the first half-hour. However, McTiernan together with the director of photography Donald McAlpine, always made use of the surrounding area to build up the suspense; The wide angles of the jungle, paired with close-ups of hulking trees, induce a sense of claustrophobia.
Most of the VFX still holds up to this day, with only the camouflage and electrical spark effects looking a little bit dated by today's standards. Nevertheless, those effects were top of the line back in the late 80s, still looking good enough for today’s standards. Most effects, though, were practical that also included the alien predator who still holds up fantastically, and whose mask contained animatronics to move its mandible pincers.
Alan Silvestri’s score adds to the excitement, as the bras, wood and string instruments highlight the thrill of suspense.
Verdict: This is by far one of the best action sci-fi pictures of its generation! The script contains a layered story with typical schlocky combat on its surface, yet the more layers are peeled off, the more it ventures into horror science-fiction territory. The main objective of the characters no longer is that of extraction, but to survive a logically, as well as, technologically advanced foe. Does it always succeed in its mission? No, the dialogues are sometimes too cheesy and misplaced, although it quickly finds its path back to build up tension. Arnold Schwarzenegger gives one of his finest performances as Dutch, and his confrontation with the Alien is one of the most adrenaline-fueled finales in a film. The cinematography is perfect, with special effects holding up to this day! Predator is one of my favourite flicks, fully deserving an 8.5 out of 10.
If you haven’t seen Predator yet, I highly implore you to check it out! It is one of the best science-fiction spectacles, packed with action and a great Arnold Schwarzenegger performance!