Predator (1987)

Predator01

Director: John McTiernan
Screenwriters: Jim Thomas, John Thomas

By Roderick Heath

The great days of 1980s genre filmmaking produced a clutch of classics that are today readily recalled totems of shared meaning for a couple of generations of movie fans. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s string of action flicks from the decade, kicked off by Conan the Barbarian (1982) and extended by The Terminator (1984), Commando (1985), Predator, and The Running Man (1987), retain a cherished lustre for fairly good reason. Although probably the most limited actor ever to become an A-list movie star, Schwarzenegger’s presence seemed to galvanise a film style in the way Fred Astaire signified the maturation of the musical in the 1930s or Charlton Heston embodied the epic in the 1960s. Films had action before Schwarzenegger, but they weren’t action films; that genre was born anew in the 1980s, rising like Venus from a sea of cocaine excess, Nautilus-machine-made muscle, and Hollywood’s new predilection for producing B-movie fare with blockbuster budgets. Predator upon first release scarcely earned a second glance from critics and whilst it did great box office, it was on video that it really came into its own. Like many of its beloved generational fellows, Predator was perfect product for the burgeoning age of home viewing, when movie fans could at last latch onto a movie that perfectly suited their sensibility, shove it in the VCR, and get the same high again and again.

Those halcyon days eventually met their climax and wane, like any great imperial moment. Schwarzenegger and Predator director John McTiernan would reunite for Last Action Hero (1993), an attempt at self-reflexive satire and high-concept ingenuity that would prove a mammoth bomb, signalling the end of an era, leaving filmgoers defenceless before Michael Bay and superhero movies. Whilst Schwarzenegger eventually turned his hand to politics McTiernan, who seemed for a time like the essence of a stylish Hollywood hit maker with his chitinous visual textures and gift for propulsive pacing extended on Die Hard (1988) and The Hunt for Red October (1990), would falter and decline before meeting legal disgrace. When he made Predator, McTiernan was just another young gun, coming off his little-seen but stylish and eerie supernatural thriller Nomads (1985). Predator’s script, written by brother screenwriters Jim and John Thomas and polished by David Peoples, conjured a classic brand of star vehicle by mashing together successful recent hits into a chimera that became in itself a new design classic to be filched, fusing together aspects of Schwarzenegger’s previous hits with a little of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) thrown in.

But Predator also had deeper roots. The storyline’s basic motif inverting the role of hunter and prey stands as a sci-fi take on Richard Connell’s legendary short story The Most Dangerous Game, first filmed in 1932 as a precursor to King Kong (1933) by producing team Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper and directed by Irving Pichel. The narrative form however more clearly recalls John Ford’s The Lost Patrol (1934), an essential work of early sound-era adventure filmmaking that, whilst set in the desert and depicting a French Foreign Legion squad’s slow decimation by Berber assassins, similarly turned the shadowy threat into a virtually existential enemy and left a solitary, stalwart hero to outwit his foes. The opening shots, featuring swaggering military hardware and bulbous ultra-masculine bodies filmed against blazing sunsets, push the idealising high-style tendency of recent movies like Top Gun or To Live and Die in LA (both 1986) to a comical extreme, and for a purpose. McTiernan lumps the official paraphernalia of the evolving ‘80s aesthetic into one place and then sets about demolishing it. To watch Predator these days is to be struck by all the over-achievers in the cast: two future state governors and two notable directors emerged from the carnage.

