Friday, October 18, 2013

80s Revisited: Predator

Predator (1987)
Directed by John McTiernan; written by Jim Thomas & John Thomas; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver and Jon Davis.

Sometimes it's weird to me to think just how violent the movies were that kids were into when I was a kid. In the 80s, we didn't really have superhero movies; we had The Terminator, Aliens, RoboCop and Predator. (You know, the Dark Horse Comics lineup.) I saw this movie when it first came out on video, when I was 11 or 12 and Arnold Schwarzenegger was one of the biggest stars in the world.

This is a nifty little movie: clear plot, progresses forward briskly, has occasional character development (and distinct characters), and is surprisingly lean. One of the big criticisms of this movie is that the plot is thin, but I think of it as a lean plot: it's a simple chase picture, but it's a fun flick. What it delivers is pretty much exactly what it offers, and while that may not elevate it into a classic (at least not for me), it's by no means a bad movie.

What I thought about a lot this time is how much of a science fiction version of Vietnam this one is. I know, it's super-obvious, but I was a kid back then, and even with the flood of serious movies about Vietnam at the time (Platoon, Full Metal Jacket) and wish-fulfillment fantasies about going back and winning Vietnam (Rambo: First Blood Part II) and even a cartoon and comic book heavily influenced by Vietnam (G.I. Joe), it just didn't occur to me that this is sort of a microcosm of the American experience in Vietnam: soldiers go into the jungle, but their faith in their superior military prowess doesn't stop them from getting murdered one by one by an enemy that knows their way around better than we do. To add insult to injury here, it's one creature with more advanced technology and a better concept of stealth. It's an alien here (and a great Stan Winston creation at that), but you could seriously take the alien out and just make it someone with better weapons and it would be almost the same movie.

(Roger Ebert, by the way, criticized this movie because he didn't believe that an alien race with advanced technology would go to all the trouble of sending one person here just to hunt Arnold Schwarzenegger in the jungle. I think Ebert subscribed to the notion that any race that becomes advanced enough to travel in outer space must have left its baser aggressions and worst instincts behind. But I think there's real stock in science fiction plots that feature a species that has advanced that far and has awesome technology and uses it simply to give in to its worst instincts. I mean, we have the power to traverse the globe and to create powerful weapons and sometimes we use these marvels just to go shoot elephants in the face. It's that kind of universe sometimes.)

(Also, in a completely different aside: this is the kind of G.I. Joe movie I've always wanted to see. Just watching it again last night, it came flooding back to me how much this reminded me of reading the G.I. Joe comic book: a bunch of Vietnam vets having a hard military battle with ninjas and science fiction elements. Of course, because it's based on a toy, they'd never make a G.I. Joe movie that violent or adult, but come on, does anyone under the age of 30 even care? Jeez, Hasbro, you were the one who wanted to make a toy line about Vietnam vets and ninjas fighting terrorists.)

I liked this one; it's a solid action flick with a great creature and a terrific cast for this kind of movie. Carl Weathers is never not awesome, and Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham are certified badasses. I saw Sven Thorsen in an uncredited role, and that always makes me smile. I remembered a lot of the classic lines, of course, because this movie has a few of them. There's not a ton to say about it, it's just fun if you like this kind of thing.

The only problem I have with this movie: the score. It's over-scored. Alan Silvestri is doing that variation on the Back to the Future score that he did pretty much all the way through the 80s, and it tries too hard to give the illusion of movement. It's like someone saw this in editing and thought the movie was just too slow, so it needed a score that was constantly on the move, tricking you into thinking that it's just constant action. It's distracting, honestly, and it doesn't allow the suspense to build the way it should. It's a move that betrays a lack of confidence. Frankly, the movie doesn't need it; it would work fine with a softer score that just punched up some of the action scenes. There are entire conversations that would work better with silence or the sounds of the jungle in the background.

Other than that, terrific movie.


Josh Rothberg said...

I completely agree with your Predator review. It's that kind of solid lean plot that I love. It's the sort of plot that made McTiernan's Die Hard so great, too.

I'm always heaping praise on your blog, but I've got to do it again. I always appreciate your 80's revisited and film week reviews and TV show reports so much that it inspired me to launch a new blog about old TV show reviews that I'm doing A-Z from Netflix's library of shows. I'm not trying to hype my blog; I just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration. Outside of Dinosaur Dracula, your blog is by far one of my favorites and I've been reading since 2007, I think.

Huge fan of the Marvels content, too. Are you reading these from the Marvel Masterworks library or is it a CD-ROM? Sorry, I don't remember if you already stated this.

SamuraiFrog said...

Wow, thanks for the kind words, especially the comparison to Dinosaur Dracula, which I don't think I deserve but which is mind-blowing. I've been reading him since the XE days and he's one of my fave blogs. I'm definitely going to check out what you've got going on your blog, that sounds great.

I was reading the Marvel Essentials for a while (the black and white ones), but someone hooked me up with scans going all the way back, so those are what I've been using.

Josh Rothberg said...

Yeah, I think the first blog I ever followed was X-E back in 2001 or so. Hard to believe it's been around so long. Then, years later, I stumbled across comic blogs like Progressive Ruin and I can't remember which site led me to yours, but one of them did and it's been good times ever since.

I've sporadically commented on your blog before but usually haven't because I sometimes suffer from a social depression where I think anything I write is crap and promptly delete all traces of my online existence. I don't foresee that happening anytime in the near future, though. So, apologies for the lack of comments.

Oh, and thanks for adding me to your links of blogs! I just noticed that. That's totally unexpected. I hope my blog can live up to the honor. Wow.

SamuraiFrog said...

That's quite alright; I have a similar thing with my own writing, which is why I don't always answer comments or leave comments on other blogs.

Ann Joy said...

I also liked it, although I wasn't a teenager when I first saw it. Luckily, I wasn't too serious about it and trying to relate it to anything else or criticise it, so I just enjoyed it for what it was.

Kal said...

Fantastic movie that still holds up. Lean is the best way to describe it. Just look at the bloated versions of the Predator story that have came after.

Semaj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Semaj said...

I agree with everything in your review except for the score. Being a big score junkie, I love the score by Alan Silvestri. I wish he would return to his bigger scores like this. He returned to this style with Avengers.

It is the score that really makes this movie stand out for me.

While there are similarities to BTTF, he doesn't re trend in the same way as say James Horner.

If you get a chance check out the complete score to this movie on Youtube, you'll be surprised.

This is all my opinion, but I've always liked the bigger scores over the softer ones (Total Recall and Empire Strikes Back)

BTW, have you seen some of the deleted scenes? One scene has the Predator intentionally missing Arnold with his lazer gun and Arnold noticing.

SamuraiFrog said...

It's not that I think Silvestri's score is bad on its own, I just don't think it works in the movie itself. It runs over a lot of the dialogue and makes some scenes fly by too quickly; I think it works against the movie's pacing.

James Horner just lifts entire pieces out of other scores and re-uses them. I love the Star Trek II score, just not hearing half of it in other movies.

Vachon said...

Every time I see the movie I wish they hadn't shown the alien ship right at the start. Maybe I'm wrong but I keep thinking it would've been a nice surprise for the audience to realize Predator was an alien and not be force-fed it during the opening credits.

SamuraiFrog said...

I agree with you.