So there I was, flipping through the cable guide on New Year’s Day looking for something to watch. I came across the original 1987 Predator on one of the movie channels, and realized that I had never seen it. With the new reboot, or sequel, or whatever it’s going to be, coming soon, I figured now was as good a time as any to show up Late to the Party for this one.
Of course, I knew plenty about Predator going in. As a huge fan of the Alien franchise, I had seen both Alien vs. Predator movies, so I was very aware of what the titular creature was capable of doing. I also knew that it starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, because who doesn’t know that? Other than that, I was going in blind…or so I thought.
As it turns out, I wasn’t. I recognized one of the first scenes from a unit on Machismo and Patriotism in a Race and Gender in American Cinema class I had in college. The scene from class was when Dutch, played by Arnie (I’m not going to keep typing Schwarzenegger over and over), first was brought in and sees his old chum Dillon, played by Carl Weathers. The two engage in an awkwardly extended faux-arm wrestling match, each waiting for the other to weaken and call uncle. That pretty much sets the tone for Predator.
The rest of the movie fit in perfectly with my initial impressions. It’s much more of an action movie than it is a horror movie, regardless of how badass the monster is. Heck, the audience doesn’t even see the alien until halfway through the movie, thanks to some awesome chameleonic special effects and a little of the old killer POV shot, so they’re as unsure of what the soldiers are up against as the soldiers themselves. The way the alien works its way through the members of Arnie’s platoon is slasher-worthy. So maybe Predator is a horror movie?
Predator is a complete product of the Reagan era. It very obviously was made in the same decade as movies like First Blood and Commando, with sweaty men flexing their biceps as they fire guns that they shouldn’t even be able to lift by themselves, let alone shoot with one hand. Predator is a whole lot of that. Except, instead of shooting at an invading Russian army or a storming band of Sandinistas , Arnie and his boys are shooting at an alien that they can’t see. Groovy.
Predator actually has a very universal message. If it were made in the fifties, it would be a Rod Serling-esque commentary on the paranoia of the McCarthy-era, with a bunch of hearty, true red-white-and-blue Americans fighting something that blends in seamlessly with its surroundings. If it were made in the sixties, it could have been read as a statement about the conflict in Vietnam. As it stands, one could argue that it’s a reaction to the brinkmanship of the nuclear arms race of the eighties. But that may be overthinking it. Put all of that aside, and just enjoy the ride.
Maybe it’s because I was already familiar with both the alien and the leading man, but nothing about Predator surprised me. Predator is exactly the movie that I thought it would be, nothing more, nothing less.