In the novelization for the movie Last Action Hero, a parody of action movies, there is a scene in which Jack Slater hears about the movie Predator. Danny Madigan, a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger says it’s about an alien hunting the military in the jungle. Slater doesn’t seem impressed and asked if they made a sequel. Danny says they did but Schwarzenegger wasn’t in it to which Slater says was a good career move.
Granted, Schwarzenegger in 1987 was already rising among the action-packed 1980s echelon populated by himself, Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris and a surprisingly Bruce Willis and seemed infallible. That is until that aboved mentioned parody directed by John McTiernan and co-written by Shane Black, was released. But a lot of movies happen for the strangest of reasons.
Schwarzenegger can thank his friend, sometime co-star and business partner Stallone for Predator. You see after the success of Rocky IV in which the Italian Stallion battles the behometh Soviet fighter Ivan Drago, someone asked who could Rocky fight next. He already had defeated Apollo Creed (Cart Weathers), Mr. T. and Dolph Lundgren, who is also a very intelligent intellectual. The joke was that Rocky would have to fight an alien in the inevitable fifth installment.
A young screenwriter named Jim Thomas thought that wasn’t a bad idea. So, with his brother, John, they began working a script titled Hunter. It would later be shopped around Hollywood in 1985 before landing at 20th Century Fox. Rumor has it they actually slid the script under the door of producer Michael Levy who got famed producer Joel Silver to take control and get it started. Silver decided to make the script a bigger production sci-fi horror as Hunter was only a smaller scale script. That’s why Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, an Army major in charge of his elite squad of commandos on a mission.
Of course, there were problems almost from the start. Jean-Claude Van Damme had been hired to work as the titular character when it resembled a more insect-like creature. A communication breakdown had Van Damme wearing a costume that resembled a giant red lobster that he didn’t know was going to be used for special effects. So, Van Damme was let go and the predator was redesigned with actor Kevin Peter Hall, who stood at 7-foot-2 stepping in to the role.
But as Steven Spielberg has shown, you don’t bring the shark out in the first few minutes. The commandos led by Dutch are a rag-tag bunch of macho bravada. Blain (Jesse Ventura), aka Painless, is a buff macho redneck who always has a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth and a huge mini-gun he carries around. His buddy is Mac (Bill Duke), an Army sergeant who also carries a big M-60 machine gun and for some reason always feels the need to have a clean shaven face. Pancho (Richard Chaves) is the Latino who carries a grenade launcher with multiple loading capacity. Billy (Sonny Londham) is the Indigenous Native American one whose good for tracking as well as having a Spidey sense something’s not right.
Then, there’s Hawkins (Black) who looks like he should be somewhere else with his horn-rimmed glasses and comic books he reads. Black who already had become famous in Hollywood for his script Lethal Weapon had later said he was cast as Silver and Fox executives wanted him to punch up the script better. Weather appears as Dillon, a CIA operative and former war buddy with Dutch. It’s mentioned they served together in Vietnam. And despite them making the best handshake ever filmed, Dutch is skeptical of the bureaucrat Dillon has turned into.
You see, Dillon has lied about a cabinet minister going down in a Central America warzone when it was in fact a group of special ops stationed out of Fort Bragg sent to take down a base of Central American guerillas and Soviet military set up for a major operation. After Dutch and his commandos wreck havoc on the base with minimum injuries as Blain “hasn’t got time to bleed,” they find themselves going through the jungle toward the extraction point. Also with them is Anna (Elpidia Carrillo), an insurgent, who Dillon insists must come as she has knowledge of more rebels approaching the base camp.
At this point, the movie kinda turns into a slasher movie as the commandos are picked off one by one as they try to reach the extraction point. Eventually, Dutch is the last man standing and must resort to his primal instincts to battle the predator. He is able to use wooden spikes and spears to battle the creature.
While on paper, it does seem like an odd idea for an action movie, it actually works very well. And as the years have gone on, you realize how impressive it was made. While the attack on the base seems like something more in line with Rambo or Schwarzenegger’s own Commando, it sets up the military personnel and makes them more three-dimensional. The tension between Dutch and Dillion, two friends who have gone on different paths later in life, adds a depth that you wouldn’t expect to find in one of these movies.
The point of view shots of the predator as he searches through the jungle through infared sensors and uses an invisibility cloak adds tension that it can be anywhere at any time. While the first scene spoils the mystery a little that it’s an alien, we really don’t see it until the final act of the movie. We see a highly skilled squad of top-notched military who can spot trip wires and sweep in and kill several dozens guerillas with only scratches yet find themselves running from a force they can’t seen shows us we’re all vulnerable. Could the predator be a metaphor for a virus or even HIV/AIDS? Maybe so. I published a post recently in which I mentioned that Predator is one of the most homoerotic movies of the 1980s. Dutch and his men think they are invincible but realize they’re not.
I also like the idea that Anna never is harmed because she isn’t armed as Dutch observes, there’s no sport in killing someone who isn’t an immediate threat. In many ways, Predator is just a sci-fi/horror version of “The Most Dangerous Game.” It can also be a commentary on how we’re letting too much technology to do basic tasks. The predator can’t see Dutch at one moment because he’s clamoflauged in wet mud. But if it hadn’t used its infared sense, it might have detected him.
Maybe there was a reason that Predator joke never made it into the final cut of Last Action Hero. It might seem like a crazy idea to someone who’s never heard of it. But you shouldn’t criticize something you haven’t seen. The ability to still get the same thrill out of a movie 35 years later as audiences did on first viewing is what makes a movie like Predator timeless.
What do you think? Please comment.