By Marc S. Sanders
Predator is not only my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger film, but it also remains as one of the best action films of all time.
The main reason for my praise stems from its cast consisting of the Austrian headliner followed by Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham. The cast is sensational because they take the science fiction material seriously by evoking their machismo gradually evolving into fear. Director John McTiernan displays all of this very well through quiet and covert close ups as each character sums up the possibility that they are being hunted for sport by an entity they are not familiar with.
McTiernan makes use of his setting to the point that the real-life dense jungle of trees amid thick humidity, within South America, is its own character. I don’t know how he did it but, in this film, McTiernan and his cinematographer capture flawless tracking shots of running over uneven grounds and roots, leaves and low hanging foliage. It’s really spectacular how it all moves fast without any chopped up quick cuts like a Michael Bay movie for example. In this movie, the chases are actual chases.
An outrageous Oscar crime is that this film lost its Visual Effects prize to Innerspace. That gnaws at me when you consider the vagueness of the Predator’s chameleon like invisibility shape. It leaves the viewer intentionally as confused as these expert Gung Ho military men are. They can’t quite make out what this thing is because McTiernan wisely follows Spielberg’s Jaws technique by not showing you the creature until all the cards are dealt. The viewer is left curious and aware but still in suspense. There’s a kaleidoscope of transparency in the figure that scopes these men but what is it, really? The best horror films present the horror by literally not showing you the horror.
I like how this rescue team is continuously displayed with their talents for covert sabotage, hand signals, caution and focus. The actors are actually setting up the booby traps and climbing and ground crawling.
It’s honestly a very well-acted piece most especially from, yes Schwarzenegger, as well as Bill Duke and his psychological trauma during the 2nd half of the film, and Sonny Landham as the Tracker Billy who can relay what transpired with a keen Native American sense of environment. It’s a great collection of characters all together.
Sadly, the majority of the follow up films in the franchise do not live up to what originated here. In the first installment, the story is condensed in an efficient 90 minutes that leaves enough time for one story of adventure and rescue before it gets to all its sci fi suspenseful showpieces. The follow up films never took advantage of the strengths used here from over 30 years ago.
Predator is a brilliantly edited, well shot, taut and a gripping yarn of imagination and fear.
From 1987, it hasn’t aged a bit.