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Back in the late 80’s there was one action star who ruled them all, Arnold Schwarzenegger and in 1987 Predator took him to the absolute pinnacle of action hero status.
Part science fiction, part action and a smattering of horror Predator has stood the test of time among a field of other movies that have not dated nearly as well.
Predator was ahead of it’s time on a lot of levels, but stuck there on a lot of others. We’re talking about an era where Masters of the Universe and Barbie ruled the kids, there was a pretty clear delineation between the sexes back then and by and large, Predator was a boys movie.
Now I’m certainly not saying that girls can’t or won’t like it, we’re all much more focused on being indivduals these days and you don’t have to fit into any mould, who knows maybe they’ll do an all-girl remake of Predator in the same vein of Ghostbusters, only the Predator will be a creepy dude whose into spiking drinks or something, you could get Bill Cosby or better yet, make it a teen film and cast Roman Polanski…
The cheesy machismo is extraordinarily high in this movie and I know that there’s a lot of ladies that would be rolling their eyes throughout, much like a lot of guys did during Dirty Dancing, another huge movie in 1987.
I think for myself, being a young boy all of 11 years old it was like watching my action figures come to life, start speaking ridiculous beefcake dialogue, take on an entire army and then battle a seemingly unstoppable alien trophy hunter. The concept was so ridiculously cool.
There’s not that much more to it but if you haven’t seen it, Dutch, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is the leader of a military special forces team who is sent on a covert mission by his old army buddy Dillon, played by Carl Weathers who is now working for the CIA. He has orders to rescue a another group of soldiers that were sent behind enemy lines south of the border and have disappeared into the jungle.
Dutch’s team of beefcakes consists of Blain, played by Jesse Ventura, his best buddy Mac played by Bill duke, Billy the scout played by Sonny Landham, expolsives guy Poncho played by Richard Chaves and comms guy Hawkins played by Shane Black.
They get to the choppah, put ‘Long Tall Sally’ on the stereo and head across the border with Dillon tagging along.
Of course when they get there, they discover there’s much more to this mission than what they’ve been told and the shit royally hits the fan.
The stories go that the original concept for Predator stemmed from joke about the fictitious boxer Rocky Balboa who, because he had been in four movies by then and fought everyone, really only had E.T. left to fight.
And I wonder 30 years on whether or not writers Jim and John Thomas knew what they were onto when they pulled this story together. At the time action movies were huge business and incredibly formulaic. They usually went along the lines of bad guys show up and does bad stuff and a one man army takes on an entire militia to win the day. Predator was such an original concept because they took those one-man army guys brought them together, threw in a dash of sci-fi and then asked, “what if the seemingly bulletproof and invincible heroes suddenly became fair game, literally.”
Director John McTeirnan, was no slouch in the action film department either, he was the one who brought us the greatest Christmas movie of all time in Die Hard so he knows his stuff.
With Predator though he really had his work cut out for him. So much testosterone and ego crammed into one movie, there are stories from the set of the actors going to the gym secretly as early as 3am before filming to get theirpump on and then swear to their cast mates that their incredible muscle tone was all natural. I guess learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.
There’s a story about Ventura and Schwarzenegger staging a bet as to who had the biggest biceps which Schwarzenegger apparently rigged with the guys in the wardrobe department to make Ventura look stupid. It just sounds like the most absolutely awful locker room sausage fest you could possibly imagine!
Not all of them were into the pumping iron pissing competition though. Shane Black, Hawkins, was an accomplished screenwriter and used his time away from the cameras to pull together a screenplay for The Last Boy Scout. He’d also written Lethal Weapon which was released that year and is responsible for a whole bunch of other great action stories.
Jean Claude Van Damme was initially cast as the Predator but quit upon realising he was basically an uncredited special effect, which thankfully changed the entire character design. It was a twist of fate that would deliver special effects genius Stan Winston to the set and with some input from another famous director in James Cameron they designed a new monster and transformed the 7 foot tall Kevin Peter Hall into the creature we know and love today.
Possibly the biggest issue they had when making this film, aside from half the crew being struck down by the squirts from drinking the shitty South American water, was Sonny Landham who had a reputation for being incredibly volatile.
Landham was such a liability that apparently the studio could not get insurance for the production unless they hired a bodyguard. Not to protect Sonny the rest of the cast from him because he was apparently a violent bastard. Imagine that, a film with some serious action hero beef behind it and you’re the dude that they need to get a bodyguard in for to protect the rest of your colleagues. That’s nuts, and a little bit bad arse.
The stories from the production of this film are almost as mythical as the movie itself.
The political paths that some of the cast have taken later in life has as also been fascinating, especially seeing three of the cast moving into politics.
Schwarzenegger would become governor of California, Ventura the governor of Minnesota and Landham was unsuccessfully in his run at governor of Kentucky not even making past the primaries.
Landham has been followed by controversy throughout his life. In fact late last year someone appears to have set up a GoFundMe page for him claiming he needed help because he lost both his legs in a car accident and is now homeless. It would seem that in the end Sonny needed a bodyguard to protect him from himself.
Back to the movie though. Predator for me is timeless. It’s a classic movie that is bursting with originality and bravado. It was created during a time when action films were king and there are so many great films from that era.
Predator for me is the cream of that crop.
It’s everything you want in an action film and so much more. From the big biceps, big guns, blood, guts, ridiculously cheesy one liners that can only be delivered by the undisputed king in Arnold Schwarzenegger and the phenomenal creature created by Stan Winston. The first time you lay eyes on that creature and it takes off the mask, takes your fucking breath away. Many movies have tried to bottle that same lightning that Predator did and failed.
In so many ways Predator is just perfect. It’s an easy five out of five.
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I also found this sweet documentary on the making of Predator I thought I’d share.
20th Century Fox special feature video.