director John McTiernan
As unlikely a movie star as he has been, Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his now iconic lumbering Austrian accent, has a significant cinematic legacy. Where the original Predator stands in anyone’s estimation of Arnold’s filmography, I suppose that is ultimately a matter of opinion. But honestly, I think it’s one of his best.
When Predator first came out, it seemed another in a line of flicks like Commando (1985) and Raw Deal (1986), and who knows, maybe I first saw it on cable or something because I think I’d add to that list things like The Running Man (1987) and Red Heat (1988), a litany of movies that I wasn’t too utterly keen on at the time.
In fact, it starts out like some post-Rambo (1985) actioner, with a bunch of beefcake-y military dudes flying into a Central American jungle on a rescue operation, shooting up a guerrilla base and acting tougher than tough. Only, that is just the prelude to the real film, in which a camouflaged alien turns out to be stalking the most dangerous of dangerous game, the Übermenschen extremis. The predator is an intergalactic hunter, stalking and killing and taking trophies.
Really, the film is brilliantly realized. It’s comical appreciation of these human monsters of muscle-laden flesh include Schwarzenegger of course, but also Carl Weathers, Jess “The Body” Ventura, Sonny Landham, and the terrific Bill Duke. John McTiernan wastes no time sketching out the Special Forces characters, each more manly than the other, with deft moments, classic throwaway lines (“I ain’t got time to bleed.”), and hilarious details. Add in Stan Winston’s awesome monster design and you’ve got one of the best action films of the 1980’s.
This viewing was with my son, who has little first-hand experience of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a movie star, having grown up in a California where the man was “The Governator” for eight years. It was actually a quite humorous point of trivia that this film would feature two future state governors (Ventura doing it first). I still think that the real twist for Arnold as a performer was the brilliant casting of him in Twins (1988) with Danny DeVito and the discover of him as a comic actor and presence.
Really, we live in a post-Arnie world now. A post-Arnie world in which he’s moved out of Sacramento and back into Hollywood and movies (none of which have I seen yet). But his legacy in film will stand. In a post-Arnie world maybe it doesn’t seem as unlikely as it did as he grew into a late-20th Century icon, but having lived through that time, I still recall it as odd as it was.