Every Hollywood film exists to make money, and therefore Hollywood largely greenlights movies based on precedent. If you can compare a film to something else that was financially successful, you can probably sell it.
This logic is how many movies have been sold – Speed is Die Hard, but on a bus; Eragon is The Lord of the Rings for preteens; the success of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator lead to a series of imitators including Troy and Alexander. For better or for worse, few Hollywood films are truly original.
By this logic, it’s easy enough to imagine how Predator would have been sold in the mid-’80s. It’s Aliens in the jungle, a sci-fi Commando. Predator is so obviously a cross between those two movies that there exists major risk that it might veer too far into imitation of one or the other. Luckily, director John McTiernan (who also helmed such films as Die Hard) does an excellent job of balancing the tone and elements of the film in a way that gels.
The Predator is an alien hunter, hunting a crew of elite commandos in a jungle in South America. There’s a mission with questionable political motives, a very apt military interventionist subtext, but that’s all really secondary. Ultimately, Predator is a battle of wills between the hunter and the hunted.
It’s a sleek action thriller, one that mostly has aged pretty well. There’s little to make the film feel too strongly like an ’80s film (aside from a closing credits sequence that is incredibly ’80s); the action is sleek and modern, and it’s easy to see how the lineage and directorial style of John McTiernan in this film would lead to his making a modern action classic like Die Hard next. It’s easy to imagine the one-liners that fall flat when delivered by Arnold Schwarzenegger being more successfully delivered by an actor of Bruce Willis’ caliber.
There are certain ways in which Predator has not aged quite as well; the visual and sound effects are a touch problematic, looking like a film student’s amateur attempts at creating vivid imagery; the score, while at times appropriate, at other times feels out of place where something more spare and deliberate might serve better. While watching, I couldn’t help but envision a modern remake of Predator (Shane Black is developing exactly such a thing) with much better visual effects, with a sleek modern score, starring some muscular actor (The Rock comes to mind), and I imagine it being a huge success. The film doesn’t need to be drastically overhauled to be a success – just a modern update.
Ultimately the movie is at its best when it’s pitting Arnold Schwarzenegger against the Predator. Of course, it does say something about this film that it’s at its best when its protagonist has nobody to talk to. Arnold is convincing as a macho commando who doesn’t cower at anything, but whenever he opens his mouth it tends to be difficult to buy into whatever he’s saying. Sorry Arnold – I can buy you as a robot, but not as a human being.
Predator is a simple film, with a simple premise, but a simple film, executed successfully, can stand the test of time, and that’s what Predator is.
It’s also worth observing that the ’80s and early ’90s may have been a golden age for action movies; between First Blood, Lethal Weapon, Aliens, Back to the Future, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Terminator, Terminator II, Die Hard, its hard to imagine another ten year period that can offer a comparable roster of wholly iconic and classic action movies. Modern action movies and directors offer their own strengths, but it’s clear that there are many lessons to be learned from the films of the era.
Dutch: He came to get the body. He’s killing us one at a time.
Billy: Like a hunter.