Saturday, May 24, 2014

Predator

If there’s any type of movie I can fall back on to watch and enjoy, it’s any of the films in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s library of films.  When you watch his flicks, you can expect three things:  Muscles, explosions, and a lot of one-liners.  It seems like that last piece of criteria is in his contract, because you can hardly find a movie he’s been in where there’s no memorable line to quote.  Obviously, the first one anyone thinks of is the classic “I’ll be back.”  Who doesn’t recite that in their best Austrian-accented Arnold impression?

1987’s Predator is no different and features quite a few unforgettable lines and scenes.  With a star-studded cast and testosterone levels overflowing the screen, this flick is pretty bad-ass!

A funny story of when I first watched this film happened when I was on vacation in Portugal with my family.  We were all supposed to be flying out, back to America, within three days when I suddenly developed appendicitis, having a fever and an unbelievable pain in my abdomen.  My dad took me to the nearby clinic and the doctors decided I needed surgery to remove the appendix as they cited it was perforated.  The thing was I had to stay in the hospital for four days—one day past our departure date.  So, my dad stayed behind with me while the rest of the family went ahead back to America without us.  Now, back in ’87—in a foreign country no less—it wasn’t as easy to find a flight as it is today.  Today, we can pop open our laptop or simply use an app on our smartphones to book a flight within minutes.  So my dad went from travel agency to travel agency, all over Lisbon, to try and find two seats for us back to America.  Finally, he found and purchased two tickets, but it wasn’t until a week later.  Staying an extra week in Lisbon, we’d used the time to sightsee and keep ourselves busy until our departure date.

Besides watching some soccer games and checking out some of the beautiful sights of Portugal, one night we decided to go see a movie.  The movie we chose?  Predator.

One relief about the film was that the movie wasn’t dubbed over with Portuguese dialogue—I’m not fluent in the language even though I’m a descendant—so I was able to enjoy the film with its original English dialect.  The film included subtitles at the bottom of the screen but it didn’t bother me and I was able to enjoy the film immensely.  However, that was the weird thing about watching this movie in Lisbon—there were some funny jokes and one-liners peppered throughout the film and it seemed like I was the only one laughing.  I guess whatever was written on the bottom of the screen didn’t translate too well when it came to the humorous parts of the film.  I remember the only part of the film that had gotten a laugh was when one of the men thought they had caught the predator and started stabbing it down in a gully below the others.  When the rest of the men show up and shine their flashlights at the scene, it’s revealed that it was a wild pig that the soldier had taken down.  One of the men says, “Jesus, you killed a pig…think you could’ve found something bigger?”  The whole theater went up in hysterics for some reason—maybe it was translated differently than what was said.

Anyway…not knowing what the film was really about before going in, when I left that movie house in Lisbon, I was stunned and surprised.

The movie begins with Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of commandos landing by helicopter in South America.  He’s informed that a high-ranking cabinet minister traveling by helicopter has gone missing somewhere in the jungle, believed to be shot down by a rebel group in the area, and is told that he and his
team need to find the missing man.  Forced to have an old friend, Dillon (Carl Weathers), accompany Dutch’s team, they travel by helicopter to the area and are dropped off to search by foot.  After finding the skinned bodies of another search & rescue team and dispatching of a rebel group in the area, Dutch realizes he and his team were being used and angrily confronts Dillon who confirms it to be true.  However, soon, they all realize that they’re being hunted as they start getting picked off, one by one.  But by who—or what—they don’t know.

By all means, this is a man’s film.  As I’d said earlier, this film is filled with such manliness and chauvinistic mannerisms that people not into these types of films might be put off by some of the lines spoken.  One particular line spoken by the character of Blain (Jesse Ventura) when nobody wants any of the chewing tobacco he’s offering could offend a lot of people these days, but it’s just a character he’s playing and shouldn’t be taken seriously—in fact, I actually love his lines in the film.  Just seeing the start of the film where Schwarzenegger steps off the helicopter with a lit cigar in his mouth is so full of machismo, yet it sets up the tone of the film you’re about to see.

Most people who see this and are familiar with action films of the 1980s will see the typical clich├ęs here and there, especially the overabundance of close-up muscle shots.  I mean, come on!  Who greets someone that they haven’t seen in a while with a mid-air arm wrestle? 