Schwarzenegger plays Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaefer, head of a Special Forces unit who specialise in rescue missions, also including Blain Cooper (Jesse Ventura), Mac Eliot (Bill Duke), Jorge ‘Poncho’ Ramírez (Richard Chaves), Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), and Rick Hawkins (Shane Black). One of Dutch’s former comrades in arms, George Dillon (Carl Weathers), now works for the CIA, and he and Maj-Gen. Phillips (R. G. Armstrong) want Dutch to take his men into the jungle, crossing the border of an unnamed country, to extract a cabinet member whose helicopter crashed there and now might be threatened by contras. Dillon joins the team, who are flown into the rough vicinity of their target, but find the lost chopper wrecked and empty. Pushing on into the jungle, they soon come across an incredibly strange and appalling find: three skinned and eviscerated bodies hanging from a tree. Dutch finds dog tags and realises that one of them was a soldier he knew named Hopper, but Dillon denies any knowledge of this unit’s deployment. When the unit comes across a contra base, they attack and wipe out the enemy soldiers, taking only one captive, a female, Anna Gonsalves (Elpidia Carrillo). Dutch realises Dillon used him to wipe out the command of an intended invasion of a neighbouring country with a ruse. Dutch is furious, but the unit resolves to get the hell out of dodge before any reckonings. They soon realise something far stranger and more terrifying than any guerrilla fighter is tracking them, and it begins killing them one by one.

McTiernan had some claim to being, amongst the relatively small gallery of notable Hollywood directors to debut in the 1980s, the filmmaker best equipped to carry the mantle of rigorous, muscular shot-for-shot style inherited from the likes of Ford, Raoul Walsh, Howard Hawks, and all their breed. Indeed, his career’s decline can be tethered to his increasing fondness for a more gimmicky, less visually fluid photography and editing style evinced in the likes of Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995) and The 13th Warrior (1999), as his action became maddeningly hard to track, presaging the cubist aesthetics of Bay and his ilk. McTiernan made initially striking use of zoom lenses to create shots with perspective collapsed to increasingly disorientating degrees, rendering his films flat and pictorial in a glassy and glistening fashion. Predator went one up on The Terminator where the hulking enemy’s viewpoint was a red-drenched field: here the mysterious enemy’s peering vantage comes in fluorescent shades via an infrared camera. Both films owed a little something in this interest in an alien visual syntax to Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973), a movie which has never quite gotten its due for deploying many aspects of pop movies future, also including the unstoppable and remorseless killer and deadly cyborg disseminated through the horror and sci-fi films of the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Predator might be regarded as the squarer companion piece to Paul Verhoeven’s more overtly satirical RoboCop of the same year, with its excoriating portrait of corporatism and urgent theme of loss of identity demanding self-reclamation from social brainwashing. By comparison Predator ultimately might seem to affirm a chauvinist creed after testing and teasing it, and its political sideswipes reflect a confusion of impulses. Initial visions of sleazy Latino cadres beating and shooting prisoners fit perfectly into a Reaganite vision of what political and military conflict in South America looked like, ready to be cleaned up by this idealised set of emissaries for America, fuck yeah. Yet this is accompanied by a condemnation of covert operative skulduggery reflecting the last, lingering hangover of ‘70s cynicism, a mood that also affirms the conviction the little guy will always get screwed by the Man even as he tries to clean up his messes. Stephen Hopkins’ hilariously hyperbolic sequel, Predator 2 (1990), would greatly inflate the satirical aspect in a manner closer to RoboCop, encompassing a vision of a near-future America cast entirely in the mould of an ‘80s thriller and dominated by trash-TV aesthetics.

And yet Predator essentially pulls off the same joke of self-deconstruction as Last Action Hero would make a big show of doing, but in a far better-contoured and more efficient vein. The first act sets up the essentials of a classic war-adventure movie and a James Bond-influenced brand of action filmmaking, one in which the omnicompetent heroes are in such control of their derring-do they can toss smart-assed quips at their enemies in the midst of combat, taking the sting out of the post-Peckinpah realism in the violence as squibs erupt on the bodies of the decimated soldiers. Thus the first third of Predator is a wry parade of knowingly bombastic moments from its cast full of brawny protagonists, particularly Ventura, with his immortal announcement that “I ain’t got time to bleed.” The early scenes set up the dynamic as one of macho contest: Schaffer and Dillon meet an immediately engage in an arm-wrestling bout, biceps bulging under a patina of perspiration, cocaine buzz lighting up the stars’ eyes. The celebration of inflated masculine bodies kicked off by Sylvester Stallone, Schwarzenegger’s rival and Weathers’ costar in the Rocky films, had become essential to the action movie. Here the biggest source of cruel mirth is the sight of all these variously pumped bods displayed and fetishized only to then be outdone by a bigger, badder bod, who then sets about slicing these human fleshbags into constituent parts. Superman (1978), one of the progenitors of the ‘80s action movie style, had come at a point when the superhero’s body was pointedly resistant to all the forces of slaughter and decay celebrated in the grittier climes of ‘70s thrillers and horror movies. Predator found a more immediate way than the Alien films to infiltrate and subvert the action movie in this manner.

