Predator *SPOILER ALERT* Rewind Review
Director: John McTiernan.
Where it all began.
So, Rocky Balboa has kicked everyone’s butt, Arnie has single handedly eliminated a small army and Aliens have been chewing on space marines; and what do these three things have in common? Why Predator of course. You see, there was a joke that was circulating Hollywood after the release of Rocky IV where someone had said that Balboa has beaten everyone and his next opponent should be an alien. So, brothers Jim and John Thomas started to pen a script, titled “Hunter” where a sole alien comes to earth to collect some trophies for it’s spaceship’s mantlepiece. The writers managed to sneak onto the Fox Studios lot and slipped their scripted under someone’s door which somehow fell into Schwarzenegger’s possession. Arnie, not long after working with Commando producer, Joel Silver, got together and the rest falls into place. I say fall, because when you look at the inner workings of this classic, everything really does just come together.
Firstly, the director John McTiernan was brought on board, and we have to remind ourselves, this was his first big studio picture with only the B-movie, horror thriller, Nomads to his credit. So why McTiernan when there were so many established directors in this genre? Well, even though this was a big budget picture for it’s time, ($15million) it was still on a budget and they did at one crucial point, run out of cash; something I’ll get to later. So, they needed someone fairly new but knew they would be up to the task and McTiernan obviously impressed both Arnie and producers with what he did with Nomads, creating the right amount of suspense they were after. And they weren’t wrong, because after this, McTiernan then went on to make Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October. But can you imagine how daunting this must have been for McTiernan working with the biggest (and longest) names in Hollywood, and one of the most influential producers in the game, a producer who, alongside Simpson and Bruckheimer is credited as revolutionising the action genre.
It was a simple, workable story that some criticised for its linearity. A technically advanced extra terrestrial takes a hunting excursion in the South American jungle and picks off an elite team of US military one by one. And within this was an equally simplistic script with some of the lines and other elements being ad-libbed which are the now famous one-liners recited in times of action. Who hasn’t shouted Arnie’s own personal, all time favourite quote “Get to the chopper!” in order to instigate your troop, or Ventura’s “I ain’t got time to bleed” or even the more cruder lines, like Hawkins' jokes. So Dutch (Schwarzenegger) and his team are sent across enemy lines, chaperoned by an old army buddy, now CIA operative, to extract some missing, presumed captured Berets. But what is supposed to be a convert rescue mission, a fairly, routine operation for the six man squad; quickly turns into a race/fight for survival.
Now this in turn lays premise to some pretty explosive action with innovative pieces not seen in the movies before. The guerrilla camp assault was truly epic, squeezing in an entire typical action movie’s quota of gunfire and bodycounts into those few minutes of footage. That actual sequence took two weeks of preparation. Jesse Ventura was the first action star to weld a handheld Gatling gun in the movies, so you can imagine the excitement when that got revealed, possibly evoking jealously among action directors/writers, wishing they had done that first. Blaine’s Ol’ Painless was as much as a star of the film as he was, himself saying it was like shooting a chainsaw.
What this film achieved that many others fail at, is creating that chemistry and making the audience connect with our heroes. There’s some fast character development and it’s doesn’t take long to figure out who’s who and as a result you like them as a team, you fear for them want each of them to survive, even though they each have very different personalities. The only real thing that they all have in common is their high level of testosterone. That chopper sequence with Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” playing, introduces the carefree, gung-ho badasses-with-attitude perfectly as is reminiscent of the first drop ship scene in Aliens.
But to help make the audience feel like these guys were a tight unit, the studio put them on a gruelling eight week rehearsal which was actually a militant boot camp with technical and military advisors training them on how to behave and work together. Now, these guys are pretty muscular to start with, so you can imagine the competitiveness amongst the biggest, especially between Jesse and Arnold where Jesse lost a bottle of champagne to Arnie in a muscle size prank; it’s amusing that the two went on to be elected governors, like they're still both competing. This regime didn’t stop at the training, and each of them wanted to keep looking lean and mean throughout the filming, so each morning, before production they would run and train, do their day of filming and finish running and training again into the evening. Jesse would purposefully get to camp early which spurred the others to get there earlier the next morning, some of them even admitting to soaking themselves with water before Arnie got there so they looked like they had worked out hard already. Eventually, they were getting to camp at 4am sometimes even as early as 3am just to make sure they’re all getting more pumped than the others. It was this competitiveness that really made the squad look like a believable team that transpired onto the big screen.
And all of this was happening in some real extreme conditions of tropical heat and freezing nights, snakes, leeches, stagnant smelly waters, dysentery and yes real scorpions; that was a real scorpion that sadly died in the making of the film. There are scenes where the cast, and crew, were desperately wanting to run to the toilet due to drinking the local water, which may have added to the tense yet hurried expressions on their faces in certain scenes.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career was at a high, having both Conan films, Commando and of course The Terminator already under his belt. Back then, he was, what Dwayne Johnson is today and is still arguably, one of the most famous people in the world. If people, when asked most what is the most famous Arnie film, if it’s not The Terminator, it’s gotta be Predator.