Every Schwarzenegger film I’ve seen always takes me a while to get into and I have to suspend disbelief very strongly when I see them.  The reason being?  Arnold’s accent.  Although an awesome franchise, it never made sense in the Terminator movies why a cyborg (one that can imitate any voice it hears) spoke with an Austrian accent.  When he plays an American cop, even recently in The Last Stand, it’s hard to believe, especially when it’s not explained in the movie.  So, here, it’s acceptable that he’s a commanding officer in charge of his own team and you won’t really have to put your mind around how a foreigner to our country would hold such a post—the real man ended up Governor of California for Pete’s sake.

All the machismo falls to the wayside once this movie gets going and becomes a thrilling ride, especially when the team realizes they’re being hunted by an unknown enemy.

The film looks great most of the time with the special effects ahead of its time for the late 80s.  When the characters are in the jungles of South America, it’s filmed in such a way that you could almost feel the
humidity and heat when watching the characters immersed in the foliage-filled background.  You also get a sense of isolation and claustrophobia, particularly when the characters recognize that they’re the prey for the unseen hunter. 

Although you have your typical special effects for the blasts and explosions, the camouflage the filmmakers created for the creature is outstanding and groundbreaking when this film came out.  Rather than the alien just appearing and disappearing, the special effects team somehow made it look like some sort of shield forms around it.  In the sequel, one of the characters describes it as being able to bend light and it looks that way, like it was done in sections around the creature’s body.

Everyone pulls their weight in this film, each having their own recognizable character traits throughout.  Besides Arnold playing the leader of the team and Ventura as the overly dogmatic soldier, you’ve got the nerdy Hawkins (Shane Black), the calm and collected Mac (Bill Duke), and Billy the tracker (Sonny Landham).  Along with Richard Chaves as Poncho and Elpidia Carrillo as Anna, the cast really makes this movie enjoyable and you tend to care what happens to each and every one of them.

As for the Predator’s design, all I have to say is one name: Stan Winston.  He is a legend when it came to creature and special effects designs, being responsible for an array of famous modern day monster and robot designs in contemporary films.  He was responsible for such designs as the Endoskeleton from the Terminator series and upped the ante with his work in 1986’s Aliens.  Winston earned even more notoriety with his help bringing dinosaurs to life on Spielberg’s Jurassic Park in 1993.  Sadly, Winston passed away in 2008 after dealing with multiple myeloma, but will be forever remembered for the classic movies he’d worked on, especially Predator.  The creature’s design is so believably alien-looking, with the crazy mandibles that open and close in four directions, that it’s truly terrifying.

Speaking of the terrifying alien-monster in this film, it really helped that they cast a very tall man to play the part.  The late Kevin Peter Hall was cast as the creature and, with his 7-foot 2-inch frame, gave the film a villainous character that dwarfed Arnold Schwarzenegger in comparison.  Hall is famous for playing such creatures as the mutant bear in Prophecy, Harry in Harry and the Hendersons, and the alien hunter in Predator, as well as its sequel.  Unfortunately, Kevin Peter Hall died at too young of an age (35), but will always be remembered for his role as the original Predator.

The music in this flick, composed by Alan Silvestri, was perfectly placed and matched the moods depicted on the screen.  For being a composer of so many popular films—Silvestri  has composed for such memorable films like Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and, most recently, The Avengers—he really doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.  The themes he’d composed in Predator were sort of adventurous and bold, giving us a broad 80s sound that many films today don’t produce anymore. 

Lastly, it doesn’t surprise me that this film was directed by John McTiernan.  Although this was only his second directorial feature, he went on to helm other action vehicles like Die Hard and Last Action Hero.  But he was able to get great performances out of this cast and put together a well done science fiction/action film, giving it cult status which has gone on to spawn two sequels and two versus films with the Alien series’ characters.

So my final “bit” on Predator?

One of Schwarzenegger’s most solid performances in his collection of films, this one gives you the tension and thrills with a very serious tone throughout.  Although you get a few corny one-liners during one scene of
the film, the remainder is a great thrill ride.  With an awesome story, a perfectly cast ensemble, and an amazing climax, you’re definitely going to have fun with this flick.

As a side bit—and it’s something I’d learned a few months back—Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the predator and actually filmed quite a bit of special effects scenes for the film.  Apparently, he complained so much about being an unseen actor in a costume that the filmmakers decided to let him go and cast Kevin Peter Hall instead.  There’s actually some video somewhere online or on the Blu-Ray with some behind-the-scenes shots of Van Damme in the costume which, I’ll agree, looks kind of silly and I can see where he was coming from when he grumbled about it.

Okay, that’s all for now.  Thank you for checking up and hope to hear from you…your comments are always welcomed.

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