Predator also shows off its generic roots with pleasure, the core unit a set of types who’d be at home in a World War II movie – a survey of ethnic exemplars and styles of swagger. They run the gamut from classic he-man redneck Blain with his love of chewing tobacco (“This’ll make you a goddamn sexual tyrannosaur, just like me!”) to nerdy Hawkins, who digs comic books and keeps bombing with his pussy-related humour, and Billy, whose native American canniness makes him specially aware of the lurking danger hovering in the trees. The tensions noted between the members are purely supernal, fading away entirely in combat, and the men of different races and creeds and humour styles all function perfectly when faced with a proper enemy: Blain and Mac, who would be instinctive enemies on a normal cultural level, are instead fused at the hip as warriors. Of course, Hawkins is the first member of the team to get iced, a blurry figure lunging out of the bush as he tries to catch an escaping Anna, leaving her sprayed with Hawkins’ blood. McTiernan casually pulls off virtuosic feats of camerawork, like an endless-feeling crane shot rising up through the jungle canopy as the team tramp on, to eventually locate Hawkins’ naked and bloodied corpse dangling from high branches.

The fraternity of soldiers is of course stressed throughout Predator. The nobility of these dedicated warriors, this thin camouflaged line of defence, who, tellingly, only perform missions of swashbuckling mercy now, is never questioned. Only Dillon has fallen from the true faith because of his choice to move on to a more political vantage. It’s an elaborate version of the belief amongst many that Vietnam was lost because of excessive obedience of political niceties. Mac and Blain have both been fighting together since ‘Nam and their camaraderie is so traumatically broken when Blain is killed that Mac flips out, muttering monologues at the moon and planning bloody vengeance upon their mysterious assassin. Anna warns them of the folklore of the local villages, speaking of the “demon who makes trophies of men” that visits in particularly hot years. What exactly is that demon? McTiernan’s already given the game away in that regard in a pre-credits vignette strongly reminiscent of that in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), depicting a spaceship flashing out of the void and passing by Earth, one small craft peeling away from it and heading down to the ball of blue. The Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) is glimpsed in tantalising snatches – a pair of glowing eyes in the midst of a green jungle setting, the sight of reptilian hands operating sophisticated medical equipment, the speeding blue flashes of its energy weapon and phosphorescent glow of its blood, all evoking the presence of something alien, ferocious, extremely intelligent, and worst of all, as indifferent to other life forms as humans themselves.

It’s odd to think now that Predator was made a mere 13 years after the end of the Vietnam War, less time than the War on Terror has been unfolding. Today, concerns of the post 9/11 age echo through a vast swathe of popular entertainments, but for a long time, understandably, Hollywood was more set on re-fighting Vietnam. It’s there in embryonic form in the despair of Jaws (1975) in the incapacity of technology to defeat primal fear and an enemy in its home turf, and in the scrappy outsiders versus the great technological empire of Star Wars (1977). But it bloomed properly with Aliens and Predator, tales of hapless warriors confronting their own impotence before an enemy that understands environment better and obeys a simpler impulse driving their defence of it. Predator outdoes Cameron’s film at least on the level of transmuting the imprint of that conflict on the modern American military mindset into a rough-hewn but entirely coherent little myth and then pointing the way forward to a new attitude.