The studio needed someone to match Schwarzenegger, someone who looked like an equal as oppose to a threat and Carl Weathers was selected as Dillon. Bill Duke who plays Mac, came from a friendship formed with both Schwarzenegger and producer, Silver during the making of Commando. Richard Chaves as Poncho which some might think was a name mix up with Billy’s character, but Chaves is partly of Cherokee descent; was a marine for 18years and served in Vietnam, himself quoting the jungle in Predator to give him deja vu.
Sonny Landham who plays the Native American, Billy (I wonder if that was a reference to his role in 48 Hrs.) but the studio’s insurance firm insisted he have his own bodyguard; who was not to protect Sonny, but to protect others from Sonny, as he had a reputation for being aggressive and starting fights with pretty much anyone who disagreed with him. And that’s his real laugh by the way.
This is definitely Jesse Ventura’s best and most remembered role and he even titled his autobiography “I Ain’t Got Time To Bleed”. The sexual tyrannosaurus was 6’5” and weighed in at 250lb so he suited the famed Gatling gun perfectly. Before he was a wrestler, he was in the Underwater Demolition Team; a unit that was eventually enveloped into the Navy SEALs and unlike Hulk Hogan, Jesse was probably the first wrestler to actually break the Hollywood mold properly, paving the way for future wrestling stars like Dwayne Johnson, Dave Bautista and John Cena.
And finally, Shane Black, yes the writer and director of the new Predator. He only had the part of Hawkins because producer Joel Silver liked having writers in close proximity to him during filming. It would appear Silver is a very, hands on kind of producer; and Black was roped in to possibly rewrite some of the script as production moved forward. He had previously just finished writing Lethal Weapon which was also produced by Silver, and was at the time drafting The Last Boy Scout. But the only real contribution to the script aside from his wisecracking joker, Hawkins, are the two jokes he tells Billy in the film.
Even with a relatively small cast, it was diverse with each bringing their own defining characteristics and personalities with the help of their weaponry and even their camouflage, expressing the personality of each of them. Next time you watch it, notice how each of them apply their camo differently from one another.
For most of them, they all performed brilliantly making a cast of actors look like the tight elite squad; and it’s interesting, if not terrifying to watch their carefree confidence dissipate as each of them are slain one by one; especially Billy, the one who senses the predator’s presence, striking fear into the rest of his comrades, Arnie included.
McTiernan does exactly what he was hired for, implementing that suspense. It’s a good 40mins before the first of the squad gets maimed, and the rest of the film only hints at the Predator’s true likeness for the vast majority of the film which creates the right amount of tension. It isn’t until the grand finale do we truly get to see the predator in it’s full horrific glory; and that’s some 90mins into the film. The face of the predator only gets around 8mins of screen time; I think that’s less than Jaws. The deaths themselves are quick and stealthy, with Billy’s death scene perfectly left to the audience's imagination. (Contrary to rumours, Billy’s death scene was never actually filmed to be later cut because it was too gruesome.)
The character of the Predator was written with classic Greek monsters in mind, the solid, singular beasts like the cyclops and the Minotaur. But what makes this alien differ from many of the other hostile alien encounters we’ve met, is that these are here for sport and make trophies of men; and nothing else. Quite like humans going out to the forests to hunt their game. Whilst still sinister, this gives them a sense of honour; we learn the Predator won’t kill unarmed prey and will fight in hand-to-hand combat if it deems it's opponent worthy. This makes them more of a warrior as oppose to an alien just aimlessly wanting to kill humans in the most gory ways or for world domination.
The Predator’s design is one of the most iconic aliens, that actually rivals Giger’s Alien, which is why it isn’t a surprise when the two get a cross over comic book series that spawns countless video games and two movies. But the original predator looked nothing like what we see today and was more like a cheap, gangling alien that looked more like something from Dark Crystal. And yes, Jean-Claude Van Damme was first to play the title role. Though he didn’t stay too long for unconfirmed reasons, whether he got fired for being too short, or annoying the producers with his split kicks or complaining too much about the stupidity of the original alien suit. Ultimately, he quickly left the project.
The production had ran out of money and fortunately, producer Larry Gordon liked what he saw of the movie and secured additional funding to get it finished with a new predator. This is where monster creator genius, Stan Winston comes into the fray, being recommended by Schwarzenegger himself, having previously worked with him on another iconic 80’s sci-fi actioner, The Terminator. So, the studio paid Winston $1.5million dollars, double the price of the previous alien, and he got to work sketching the new predator, being inspired by a Rastafarian warrior painting in one of the producer’s offices. And incidentally, it was James Cameron who suggested the mandibles to Winston whilst he was sketching concepts designs during a shared flight to Japan. What he created is undoubtedly one of the most iconic, ugliest, yet coolest aliens of cinema history.
