It’s a fact little disputed amongst serious scholars of bone-crunching, gore-spattered, pectoral-pumping, 1980’s cinema that John McTiernan‘s action/sci-fi/horror mash-up “Predator” is a pivotal movie of the decade and ranks as some of iconic star Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s best on-screen work.
Shorn of many of the reactionary politics which accompanied many action-thrillers of the decade and focussing instead on creating one of the best variations on “The Most Dangerous Game” that we’ve seen on-screen, “Predator” doesn’t waste a second of its 107 minute running time and lives longer in the memory because of it – it would take a real bonehead to mess up this premise and the taut script by Jim and John Thomas thankfully provides director McTiernan with an opportunity to stage tense, violent and genuinely thrilling set-pieces which still resonate 25 years later.
25 years since this film opened? Oy vey.
The set-up is simplicity itself – an elite team of covert military extraction specialists led by Major Dutch Schaefer (
Alan Alda…Schwarzenegger) take on the job of entering a South American conflict zone to retrieve lost government personnel and instead find themselves on the wrong end of a terrifying big game hunt waged by an alien big game hunter whose dental bills must be crippling.
It’s to the Thomas’ credit that they find ways to subvert expectations and misdirect the audience until the runaway train of the main plot kicks in and never lets up for the remainder of the running time. Sparing as it is, there is at least some attempt to lend Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and the various tree-trunk necked cast passing character development amidst the shoot-outs, last-gasp escapes and deliriously homoerotic bro-bonding elsewhere in the film.
Things that McTiernan’s direction gets abundantly right are demonstrated by the action sequences – each one is shot in what would come to be recognized as the director’s signature style, which marries frenetic bouts of mayhem with always easy to understand spatial staging and razor-sharp editing. The tension is always palpable and the gore is done with something approaching restraint – limbs are lopped, unfortunate soldiers are skinned and somehow none of it seems aggressively horrible or leeringly adolescent.
What’s honestly pleasing about this film is the way that it gets to have its cake and consume it greedily – whilst we get to enjoy early scenes of Dutch and crew laying waste to all comers with an array of absurdly fetishized military hardware (culminating in the scene captured above), it rapidly becomes clear that all of the mini-guns, grenade launcher attachments and over-developed biceps in the world are precisely no use whatsoever against the alien protagonist of the title when it starts hunting them in earnest. There is always, as Uncle George Lucas would later remind us in “Star Wars: Episode One – The Phantom Menace“, a bigger fish.
The mano-a-alien showdown at the end still thrills, wisely devoting a significant amount of on-screen time to beating the living crap out of the otherwise impervious Austrian Oak and making the certainty of his ultimate triumph rather more of a contest than it had been to this point – it’s also fun to see Dutch’s character pushed to rely less on his undisputed muscles and more on his adaptive, intellectual abilities to best the universe’s premier big-game hunter, deploying a valley’s worth of improvised traps and tricks to slow down old crab-face before the two can finally face each other down.
You can see why the sequels, spin-offs and remakes resulted from this utterly enjoyable original flick – but it’s telling that few of them (arguably Nimrod Antal‘s “Predators” being the best) have ever approached the seamless blend of horror beats, action gags and sci-fi coolness that McTiernan’s film has to spare.
The Blu-Ray, by the way, is fine – save for some utterly misguided digital makeover techniques being applied to the print, which result in all the cast’s craggy faces being uniformly de-lined and as feature-free as a Vogue cover model – and has much to recommend it. If you can get past the layer of virtual polyfilla being applied to the actors, the picture itself is fine if devoid of the kind of film grain which you would expect to see in a film of this vintage.
The sound mix is pretty good – guns boom, explosions shake your subwoofer and Alan Silvestri‘s magnificent score jockey for aural position betwixt your speakers and don’t step on each other’s shoes too often. Extras are reasonably generous – there’s a making-of, some deleted scenes and trailers, a McTiernan commentary and a text commentary by a film historian (it’s a living, I guess…).
If you’ve ever thought about buying the movie, this is fairly definitive stuff and it looks and sounds as good as it ever will, shy of what a hypothetical director-supervised edition for the thirtieth anniversary edition might offer up. Not one for purists, but certainly a disc that fans should enjoy.