Saturday 27 April 2013

Movie Review: Predator (1987)

A man versus monster science fiction war amalgam, Predator is a violence drenched, testosterone fuelled, gore-garnished warriors-in-the-jungle adventure. Arnold Schwarzenegger is perfectly cast as the best that humanity can offer to battle a ruthless alien.

In an unnamed Central American country, a former Green Beret Major who goes by the nickname Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his squad of five mercenaries are recruited by the CIA's George Dillon (Carl Weathers). Dignitaries have been captured by guerrillas, and Dutch's crew is tasked with penetrating the jungle base of the rebels, rescuing the hostages and getting out. As Dutch and his men sneak up on the guerrilla base, they find evidence that an earlier CIA rescue squad was ambushed and brutally murdered and skinned.

The rebel base is totally destroyed by Dutch and his crew, and they take as prisoner the one insurgent survivor, a woman named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo). But the firefight is just the beginning of the horror in the jungle: as the men struggle to reach the rendezvous point with the extraction chopper, Dutch starts to realize that his men are being stalked by a ruthless, inhuman Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) with tremendous strength and advanced technology, including the ability to camouflage itself by blending into any background. One by one the mercenaries are killed, and it's up to Dutch to face down the alien in an encounter to the death.

The front end of Predator resembles a routine guerrilla war movie, a mission-in-the-jungle carried out by stone-faced men with muscles on their muscles carrying ridiculously large weapons. There are signs here and there of a strange presence amongst the dense trees, but basically the film charts a straight line to a grand, all-guns-blazing prolonged but nevertheless impressive assault on the rebel base, facilitated by machine guns that never run out of ammo and explosions that only hurt the bad guys.

The second half is much better. With betrayals already causing tension between Dutch and Dillon, the military warriors become prey to an efficient killing machine in the form of the ferocious Predator. Director John McTiernan changes gears and delivers a suspense filled hide-and-seek thriller in the dense jungle, as men who are used to dominating their surroundings are suddenly confronted by a much more formidable force.

Inevitably Predator moves to a one man versus one alien climax, as Dutch has to learn new tricks and figure out how to outsmart and hunt down an expert hunter. The final 30 minutes are grand fun and perfectly suited to Schwarzenegger's talents, an almost wordless battle of wits, brutally intense and yet adhering to the rules of mutual respect among well-matched combatants.

McTiernan does not pull back on the gore, constructing Predator as an adult-only zone where gallons of blood and globs of guts soak the jungle floor. The level of violence is both barbarous and necessary to authentically strike fear into the otherwise unconquerable hearts of hardened veterans.

The supporting cast is colourful if not overly talented. Dutch's men are played by the likes of the imposing Bill Duke, future Governor of Minnesota Jesse Ventura, and screenwriter / director Shane Black of Lethal Weapon fame. McTiernan does an honest job of providing each of the men with a basic personality to elevate them past stock characterizations. And while the Predator takes no prisoners and says little, he is provided with the aura of an honourable warrior that would serve the species well in future sequels. Predator may not be an intellectual feast, but as action thrillers go, it has plenty of human and alien brawn to draw upon.

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