It’s this design and the portrayal of the predator that makes him the real star of the film and with Jean-Claude Van Damme out the picture, they sought someone who was big enough to not only stand up to Arnie and appear to be more menacing and threatening, but also someone who could actually dwarf Arnie and who else but Bigfoot and the Hendersons’ Harry, Kevin Peter Hall, who was a giant actor standing at 7’2” tall. But he brought more than just stature to the character, he gave the beast the right physical personality; and he managed this in a suit weighting approximately 200lb. McTiernan felt guilty for having Kevin stuck in the suit for so long, he gave him a cameo part as the helicopter pilot who rescues Dutch at the end, just so his real face can actually be seen in the film.
But the character building doesn’t stop there because there’s it’s voice as well, and what might be surprising to some, is that is was Peter Cullen, the famous voice of Optimus Prime that created the sound of the Predator, mimicking the clicks and guttural gurgles of seaside crabs on their backs. He got this once he was allowed to see the final design of the Predator’s face. The studio were at first reluctant to show him, but the eventual revealing was what gave Cullen the right inspiration to create the voice of the predator.
Unfortunately if you’re of the younger audience, and I mean viewers who didn’t start watching movies until long after the 90’s, you’ll have to try to imagine what those final moments were like for us viewers who managed to watch this film before all the hype and fandom popularise the Predator into the iconic monster it is today. There were no comic books, sequels, video games, fan art or model figurines and the only way for the curious to really know what was under that mask was to watch it themselves. We didn’t know what the Predator looked like until those final scenes. Of course the film was released in the States in June of 1987 and was at a time when people in the UK would have to wait a whole six months before it’s released here. Yup, the UK’s official general release was New Year’s Day 1988 with only a preview screening at the ‘87 London Film Festival. There was no internet, no YouTube, no Facebook or Twitter; so spoilers were in fact harder to come by and gossip was almost entirely word of mouth from friends who had watched it. So the big reveal was suspenseful, shocking and impressive all at the same time. But, 30 years on and now with the Predator being such a recognisable icon of our pop culture, it’s near impossible for audiences to watch Predator for the first time and share that same awe we did. Anyone watching it today for the first time, sadly, would undoubtedly already know and are familiar with what the predator looks like, never feeling that incredible and shocking revelation.
The film got Oscar nominated for best special effects/visual effects, losing out to Joe Dante’s miniature epic, Inner Space. But it must have been a close call because there was so much here other than monster design and massive explosions. We had the predator’s armoury, it’s tri-spot laser sight and it’s shoulder mounted, sight-guided plasma cannon. The predator’s infrared vision which was incredibly painful to film not forgetting to mention the cloaking effect which was filmed using chroma key techniques and double layering the shots with different ratios of film.
And there’s the unforgettable score from Alan Silvestri, certainly one of his most recognisable themes other than his Back to the Future and Forrest Gump of course. But his predator themes are just as iconic and even more recognisable than James Horner’s Aliens. I can actually hear Horner’s Aliens in it with even a bit of John Williams’ Jaws. If it’s not the military-theme anthems with drums and snares, it’s a primal score which sounds like an orchestra of jungle sounds and insects to represent the Predator, and when the two merge, it’s perfect for the conflict that’s about to happen.
It’s all of these elements that fell perfectly into place; Schwarzenegger and Co., McTiernan’s suspenseful yet action packed direction, Stan Winston’s epic creation with Kevin Peter Hall’s legendary performance and Silvestri’s score; it’s all of this that makes this movie one of the most successful and iconic sci-fi action films of all time; and whilst the script is obviously out dated the rest of the film really does survive the test of time and continues to be an inspiration and influence to this day. It’s what inspired Robert Rodriguez’s direction for Dusk Till Dawn, spawning comic books, cross overs with aliens and even DC’s Batman; computer games, earning a starring role in the latest Mortal Kombat and even having an entire genus of goblin spiders named after it; the Predatoroonops, so named because of it’s oversized chelicerae (mouthparts of Arthropods.)
So there you have it, an absolute classic action movie and one of Schwarzenegger's best.
RIP Sonny Landham (2 Feb 1941 - 17 Aug 2017)
RIP Kevin Peter Hall (9 May 1955 - 10 Apr 1991)
RIP Stan Winston (7 Apr 1946 - 15 Jun 2008)
Running Time: 10
The Cast: 10
Job Description: 10
The Extra Bonus Point: 10 for being the prefect Predator film and spawning a whole galaxy after, a cult classic that'll however be apart of my movie adolescence.
#JohnMcTiernan #ArnoldSchwarzenegger #CarlWeathers #KevinPeterHall #BillDuke #SonnyLandham #ShaneBlack #ElpidiaCarrillo #JesseVentura #RichardChaves #StanWinston #AlanSilvestri #JoelSilver #RGArmstrong #PeterCullen #SvenOleThorsen #JimThomas #JohnThomas