If there were a contest for which alien life form is the most badass in the universe, then Predators would be at the top of the list! Why? Because they’re big, powerful, stealthy, scary-looking, and pack enough artillery to take out an entire city block!
Yes, Predators is one of those franchises that contained some true seeds of genius, but kind of fell flat for a couple of reasons. Chief amongst them, in my opinion, was money and the desire to appeal to the “lowest-common denominator”. How else can you explain the whole AVP cinematic fiasco?
Still, the Predator concept has had some impressive renditions over the years, not the least of which came with the first two movies and a slew of crossover video games, novels and comics. And with the latest movie, there are clear attempts to break them away from their Alien peers. So I thought I’d get right into it and see what makes these badasses just so bad! First off, the movie that started it all…
The movie opens with an alien spacecraft flying towards Earth and jettisoning a small pod down into Central America. Cut to the surface, where we see an American base located somewhere in the jungles of Guatemala. A bunch of hooligans are being flown into an Army base and Arny is in the front seat with a massive stogie in his mouth. Very quickly, it is established that this man is elite commando named Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer, the best in the business.
In the course of his briefing, he is told that his team is needed to rescue a Guatemalan cabinet minister and his aides who have been kidnapped by guerrillas. He’s also reunited with old friend George Dillon (Carl Weathers), a former military man who has since joined the CIA. Apparently, he will be acting a liaison during the mission, and stresses to Dutch that this is going to be no cake walk!
We learn all we need to know about the mission from a single exchange, even if we didn’t know it at the time:
Dillon: “How come you passed on Libya?”
Dutch: “Libya’s not my style.”
Dillon: “You aint got no style!”
Dutch: (pause to light a fresh stogie) “We’re a rescue team, not a bunch of assassins.”
We then get to meet the team: Mac Eliot (Bill Duke), Blain Cooper (Jesse Ventura), Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), Jorge “Poncho” Ramirez (Richard Chaves), and Rick Hawkins (Shane Black). Grabbing their heavy artillery, they hop into their choppers and are inserted into the jungle.
What follows is some obvious build-up as the team discovers the crashed chopper which was supposedly holding the minister and his aides and finds a whole bunch of skinned bodies hanging upside down. Assuming the guerrillas did this, the team sets off post-haste for their hideout with payback on their minds. When they find it, they proceed to blow the shit out of it and kill anything that moves, save for one woman named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo).
This scene is something that was surely impressive to audiences in 1987, but which has gone down as one of the cheesiest action sequences ever since. For one, elite commando teams that are on a rescue mission aren’t supposed to blow shit up! That’s how you get the people you’re trying to save killed! Second, these guys were obviously not trained for the role. Basically, they just walk around and shoot people with no effort! Kind of like he did in Commando! Way to research that role guys!
But in the end, Dutch and his team realize that there are no hostages. The base was merely an encampment where some Soviet advisers were known to be. Dutch’s team were thus set up to attack the place and kill everyone as part of some CIA black op. Dutch is pissed and wants to tear Dillon’s head off, but they are forced to beat a retreat since their blowing the shit out of the place couldn’t help to draw attention. They thus take Anna and head on out. Meanwhile, we get some extended (really extended) scenes where the Predator watches them through its thermal vision.
Things start to get interesting shortly thereafter when the Predator begins to do its thing: take down the team one by one. Naturally, it kills the weakest guy first, the one who carried only small guns and made all the bad jokes. Yeah, he goes down faster than a… I can’t think of a way to finish that sentence. Jesse Ventura, the man with the ridiculous portable minigun is blown apart shortly thereafter too. Luckily, the team learns from these early encounters a few important tidbits. One, the creature can camouflage itself. Two, that it bleeds. And as Arny says: “If it bleeds, we can kill it!”
Unfortunately, this proves more difficult than it sounds. Despite some clever traps and lying in wait, the Predator still manages to get the upper hand on them and continues picking them off one by one. In the end, Arny is wounded and sends his last remaining man with the Anna with instructions to “get to the choppa!” He narrowly escapes death by crawling through some cold mud which masks his thermal signature.
After prepping some more traps, crafting some jungle weapons and smearing himself with warpaint (more mud), Arny lets out a giant bellow to draw the Predators attention. They have their final battle, Arny gets to see exactly what one looks like, and is generally unimpressed. “You’re one ugly motherfucker!” is the way he put it. The Predator must have understood too, because he proceeds to whoop Arny’s ass!
However, Arny still has one trap which he uses to pin the alien hunter under a log and then picks up a rock. However, he hesitates on the verge of delivering the final blow, giving him time to set off his little self-destruct sequence. Arny runs and barely survives the explosions, and the rescue chopper crew find him shortly thereafter looking shell shocked and dirty!
Well, that’s the first movie in a nutshell. Over the top, with lots of explosions, deaths and the constant sense of impending death.
Naturally, this movie had its strong points. For one, the concept of the Predator itself was quite interesting and well illustrated. And I don’t just mean its weapons and active camouflage, even though those were pretty cool too! No, what was most interesting, in my opinion, was the rules that the Predator observed. In the beginning, it chose its arena carefully, being drawn to a region where there was active fighting. Second, it took the time to assess its environment and identify worthy game, and then went about stalking them. Last, it made sure to identify the individual hunters that made up the pack and worked its way through them, leaving the best for last and making sure that fight was hand to hand and one on one.
Oh, and let’s not forget that when faced with capture, it chose to blow itself up rather than let its remains (and technology) fall into its prey’s hands. Smart thinking! From all this, you can tell that these aliens have been doing this a long time and developed rules, tactics and equipment accordingly. Most of this would be further developed and explained in the second movie, but it was apparent from the first that some thought went into the alien development.
Really, the only problem I saw with this movie was the cheese factor. The commandos are way too brawny and brazen, nothing like the stealthy, quick and deadly tactics that actual Special Forces are known for. Second, the ensemble was just a huge bunch of macho stereotypes! Arny is, as with all his 80’s movies, the picture-perfect macho badass – smoking stogies, talking war stories, and flexing his muscles every chance he gets. Similarly, Ventura plays the massive gun-toting, cowboy hat-wearing Texan who chews tobacco and says shit like “he’s burrowed in their deeper than an Alabama tick!” Why didn’t they just call him “Tex” and get it over with already?
Then there’s Mac, the cold crazy dude dry shaves and makes chilling threats, but who naturally goes nuts when the Predator attacks and gets himself killed chasing it. And of course, there’s Billy, the token Native American who is real quite, stoic, and is the first to know they are being hunted. He also figures out that what’s after them is not a man, that they are all going to die, and seems to accept that with fatalistic calm. Oh, and did I mentioned he decides to stay behind and face death, fighting the Predator alone with his knife rather than die? Yeah, that was real “it’s a good day to die” moment there, a final Native warrior stereotype to cap off a blatantly cliched portrayal.
But hey, I already said the movie had signs of quality. It just so happens that they were buried under piles and piles of cheese! And what the hell, the action was pretty cool too. And ultimately, most of these strengths would go on to be developed further by the second movie and other installments in the franchise, culminating in a crossover with the Alien universe in 1989/90. More on that soon enough!
Entertainment Value: 7/10 (cheesy but fun)
Total: 6.5/10 (Guilty pleasure movie, mainly)
FYI: Cool site to check out for Alien and Predator info, the AVP Wiki: http://avp.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page