Hear the writers (kind of) discuss this subject on the Secret Cave Podcast!
Having spawned a string of god-awful sequels/spin-offs, and essentially being only an action jaunt to begin with, Predator gets somewhat of a bad rep considering how good it actually is. True, it’s a cornerstone of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s catalogue but that isn’t something held in any higher regard than what it merits (which isn’t much). Predator, at least for me, stands head and shoulders above the rest of Arnie’s tripe – and even ends up as my personal favourite action movie ever made. That’s remarkable in and of itself, as action is a genre I always go into with the highest distaste and lack of interest.
Having made clear the pedestal I put it on, it’s also only fair that I make something else equally understood. I’m not going to try and make out Predator to be a film of deep intelligence, or all that much contemplation or thought. While I do think it brings some nuggets to the cerebral table, it is essentially a form of trash. Nevertheless, it’s trash that shows just how entertaining and viable that can be as a medium – all without trying to be anything more or devolving too much into constant adrenaline apathy. When considered, Predator actually has a notably small amount of violent and outrageous set-pieces; generally more interested in the tension and atmosphere of unfolding events.
Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his six-man team of military stereotypes are well revered for their skill and professionalism. Brought into Val Verde (a fictional country used in numerous productions) to assist in a critical hostage situation by the CIA, things feel somewhat unsettling from the off. Orders seem shrouded in mystery, details appear withheld and there’s something unusual in the trees – keenly spotted by the Native American stereotype who can literally sniff danger. Tongue-in-cheek and somewhat derogatory perspective aside, the dynamics between the principle players are quickly established as being fun and endearing in the extreme. They break the ice of their own cliched surroundings, making us comfortable in familiarity rather than bored of repetition.
As things only get creepier and bodies are found strung up, skinned, the hostage situation gets quickly concluded as a more pressing threat looms from the sea of green around them. Using the Alien method of showing as little as possible, we’re slowly introduced to the Predator himself – an elusive and somehow invisible creature of incredible speed. Iconic in his stalking of the team we’ve become friendly with, the remaining picture centres on his growing battle of wits with Dutch as he fights for his life, his team and, of course, to get to the choppa. Leaving it there is probably appropriate for anyone who hasn’t gotten around to seeing this critically neglected movie, as there’s much to be enjoyed in learning the Predator’s movements and motivations without my synopsis ruining it.
Unfortunately, leaving the rest unspoiled means i’m not fully able to dive into the themes of the piece and what they might be saying. I will establish though that there are definitely some interesting things to mull over while the one-liners, ammo bursts and laboured breathing pogo across the screen. What I said earlier about it not having all that much depth simply means that they don’t seem too interested in expanding very far on those themes, or making them the core of the work. The ponderous aspects of Predator are definitely still there though, and it’s great how the creature himself turns the tables on our own complacent apparent superiority. I promise that will make more sense when you know why he’s got such a beef.
Sure, I generally like to look at things with oodles of philosophical depth here at Secret Cave, but every now and then I like to toss something less lofty into the fold. Even I like to merely switch off for ninety minutes sometimes, and when I do Predator is one of the finest examples of that pointless popcorn evening personified. A great way to spend a free night if you can easily take pinches of salt, just make sure to stay away from its following cinema progeny. It’s also worth mentioning that Predator‘s soundtrack is unquestionably outstanding – a veritable well of memorable melodies often absent from many films of its ilk. I honestly don’t know why it hasn’t gained a little more love and respect over the years…