The popular perception of the war is played out: firepower-packing Yanks arrive, clean up the regular fighters easily, but find themselves up against a foe that can hide and plays a game they’re crucially ill-equipped to deal with psychologically as well as in method. Blain carries a version of the Gatling gun, a weapon that carries historical associations dating back to the Civil War, and also connects again to ‘Nam where was mounted on a plane dubbed Puff the Magic Dragon, used to devastating effect. And yet, like Hopper’s crew before them, who stand in for the lost patrols of ‘Nam, Dutch’s team finish wasting vast amounts of ammunition and muzzle velocity firing blind into the trees, hoping to hit something, fighting their own magic dragon. The team make an increasingly desperate trek to try and reach safe ground where Phillips’ helicopters can extract them, an extraction that has to wait because of the potential political furore that would explode if any US choppers were downed on the wrong side of the border. Hawkins’ death is followed quickly by Blain’s, felled by even bigger firepower, sparking the maddened wastage of ammo from his fellows. Trying to secure a position for the night, the team set traps that are deliberately triggered by the Predator with the ruse of driving a colossal wild pig through them, a beast Mac slays in the dark believing it’s his mortal foe, whilst the alien snatches away Blain’s body to use in its trophy-making habits.

Part of Predator’s punch lies in its indifference to the pretences of its heroes, who mostly die in various postures of surprise. Mac’s purpose of revenge, which might in another narrative have posited him as the natural hero, sees him merely and casually killed whilst making an attempt to sneak up on his opponent. Dillon dies more spectacularly, going out on his feet with such a display of manly fortitude as he tries to gun down his opponent with one severed arm that he redeems himself, but really gives his opponent barely more trouble. Billy’s decision to strip off his fatigues and weaponry and meet the monster with machete in hand points in the right direction, but his choice of stand-up courage is just as quickly fatal. The film even subverts the basic appeal of Schwarzenegger as a movie star, to a great extent: his evocation of the human body at its strongest and most perfect – not for nothing had he made his film debut playing Hercules – is still dwarfed and outmatched on a sheer pound-for-pound level. The team slowly glean the nature of their enemy and start to adopt the right tactics, but one effort to entrap the alien only gets Poncho badly injured, and he’s later killed by a bolt from the Predator’s weapon as Dutch and Anna try to carry him out. Dutch sends Anna on to meet the rendezvous (okay, here we go…three…two…one…“Get to da choppa!”) whilst distracting the Predator. Dutch only escapes the fiend’s clutches because he falls over a waterfall and then propitiously discovers the chief weakness in his opponent: mud clinging to his body retards the Predator’s heat-sensitive vision, a discovery that allows Dutch to invert the terms of the struggle. The Predator’s strengths, its capacity to detect the abnormal, its feel for a natural landscape, are finally turned against it.

The Predator’s alienness is conceived and mediated in terms of devices of technological augmentation. His lysergic-hued point-of-view was achieved by radically employed new filmmaking tech whilst his habits of recording and looping back fragments of the human conversations he hears, render him an insidiously witty alien mixmaster. He is, at first, a stand-in for the audience as a fetishist enjoying the sounds and textures of the humans in all their homosocial habits as well as fascinated by their strange physiognomy, a strangeness conveyed to the audience through the transforming prism of his infrared sight. He also stands in for the filmmakers, trying to understand individuals as collectives of information, little catchphrases and earworms, accents and modes of expression, the things that make them distinctive but also knit them into a unit, a species. By the end the Predator has learnt enough human expressivity to laugh with mocking pleasure at the expectation even in death he can defeat his enemy. The Predator itself was subject to changes in look and concept during the shooting, shifting from a faintly biomechanical creation emphasising agility over bulk (played initially by Jean-Claude Van Damme), but soon revised into a hulking humanoid with crocodilian skin, spiky tendrils on its head that resemble a Rastafarian hairdo, and a crablike face sporting mandibles. McTiernan could get away with this shift because of his smart appropriation of Jaws’ policy of slowly revealing the monster, which depends on its sophisticated camouflaging, its ability to see prey who cannot see it in turn.

