Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
“Predator” is reminiscent of the Ford-Nichols “The Lost Patrol”: its slimness, seemingly lunkheaded at first, is what makes it feel kind of daring. The screenplay, by Jim and John Thomas, uses a familiar action-movie set-up as a lure for the sci-fi-cum-horror hook: just as you’re getting acclimated to the “Rambo”-like plot, the picture ambushes you. You might say the movie operates in a way that mirrors the titular beastie’s manner of taking down its prey — it materializes out of the jungle, then zaps you silly.
The characterizations are flat but vivid; they’re built up from anatomical details (mainly chins and biceps) and mostly sidestep the wateriness of backstory. In fact, nearly every character feels like a side detail pulled from the edges of some bigger, more complicated production. This goes even for Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, a cartoon sketch of a commando with things like “cocky” and “determined” scribbled in its margins.
Working on his first big-time film, director John McTiernan finds a style that gives form to the fear and anxiety that are the story’s main drivers. He’s especially fond of compositions that are stepped in depth, sometimes rack focusing between individual elements in order to make your eye feel worked to its limit. (The cinematography is by Donald McAlpine.) When combined with the natural overabundance of the jungle setting this amounts to a kind of makeshift expressionism — a satisfying blend of location, perception, and state of mind. When the movie switches to the villain’s point of view the expressionistic inclination becomes more explicit. We see what the creature sees — a bugged-out world of rainbow-striated heat impressions (it’s a bit like pop Brakhage).
All of this is so efficient that it’s easy to forget what’s less than satisfying in “Predator.” A female character adds almost nothing to the movie; her presence just detracts from the vaguely homo mood induced by all those guns and forearms. And the final sequence, in which Dutch fights the baddie mano-a-monstruo, is impressive but somehow incongruous. It feels like part of a more conventional movie.
- There’s ample evidence that Arnold is something of a dick, but at least he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
- The end feels like a separate movie in part because it was shot separately, after a lull in shooting necessitated by the decision to create a new creature from scratch. This is discussed in this nice making-of documentary. It must be said: The design of the creature, by the great Stan Winston, is among the most memorable in movie history.
- Get to dah choppaaaaa!