Predator (1987)

The tall trees and festering heat of the Central American jungle fulfill different needs for those who venture there. For the insurgence, it’s the perfect hiding place, free from the spying eyes of the air and only approachable by miles of harsh jungle. For commando Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team it’s the ultimate challenge, a place that will put their strength, will and intelligence to the test.

Yet to another force, the jungle is its playground, the setting for the most deadliest game. Only this time, its prey will prove more of a challenge. Predator effortlessly flows back and forth into a different set of modalities, presenting a film that cannot simply be understood from one angle. Much like the titular character of the film remains a shifting, shimmering blur, Predator is a film constantly in flux.

Initially, the film lingers upon the buff abs of Dutch and Dillon (Carle Weathers) as they venture through the jungle. Their motley crew is made up of the kind of testosterone infused gang of badasses that could only exist on the silver screen. And with that many chemicals going off and with so much desire for blood and the obsession of the male form begin to suggest the sort of latent homosexual undercurrent of the hardbody film.

And there to allay such fears is Hawkins (Shane Black), a most witty individual who pontificates upon the finer points of his female sexual partner’s more intimate features. Here, the homoerotic fears of a male-centric film are undercut by a self-aware humor which quickly dissipates any audience concerns of sexual fears. And yet, it’s made all the more ironic by the nature of the predator.

The only indication of this presence through half of the film is a series of point of view shots as the creature stalks the group, watching and waiting for that moment. In many ways, the Predator is coded as the killer of a stalker film, presented much like Voorhees in Friday the 13th. Here, it’s not the sexualized female figure that is being stalked by the camera, but the broad chests and large abs of the male commandos.

Predator blends two film modes in order to use both genres to say something about the other. And since multiple modes are presented, the film is an unusual blend of slow, deliberate suspense and tense, high octane action. They complement each other superbly, creating more of a natural immersion of what it would be like to actually be a commando, long stretches of little happening punctuated by intense firefights.

That is until the group gets waylaid by an alien. The science fiction element of the film is the weakest influence upon the film, but one that is worth examining. While it lacks a lot of the conventions of the sci-fi genre, a majority of the film is a take upon The Most Dangerous Game, although, with the killer being alien, it’s not much of a meaningful examination of human nature like the original short story.

While many films from the ‘80s have become outdone and outdated, Predator remains an impressive achievement, in large part because of how effortlessly director John McTiernan bleeds into and out of each genre, slowly building up to the inevitable conclusion. And this, in a lot of ways, makes it the must see film of the ‘80s, a perfect encapsulation of the life force of cinema at the time.

© 2011 James Blake Ewing