Dutch’s disarming of the Predator in this regard stirs the Predator’s own pride, inspiring it to strip off its weaponry and armour and meet Dutch on exactly the same level of pure physical force and guile. McTiernan’s immediate follow-ups, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October, would both revolve around conflicts defined by arts of eluding and utilising landscape, but which eventually devolve eventually into traditional tests of strength between personally offended and challenged antagonists. The latter film would prove Hollywood’s half-accidental farewell to the Cold War with its eventual détente of technological advancement: when everyone can hide, no-one can, something Dutch and the Predator have already discovered. Dutch’s adoption of bushcraft offers an answer to the Vietnam problem, as Schaffer strips off all technological pretence and remakes himself as a guerrilla warrior, armed with tool gleaned from the environment he must disappear into. But the greatness of Predator is that it finally goes much deeper than such recent psychic horizons. By the time Schaffer announces his resurgence to his foe in a rite of fire and a howl of prehistoric violence, we’re back in the dimmest recesses of the human imagination, struggling for survival in some post-Ice Age landscape against the deadliest beast in the forest.

The first two-thirds of Predator are in this regard mere curtain-raiser, a programmatic disposal of various trappings to get at this basic fantastical perfection, a situation of which Jung could only approve and stuff his face with popcorn. Predator wouldn’t be the movie it is without two invaluable behind-the-camera contributions, from DP Don McAlpine, whose crystal-clear images render all these absurd events hyper-real, and composer Alan Silvestri’s career-best work. The film’s high-point where McTiernan, McAlpine, and Silvestri’s work comes together in perfect unison isn’t the climactic fight between man and monster, but the montage sequence of Dutch preparing for that battle, a succession of shots that depict the ritualised stripping away of modernity, even identity, as Dutch remakes himself as primal warrior, with weapons and disguises won out of the jungle, the only way to take on his sophisticated enemy, representing the species. Predator is one of those movies which remains palpable as a pillar of today’s blockbuster ideal, and yet this sequence, the essence of the movie’s awesomeness, is also the sort of moment that’s all too often missing from its progeny, present only to beef up the film’s rhythmic intensity, to create a mood of epic largesse and titanic events looming.

The finale sees hero and dragon pound on each-other, Schwarzenegger’s ponderous bulk reduced to an impressionistic blur in the Predator’s vision spitting out blood under the blows of his fists, the alien’s blood providing a tell-tale trail: ways of seeing are ways of battle. Dutch’s final outwitting of the Predator comes after underestimating his enemy’s cunning but improvising enough to still win in dropping the counterweight for a trap on its head. The mutual incomprehension and awe of the two species – “What the hell are you?” – is not the gateway for understanding but instead a cue to take things to a higher, nihilistic level of gratification. The Predator enacts a hawkish nightmare of taking the nuclear option to avenge itself, a dishonourable yet cruelly apt reductio ad absurdum of the duel. This feels like a variation on the climactic joke of one of the most cunning yet innocent-looking satires on Cold War exigencies, Chuck Jones’ Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century (1952): this planet ain’t big enough for the both of us, buster. Dutch however manages to run far and fast enough to escape, and looms out of the smoke to be picked up by Phillips and Anna, enshrined as the iconic survivor, the man who emerges from the wastes. The last shot revises the concluding image of Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) from a hymn of haunted failure to one of boding triumph. It’s very easy to see the pieces that make up the film in this way. But the final beauty of Predator is one it shares with any accomplished work of fantasy: much as its title monster discovers in dissecting its human prey, the essence of it remains impossible to reduce.

13 thoughts on “Predator (1987)

  1. Vanwal Green

    Excellent review, and dissection, with more than a little postmortem after the autopsy – you’re quite right, it started something now gone and viewed as somewhat quaint. I must say, no one else ever had the physicality of Schwarzenegger in motion in action films, which sadly deteriorated with frightening speed in the coming years, becoming a caricature soon. He did excellent work with minimal acting, as well. A tough guy film, hell, even Elpidia Carrillo is tougher than you originally think. Her monologue on the mythical trophy maker was chilling, even though we already knew it was no myth. Well done, Rod.

