Sunday, February 8, 2015

SW Watches: Predator (1987)

I love the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Predator, with the kind of unironic enthusiasm you never really recapture after the age of 13, when we rented this flick during the golden era of action movies with a hard R-rating.  And this is not a movie that earned its hard R from gratuitous nudity of the era (in fact, nary a boob is seen that isn't an oiled pectoral muscle).  It's just straight up Reagan-era ultraviolence from Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Shane Black, Bill Duke and more.

And, of course, The Predator, one of the groundbreaking action movie concepts that no one has still really improved upon almost 30 years later.

I watched the movie for three reasons:
  • I was recently gifted a Predator-themed shirt by CanadianSimon, and so I wanted to watch the movie in his honor
  • Last summer I heard rumors that screen-writer/ actor Shane Black (who is in this movie) would be rebooting the franchise - and I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what he does.  I wouldn't trust too many other folks to take this on, but Shane Black is the right person for the job
  • I was more than half-way into a bottle of Malbec and watching Predator suddenly seemed absolutely necessary*

The movie is short, to the point, and keeps up a rocket pace that never really flags in the 100-or-so minute runtime.  It starts off centered on shady CIA dealings in Latin America (oh, Cold War, you miserable bastard), until - spoilers, I guess - our squad of crack commandos realizes it's not guerilla fighters that have taken out two of their squad.  In fact, it's an alien hunter making sport of them and enjoying the challenge.

If the movie is a cut above many of the action-genre from the period - and not even Arnie could save movies like Raw Deal from themselves, it was directed by John McTiernan, who also brought us Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October and the '99 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair**.  McTiernan is out of prison from the wire-tapping and other charges, so let's hope we get some work out of him again soon.  (Oh, McTiernan, you so crazy.)

If you take away one thing from this movie, it is the absolutely hilarious world of machismo that is played completely straight throughout.  I mean, it was the 80's.  They meant all of it in earnest even when they knew the lines were absolutely insane.  

So, next time someone is causing you problems at work, you just drop this Bill Duke line on them:
You're ghostin' us, motherf***er. I don't care who you are back in the world, you give away our position one more time, I'll bleed ya, real quiet. Leave ya here. Got that?
Who says that?  Bill Duke says that, and that is awesome.

All of the soldiers have their own unique voices and are shockingly well developed for what amounts to so much cannon-fodder for the movie, leaving the weirdly underdeveloped Dutch, played by Arnie, to basically slug it out in the jungle for the last 30 minutes of the movie with the Predator.  I guess, back in the 80's, we didn't really need Arnie to be developed.  He was just Arnie, and you knew what that meant.  There's some chatter between he and CIA agent Dillon, played by the always underutilized Carl Weathers, that gives you an idea of at least Arnie's background, but it's sort of a sketchy outline.  And the very McTiernan-esque suggestion that putting on a tie was practically a soul-killing and eventually fatal decision for Dillon.

Stories have come up that Weathers and Arnie were actually in friendly competition regarding their physiques during the filming of the movie.  Why Weathers thought he'd one-up a champion world-class body-builder, I do not know, but we all benefit, as the movie also gives us the greatest handshake in cinema history, now called "The Predator".***

It is a thing of glory, my friends
This is a bizarrely manly movie, with the only female presence derived from "Anna", a rebel Dillon takes along with him for later interrogation, and who provides Arnie with evidence that the Predator only goes after armed prey.  The character isn't sexualized, and she's more or less seen as competent in her way as a hand-cuffed prisoner who tries to escape a few times.  Nor is she some "mouthy broad" stereotype.  But it's a far cry from saying the movie sees the character as anything resembling an equal in anyone's eyes.  McTiernan's handling of women is probably worth an essay itself sometime as he's sort of a bridge point as someone who didn't just cast women as "a problem" in action movies.

And, someone could surely write an entire thesis about the unspoken relationship between Bill Duke's "Mac" and Jesse Ventura's "Blain", but I'll leave that in neutral territory for you to ponder on your next viewing.

The FX of the movie hold up startlingly well, if you ignore the illogic of the Predator's thermal vision.  I still am not clear how they did the camouflage with the technology of the era (something easily done from '94 or so on with CGI), but it's all extremely seamless between the practical and visual FX.  And it manages it all without that weird, glossy look of modern action films they apparently need to keep on to blend CGI and real actors.

No doubt I watch this movie through a certain lens of a certain age I was when we rented this from the new Blockbuster Video in my neighborhood, during a certain time in America.  The movie lacks the satirical elements that may have set it apart in the manner of RoboCop or the scope of a Spielbergian adventure of the same era.  The modern attempts by Arnie to recapture the mojo of this era seem to fall flat not because Arnie is the age of a pensioner, but because there was a certain MO to directing action movies in the era that got absorbed and watered down, and without someone like McTiernan in his prime, or a certain brand of actor to corral, it's tough to pull off as anything but a third-generation knock-off.

I actually kind of like Predator 2, but that's about where my interest stops.  Rodriguez's Predators was middling, and the Alien vs. Predator franchise feels like it was made by people who'd only heard about the franchises from other people and now had to make a movie.

Here's to seeing what Shane Black decides to do.

and here's that t-shirt, commemorating the finest moment in cinema, ever

*I invite you to review my twitterfeed from last night, if you doubt the veracity of this claim
**Maybe the last really good use of Rene Russo, in my book.  Which is a damned crime.
***to properly Predator, one must first address the second party as "Dillon, you son of a bitch" before going in for the full handshake

1 comment:

J.S. said...

There is something very strange about mixing the consumption of Malbec into a Predator viewing.