Movie of the Fortnight: Predator (1987)

 

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John McTiernan directs Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers and Bill Duke in this commandos versus alien hunter in the jungle action classic.

Every year I watch it, Predator tricks me. I’m always shocked at just how marvellous it is. In the intervening months I write my love of it off down to pure nostalgia. I remember watching, with my cousin, a pirate VHS of spines being ripped out, the hardest cast in cinema history unloading magazine after magazine into a forest and a mask coming off so one ugly muthafucker can finally be revealed (brilliant and iconic Stan Winston creature design that is hard to believe was a last minute rush job). I must have been 10 if I was a day. I was blown away, this was illicit stuff. The kind of wild, wild adventure nasty you did with your Action Force toys when no adults could overhear. Stuff that would get you sent to a child psychologist these days as you gleefully introduced an out of scale He-Man villian action figure into the mix and watched the heroes suffer the carnage. When it eventually came out to own, (big long release windows back then) I bought Predator from Variety Video in Greenford for £9.99 rrp and my video collection had begun. But watching it through the jaded eyes of an adult, for what must be at least the 30th time… Fuck me, it holds up. The action is fantastic; an assault on a compound has to be one of the greatest fictional war sequences ever filmed, the laying of the traps by Arnie’s beleaguered squad has a Boy’s Own quality that belongs in a film of a different era (in fact the middle of nowhere setting and high quality cinematography give Predator a timeless, undated feel) and that long teased chase through the undergrowth as the survivors are picked off one by one or make their individual final stands is like an orgasm after an hour of sweet lovemaking. We have not even got to a lone mud covered Arnie’s taking the battle to the freak with nothing but a bow, an arrow and a bonfire. Violent, gripping, taut. Considering acting is most of the cast’s second professions (a rag tag bunch of bodybuilders, wrestlers, screenwriters and whatever the fuck Sonny Ladham is) the performances are compelling. Dialogue is spoken off to the middle distance in curt instructions or haunting monologues (Blade Runner and Unforgiven’s David Peoples did a late pass on the script and blips and burst of such quality are evident). Both Carl Weathers and Bill Duke put in far better craft than such a throwaway premise deserves but it is Arnie who walk away showered in glory. This is possibly the only time he has played a believable human. Not a killing machine or a comic exaggeration of the Schwarzenegger brand. His Dutch interacts like an actual person, shows subtle unspoken emotions, conveys the terror of the situation (even more effectively considering his in-his-prime 1987 muscular build and proven badass reputation) and then we have that shellshocked last shot. Arnie (childhood hero, unbeatable force) has survived but he hasn’t won. Cue up one of the most underrated movie scores ever, we are leaving Val Verde listening to Silvestri’s bombastic pastiche of militaria and undulating timpani rolls. I doubt Dutch would want to go through it all again… But, bloody hell, we do. Action cinema doesn’t come any more engrossing. Movie villians don’t come anymore OMFG insurmountable. Flawless.

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