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    1. Roderick

      “I must say, no one else ever had the physicality of Schwarzenegger in motion in action films”

      A good point, Van; I dare say Bruce Lee and a few Hong Kong stars can hold a candle to him, but not for effectively using such bulk. He didn’t just look strong and solid but squares himself effectively for the camera and can move fluidly — I always remember that bit in True Lies where he so easily performs that flip-the-gun-off-the-ground trick. Another thing that began to count against him was when movie action started to take on a more martial-arts inflection which he patently could not do. And yes, I love Carrillo’s monologue, particularly in the way McTiernan weaves it into a montage and films her from side-on, so it’s separate from context, almost like the voice of a shamanka recounting strange and foreboding things; it’s there where the narrative starts edging out of the present and begins that regressive journey I spoke about.

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  2. Patrick

    McTiernan really did start with a bang, Predator, and then Die Hard, which actually created an entire subset of action movies (Sudden Death, Under Siege, etc). His career did kind of peter out, I guess you’d have to say, or didn’t live up to that initial promising start. Maybe he had a certain idea or a temperament matched to a certain sort of movie and when he wanted to go off to a different sort of movie he didn’t have the same feel for the material. (?) Having those first two movies to hang your hat on isn’t a bad resume though. (didn’t know about legal issues)

    This comment – “McTiernan made initially striking use of zoom lenses to create shots with perspective collapsed to increasingly disorientating degrees”

    – made me think of a very striking shot in “Medicine Man”, if you’ve seen it, Lorraine Bracco suspended a hundred or more feet above a lake, but it’s shot so the initial impression is of her being above a puddle, takes a few seconds to understand what you are seeing, probably almost the only thing I remember about that movie.

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  3. Cannon

    Tough to add anything here, suffice to say that Predator is a movie I’ve long since recognized for its raw elementalism and internalized subversions; for exhibiting one of Schwarzenegger’s four best performances from his heyday (Conan the Barbarian, Total Recall and True Lies being the other three). Some macho-cheesy one-liners aside, here, he’s so…sensible. Here, he’s actually playing a ‘thinking man’, albeit his own version of such. It’s as if once you cast him alongside fellow testosterone hulks and raise the story/cinematic environment to such expedient physical levels of all things jungle, war and otherworldly doom, Schwarzenegger is no longer a caricature standout, but a normalized, even humble, soldier who’s just trying to get his men through it. He conveys both genuine rational fear and a credible intelligence (“He’s using da trees.”) to such a degree that, once he starts going boy scout, you’re completely invested in as much from a storytelling perspective.

    But chiefly what I’ve always admired — outside simply enjoying the film — is the filmmaking. Yes, Predator is one that pours out of McTiernan’s camerawork. His Julliard studied, Euro-centric sophistications would take on a more glamorous approach in the subsequent and anamorphic Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October on-forward, but here, his last picture shot 1.85:1, the look of it isn’t so much “sexy” as it is hauntingly tense; the way he’s able to at once illustrate geography while tightening up the jungle environ around his characters with claustrophobic dread. One of the film’s highlights in visual precision of lensing and composition comes when an aboriginal Dutch is wrapped incognito around a tree upon realizing the stealth-mode enemy moving just behind him—axial cutting from his right screen vertical close-up to a horizontal top screen close-up as his eyes track the weird ghosting thing now foregrounded in the frame. That shit works. McTiernan possesses real instincts for techniques in shallow focus and compact camera movement.

    It’s kinda funny when I first learned that the big shoot ’em up attack on the insurgent camp was in fact helmed largely by 2nd unit, as it comparably looks more ‘stock’ in its execution, not dissimilar to, say, journeyman Mark L. Lester’s boxy, straightforward action scenes from Commando: lots of machine-gunning and explosions corralled up into some hard edits. It’s a fun scene, still. Moreover, perhaps, it’s appropriate to your thematic analysis where all the ’80s action movie mayhem is sorta purged of itself before stripping everything down to a more conceptual showdown of tribal ritualism.

    I still kinda love Hopkins’ Predator 2 on its own terms, if nothing else, for being so raving mad and hyperbolic in its tone. Predators from 2010 was, how shall we say, dutiful, respectful …until it just became boring midway through its second act, never fully recovering. This of course leaves the question concerning Shane Black’s upcoming The Predator, about which I have my reservations. But that could be saved for another discussion.

