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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Predator: 1980s military adventurism meets alien horror

by Ken Newquist / July 27, 2010

 Predator

Predator starts off as a standard 1980s-style military adventure film, not unlike Swartzenager's own Commando. It's got the bad-ass elite soliders (led by Arnold's own Dutch), a bombastic soundtrack, and a pitched firefight with guerillas.

But in between the bouts of testosterone, there's tension. Our troops realize something isn't quite right -- but is it in the mission (fouled by their CIA contact) or something else?

Of course, we know it's something else ... something extraterrestrial, given that an alien spacecraft was dropped to earth by an alien starship just before the opening credits. But as to the nature of their alien adversary, that's a mystery that's revealed ever so slowly. First with the skinned remains of U.S. Army Green Berets hanging in a Central American jungle, then with glimpses of the commandos through the heat vision of the predator (which is itself a clue).

Despite being a 1980s big action movie, Predator is surprisingly nuanced and restrained in revealing its major threat (following the all-important Rule #1 established by Jaws). This allows the movie sustain our interest over three distinct acts: the initial insertion and hostage-rescue mission, our heroes subsequent attempt to escape (and their first real encounters with the Predator) and Dutch's mano-e-mano battle wiht the creature itself.

The opening act does beg the question why is this hostage rescue team blowing up an entire enemy complex instead of stealthfully rescuing just the hostages within and escaping, but hey, run with it ... we need them to be good guys. Plus, this is the sort of movie that demands that you suspend your disbelief, and that's something watches were will happily do.

"You are one ugly son of a --"

The Predator itself is a perfect creature feature monster. We begin the film by witnessing its handy work, and it's not until we're a third of the way in that we start catching glimpses of it. Even then though, we're not really seeing it because the Predator shrouds itself in a stealth field. It's not until near the third and final act that it's wounded enough to drop that field ... and we get to see its crab like face and super-human build

More than the slow reveal of the Predator, what makes this movie so effective is its constant cutting between the Predator's thermal hunting view and the soldiers. It's not just the visuals -- it's the entire feel: the music drops off, audio scanners pick up, and we're suddenly seeing the jungle's heat signature. It reinforces the shear alienness of their opponent, while simultaneously teasing us as to the Predator's capabilities.

The final act of the film, pitting a trap-making, MacGuvyer-ish Dutch against the alien and its superior technology, is a blast to watch. And like many of the other films that make up Monster Week, Predator manages to avoid feeling dated because of -- not in spite of -- it's special effects. The "man in a suit" approach to Predator (consciously copied by writer/producer Robert Rodriguez in the sequel Predators) means that Arnold's acting against an opponent whose really there, not a green screen special effect. It gives the movie an on screen weight and substance that subsequent genre films often lack.

The Gamer Angle: Predator Gnomes

When my group playtested Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition I ran an encounter in Sigil in which a band of 4E gnome thieves decided to ambush our plane-walking heroes. The thing is, I read the statblock for 4th Edition gnomes incorrectly. I thought they could use their invisibility power -- which is triggered whenever they're attacked -- as an at-will power, rather than as an encounter power.

Thus were born predator gnomes.

Despite my rules confusion it was a great encounter and one that's still talked about to this day. It worked partly because of the surprise -- the players never expected gnomes to be so hard to kill -- but also because it created a situation the players hadn't been in before. They were suddenly being circled, taunted and harassed by enemies they couldn't see ... and when they could see them, it wouldn't last. It ended up being a pitched fight that almost cost the player characters their lives, and taught them just how dangerous the streets of Sigil could be...

Final Analysis

Predator created one of the most badass alien villains in modern cinema, inspiring four sequels: Predator 2, Aliens vs. Predator, Alien vs. Predator 2: Requiem and Predators. Their sense of sport, their deadly gadgets, and their thirst for ever greater challenges resonates with maker geeks on a certain level, and makes them the sort of villains you'll happily cheer for.

Comments

It really did a great job of mixing aliens into a modern Earth setting without stretching our imaginations too far.
Part of the lure of the film must be the casting. There are two state govs. in this film (plus Apollo Creed)

Yeah, the film does work well -- I think the idea of aliens showing up to hunt and slaughter humans has a certain logic to it (it certainly makes more sense then cattle mutilations).

I think the sequel was less successful, partly because Danny Glover can't compete with Arnold as a badass (though he holds his own) and partly because of the whole government-agency-hunting-Predators storyline.

The single best part of the sequel was the Alien skull on the Predator starship, but the promise of that idea was only partially realized. The Dark Horse Comics cross overs were good, as was the first of the AvP video games, but the movies were crap (particularly the second one).

I'm in the minority, as I like Predator 2 a lot. Glover can't compete with Schwarzenneger in terms of sheer physicality, but I like the way he recognizes that his in way over his head but feels an obligation to deal with the Predator as best he can. I also love the new Predator weapons: the collapsible spear, the constricting net and especially the disc blade. Plus: Gary Busey before he turned into straight-up Crazy Busey.

Predator may well be my favorite non-Star Wars movie of all time. Before the advent of DVRs and Netflix streaming movies, when I would actually channel-surf looking for something to watch on a lazy Saturday evening, Predator could always put an end to my channel-surfing. No matter whether the movie was just starting or 15 minutes from the end, I'd always watch it.

Here's an alien who's not here to help mankind, nor to take over the planet; he's just on a weekend hunting trip—he's got his camouflage, he's found the perfect spot, and he's determined to bag the limit. Predator is what would happen if someone gave Bambi a Bowie knife and the skills to use it.

Predator is what would happen if someone gave Bambi a Bowie knife and the skills to use it.

Brilliant. :)