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Predator (1987)
Director: John McTiernan

If there has ever been an overdose of testosterone put to film, Predator is guilty as charged. Take arguably the greatest action hero, an ensemble cast of tuff guys led by Jesse the Body and Apollo Creed, and an antagonist unlike any had ever seen before and you have a young boy’s dream.

Part of my connection to this film was seeing it at a young age and the impression that it made on me. Kudos to you pop, you remembered what it was like to be a kid. My recent viewing led me realize this is not the perfect action movie, but it’s still the best.

Made during the heyday of the 80’s R-rated action movie, Predator starts out full of piss and vinegar. Introduce the most macho-macho team ever in obligatory full-on posing and leering. Film the greatest handshake ever. Show black helos erratically flying side-to-side over South American jungle canopy to the insertion point. It does all this while establishing the roles of an elite team of military specialists, set to Alan Silvestri’s amazing score. You know you can hear it in your head right now.

The opening assault on an *insert any generic bad guy camp you have seen from any action movie* is a necessary evil and the worst part of the movie for me. It is the definition of cliché and is filled with an over-abundance of under-shot blown-up ragdoll guys flying through the air and “I’m on fire zombie walkers”. I realize it sets the story in motion and allows the viewer to acclimate to the team, but it is horrible. On the bright side, it sets a vibrant contrast to the exquisiteness that is about to unfold.

What follows is one of the best filmed descents into hell that I have ever seen. McTiernan’s tracking shots through the jungle are a true thing of beauty. Filming the team traversing the smothering jungle, going up into the canopy, the final set-piece with its gigantic fallen tree are examples of immersion at its best. The story of the difficulty of the filming conditions and various issues with cast and crew only add to the legend of how he managed to portray this film.

A key part of Predator’s greatness lies in the jungle. A lack of any substantial field of vision and the sense of paranoia that it induces is thrilling. What’s out there? Not only is it not a man, but Death incarnate. I am tempted to make an analogy that this is judgement day for these men, but it feels like a square peg in a round hole when not all of the men receive the same fate.

The Predator is one of the iconic adversaries in movie history. 53 minutes of the film go by before the creature is revealed. Menacing, exotic, technologically superior and that sound. Everyone can be thankful that the original concept design was thrown out and Stan Winston was allowed to bring his design into the world. The Predator’s thermal imaging and invisibility camouflage effects are so well done that they come across better than most cgi done today. This creature is the stuff that nightmares are made of and not even the mighty cotton bedsheet could save you from it.

The alien hunter would have been wasted, if not for the role of Dutch that Arnold Schwarzenegger played. He was the ultimate badass and possibly the only person that was believable opposite the giant villain. All of this relied on his physical presence, which help to bolster his amateur acting skills. I won’t try to make any profound statement otherwise, because this was really all that this movie needed.

At the time of its release and the way I will always choose to remember it, Predator was the epitome of action. Perfect casting, unique enemy, brilliant location and great direction. In the current state of film, there will never be anything like it again. That is just fine by me.

Random Bits

- Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the Predator. The original design featured him in a red rubber suit. JCVD and the suit were quickly scrapped for myriad reasons

-Bill Dukes runs circles around everyone in this movie. Seriously. He is the only person that can act in the entire film and easily outshines his castmates.

-The famous clicking/gurgling sound the Predator makes throughout the movie was thought up by Peter Cullen. Cullen who thought the Predator creature resembled a "horseshoe crab" remembered as a kid how if you turned one over they would "gurgle" and that became the Predator's "sound".

-Sonny Landham (Billy) was required by the studio’s insurance company to have a bodyguard. This was in order to protect everyone else from him, due to his violent temper.
-The black helicopter pilot seen at the end of the movie is Kevin Peter Hall, the actor who plays the Predator.

-The weapon that Blain (Jesse Ventura) is using is a minigun. This is a weapon most commonly mounted on the side of a helicopter (or an aircraft carrier) and many, many modifications had to be made to make it usable in the film. It was powered via an electrical cable hidden down the front of Blain's trousers. The firing rate was slowed down to approximately 1/3rd the normal rate of fire, both to reduce consumption of blanks, and to make the spinning of the barrels visible on film.