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    1. Roderick

      Patrick — interesting example of that phenomenon in Medicine Man. I also think about Ryan’s fight with the saboteur in Red October, and quite a lot of Die Hard. By the time we get to Die Hard With a Vengeance, tho I like that film, he was starting to push his DP to hosepipe a little, I guess to still make his visual lustre a little edgy, but it just became annoying and hard to read. Still, other directors would go much worse. I don’t know how much of The 13th Warrior is his fault in that regard. Yes, unfortunately McTiernan did some jail time a few years back over attempted wiretaps and lying about it; rather foolish and ugly if not atrocious business. I must check out his Thomas Crown Affair at some point — it seems to be becoming a bit of a cult object.

      Cannon — Great points as ever, particularly about McTiernan. His manipulation of space is his hallmark as action filmmaker, whether it’s making the jungle hug tight here or turning a skyscraper or a sub into labyrinths, the environment plays a role in his classic films in a way no other action director has quite wielded. And the way the film uses Schwarzenegger. I particularly like his credible anger over his rescue team being misused; it’s a point of pride to him that he’s the saving people business rather than ordinary soldiering, although he’s very competent at that too. That makes an interesting kinda sense about the contra raid. The relationship between the two films has always tantalised me, the way one feels like a sequel to the other or vice versa, and the way this one slyly pulls apart Ahnuld’s given iconography – big tough guy with big tough gun – to make him more genuinely human. No other Arnie character before would ever have had a reason to make that “Bad idea” crack with the accompanying, slightly panicked look. Finally he was one of us if still the fittest of us, and it really made us love him rather than just think he looked cool. All his later career, for good and ill, owes everything to this.

      I remember kinda liking Predators, but man, did it just dribble out of the memory. It’ll be fascinating seeing Black circle back to this material — I wonder if he’ll reference himself.

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  4. The Predator piece I wish I’d written. Really great stuff!

    On the point of Schwarzenegger as galvanizing agent, have you ever read Matt Singer’s piece on Arnold as auteur?: http://screencrush.com/arnold-schwarzenegger-is-an-auteur/

    And great thought RE Jaws as half-formed Vietnam parable. I’d always obsessed over it’s treatment of a small town as a microcosm of American bureaucracy and politicking, but never thought to situate that in the context of the war. Maybe THAT’S the piece I’ll write (unless it’s been done, or you get there first…).

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    1. Roderick

      Hi Jake. I hadn’t read that piece before but it has great validity. It’s only natural to see the kinds of projects a star chooses to appear in them and how they mould or break their image and concerns as a form of auteurism, and the way that body of work can mesh with directors’ and writers’ interests, what they want to say through the actor (consider Hitchcock’s work with Stewart and Grant and Ford and Hawks with Wayne, where that synergy of outlook was particularly obvious and vital). I did first moot the Vietnam parallel in Jaws in an essay a few years ago (http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/2011/jaws-1975/11979/), but I dare say there’s more to be said on that score.

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  5. Patrick

    Thomas Crown is pretty decent, perhaps a bit too clever a time or two but solid, great use of “Sinner Man” by Nina Simone, that was my introduction to that song.

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  6. Vanwal Green

    I also want to mention Schwarzenegger’s possibilities as a silent film actor – he does much with his body movements, not always unsubtle by any means, and his eyes, the great communicators in silent film, were marvelous instruments in this film, often the only parts of him that were allowed to carry a scene, and he pulled it off over and over.

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  7. Excellent piece. I remember even when I first saw it in theaters that what struck me about PREDATOR was how it was the first time I felt that Schwarzenegger could actually be defeated by an antagonist in one of his movies. The alien predator easily makes mincemeat of Arnie’s team and barely bests it at the end only for it to self-destruct in an attempt to destroy him.

    I love that final scene of Arnie in the helicopter, looking bone-tired and utterly defeated. There’s no happy ending or triumph here. All of his men (and good friends) are dead are for what? Betrayed by his own government and almost killed by a tough creature from another planet, his “victory” feels like a hollow one at best that not even the upbeat closing credits of the cast smiling (their characters “alive”) can take away.

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