(1987, Action/SciFi, color)
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In a nutshell:
Commandos take on an alien hunter in a South American jungle.
U.S. military advisor Dillon (Carl Weathers) asks his friend Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of commandos to help him rescue a lost cabinet minister from the depths of a guerilla-infested South American jungle. Dutch agrees, so Dillon accompanies them on an inconspicuous helicopter ride deep into enemy territory, blasting surreptitious Little Richard songs as they go.
They touch down a few miles away from their target, having somehow remained undetected by the remarkably inobservant guerrillas, and proceed through the jungle on foot. They come across the skinned and gutted remains of a troop of Green Berets. No one can figure out what did that to them, nor does Dillon admit to knowing why there were Green Berets so far into the jungle.
They reach the enemy compound and charge in with their guns a-blazin’. After several hundred thousand explosions, knifings, shootings, and post-kill puns, they poke through the guerilla corpses piled at their feet, eventually discovering that there never was a cabinet minister. Dillon admits he fabricated the story to get them to help wipe out an unfriendly military base. He takes the camp’s last survivor prisoner (a shapely young woman named Anna), so that he can take her back to his base for questioning.
Dutch and his crew are peeved at the deception, and sullenly trek back through the jungle to the helicopter rendezvous point. Anna bonks her guard on the head with a stick and makes a run for it. A commando named Hawkins chases her down. A camouflaged creature with infrared eyes jumps out to kill him and drag away his corpse.
The others arrive to find Anna covered with Hawkins’ blood and frightened into insensibility. They pursue the almost invisible creature into the jungle, but it turns back to blast another commando named Blain (Jesse Ventura). Realizing their danger, Dutch orders his remaining men to find a defensible position and rig it with traps to catch their antagonist.
Something crashes through the traps in the middle of the night. An incredibly sweaty commando named Mac attacks and stabs it to death, but flares reveal it to be just a wild pig. While they’re off dealing with the pig situation, the creature sneaks into their camp and makes off with Blain’s body.
Realizing that the thing can see their technological traps, Dutch decides to try again with traps made of trees, foliage, and vines. This eventually works, as something sneaking into the camp sets off all their traps at once. It breaks out and flees into the jungle. Now completely insane with anger and fear, Mac pursues it. Dillon follows, determined to help Mac hold it off until the rest can reach the helicopter rendezvous point. The creature kills both of them easily, and then runs down Native American guide Billy and the wounded Poncho as well. Anna scampers ahead into the jungle while a poorly aimed blast knocks Dutch over a cliff and into a river.
Dutch ends up in a mud bank downstream. He hears the creature splash into river behind him and curls up against a tree root to wait for death. The cold mud covering him foils the creature’s infrared vision, and it passes him by. Dutch uses his relative invisibility to spend the night rigging traps and primitive weapons. He attracts the creature with a bonfire and shoots at it with gunpowder-tipped arrows. He wounds it, and they fight all the way back to Dutch’s trap-filled hollow. The creature recognizes the trap and goes around, but stops to pose beneath the trap’s heavy counterweight. Dutch springs the empty trap, the counterweight comes down, and the creature is crushed. The creature uses its alien wrist device to activate a self destruct. Dutch manages to avoid the explosion, which draws the helicopter back to pick him up.
Predator is a deservedly iconic film. Sure it’s a dumb, violent, homoerotic action movie whose well-greased heroes can walk unscathed through a rain of bullets while their heavily accented foes fall around them by the hundred, but that describes most of Schwarzenegger’s (or Stallone’s, or Van Damme’s) work from the eighties. This movie is the apogee of such films because it acknowledges and embraces itself with admirable single-mindedness. There is, for instance, just enough characterization to let us know who these people are and how they behave, without all the unnecessary clutter of their personal lives. Why do we need elaborate backstories in an action film? Would Blain’s character have had greater depth if they’d told us that his love for Little Richard music and Skoal Bandits came about because he was raised by a blind African American tobacco farmer? I submit that it would not. The alien predator hunts humans for their skulls. Would it really make a difference if they told us why? I submit that it would, and not for the better, since the arbitrary explanation would probably insult our intelligence while interrupting the carefully paced action sequences. This is something modern action films have yet to learn, as most of them still contain endless CGI, hamfisted political statements, and enough plot details to fill a three-volume reference work.
Mike Nelson goes this commentary track alone, and one of the first things he wants to know is, “What is it about this movie that it managed to produce so many novelty governors?” (Of note: Arnold Schwarzenegger is governor of California as of this writing; Jesse Ventura was governor of Minnesota 1999 to 2003; and Sonny Landham (Billy) ran unsuccessfully for governor of Kentucky in 2003.) Much of the film’s first half consists of Dutch and company looking over their shoulders, leading to Mike’s comment, “Maybe ‘Predator’ is a Spanish word meaning ‘Creep around in the jungle unceasingly.’” Later, as Dutch escapes the Predator’s laser to flee into the jungle, Mike says, “[Predator] used the slight temporary pain ray on Arnold instead of the death ray.” It’s a decent film, and Mike’s mockery of it is spot on. It’s worth a look.
(1987, Action/SciFi, color)