John McTiernan has to be my favorite action movie director, for two reasons alone: Die Hard with a Vengeance and Predator. The combination of guns and adventure just doesn’t get better than those two movies. Let’s focus on Predator today, though.
Predator begins like a cliché action romp with the beefy American commandos killing nameless, hapless opponents in a Central American jungle base. But everything changes when an invisible hunter begins picking off the Americans one by one, instilling a new kind of fear within them – the fear of prey. It’s a fantastic premise, with the straightforward action genre taking on elements of science fiction, thriller, and horror. The cast is unforgettable, and it’s always a bummer to lose the larger-than-life characters as they’re impaled and pulled apart. Still, the individual deaths are all classic moments (Billy – the death we don’t see – might be the best one).
Then there’s the Predator himself. He’s a monster similar to the shark in Jaws, an unstoppable and unknowable force of nature. His full reveal in his final battle against Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a jaw dropping moment in cinema. And that final battle just makes the movie even better. There’s Dutch’s primal scream to begin the fight, his ingenuity in creating death traps (expanding the guerilla warfare vs. superior force theme), the Predator learning how to throw a punch, and the creature’s final maniacal laughter. It’s all brilliant.
If there’s one thing I’d cut from the movie, it’s the opening scene showing a spaceship traveling to Earth. I haven’t seen it much, because you never catch the beginning of a movie when you’re watching it on cable or HBO, but I’d much prefer the viewer to be in the dark regarding the Predator’s origins, piecing things together as the characters do. That’s a slight critique though.
It’s a testament to the quality of the original that no sequel has ever come close to matching its exceptional cast, its cryptic antagonist, or its timeless one-liners. So, when is it a good time to watch Predator? “Anytime.” Good answer, Mac.