Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yeah... except it's The Predator

That was the response to a friend when asked the question, "Did they have the movie, George?" The answer was most interesting seeing as how we had asked George, the only friend who could drive at the time, to go to the local video store and rent The Terminator. It's a lot like asking, "Did you order the pizza?" and someone responding, "Why yes, except it's Chinese food."

Semantics aside, I myself was not terribly disappointed that my friends and I were forced to watch The Predator that afternoon back in the late-80's. Despite being probably only 13 years-old, I was always allowed to watch R-rated material, and that period saw some classics: Running Man, Robocop, Die Hard and Arnold's "other" sci-fi action flick, The Predator. Sure, James Cameron had started a whole big thing with the first Terminator back in 1984, and we have since been saddled with several horrendous sequels and a short-lived TV series (featuring the most beautiful Apocalypse survivors ever). But The Predator was more than just a violent, summer blockbuster, and maybe I'm just waxing nostalgic because I was 11 when it came out (versus 8 when Terminator debuted, and thus, too young to appreciate the subtleties of Schwarzeneggar's performance), but I'll be damned if Predator isn't a better film.

Let's get this out of the way. Yes, there were horrendous sequels, and let's not discuss the Alien vs. Predator movies at all. I'm only speaking of the original Predator movie, in much the same way that Jaws is discussed very much independently of its ridiculous spawn. Like Jaws, in fact, Predator was directed by an action autuer in John McTiernan. And like Jaws, it's not an excuse to watch people get chopped up (watch the sequels for that.) Predator combines your basic "Most Dangerous Game" scenario with the classic man vs. beast dramatic situation. In this case, however, the "beast" is an alien game-hunter. It's just a way of amping up a classic dramatic situation, but it is made so well that you can see why Predator and Jaws are so good, and all the movies that they spawned are so bad. And it gave us one of the best lines in movie history: "You are one... ugly ... mother-fucker." Beats "I'll be back" all to hell.

While most people remember Arnold, Predator was also introduced the mainstream world to Jesse "the Body" Ventura, future governor and crazy person, and the onscreen debut of screenwriter Shane Black, who apparently was writing The Last Boy Scout while on set (and hopefully improvised all those awesome pussy jokes his character delivers). Arnold himself was still learning his craft (he kind of still is), but it worked here because he was basically the same as the terminator, a soldier with a single mission, only an actual person this time. This works to hide Arnold's shaky acting, and also gives credence to the fact that the Predator had actually met his match. Along those same lines, watching the movie again, it's interesting what a slow pace it cuts. The first sign that anything is amiss at all is when the commandos find their skinned colleagues, and assume it was done by their enemies. Of course, movie-goers who have come to see a horror flick know different, but these are battle-hardened warrior who have seen all manner of scary shit, and they would naturally assume the enemy was responsible. And they take out their frustrations in the movie's sole action sequence. The rest of the film is very deliberate, and downright scary.

In the end, Predator is not a social commentary or a technical marvel. It's s simple premise that has been used before, but with a little twist. Throw in a splash of character development (the friendship between Blain and Mac, the redemption of Dillon), and some cool effects when seeing from he point-of-view of the monster, and you got yourself one fine piece of film-making. Sure, The Terminiator may have more of a cult following, but if you ask me if that's my favorite Schwarzeneggar movie, I must respond, "Yeah... except it's The Predator."

1 comment: said...

I'll never forget this story. I still blurt out "Yeah... except it's The Predator" at appropriate times and get the best blank stares.