Ah, the 1980s. A glorious decade for Hollywood, if there ever was one. Be it the eternal Christmas classic Die Hard, or The Empire Strikes Back, or Sci-fi in Blade Runner Back to the Future, there was something for everyone. One such among the greats was Predator, a film that was more of a testosterone-fueled bloody package.
Predator started off uneasy enough, with an obviously alien ship dropping off a pod, and soon after a crew led by "Dutch" being sent in to rescue a 'cabinet minister' in a jungle in Central America.
Of course, nothing ever goes well in a military film, and once you factor in a military crew, skinned and hanged in the forest, and a 7-feet-tall alien hunter with cloaking tech and some of the most advanced acrobatic skills ever employed in Hollywood history, the outcome became obvious: A bloodbath would follow, and it did in the most spectacular fashion, as was tradition in the 80s. Such fun.
One after another, bodies started to fall. First, Hawkins died while trying to catch Anna, a girl Dutch's crew got hold of during their actual mission. Then Blain fell, leaving behind an impressive swath of destruction, and on and on till there was only one - or rather, two. It was a hostile film, set in an environment the characters were clearly uncomfortable with (and not for the lack of skinned bodies hanging around), and it set my teeth on edge with how morbid it was.
The alien creature - the Predator, was, in my opinion, Stan Winston's greatest work - at least till Jurassic Park came along. He created cinema's most memorable practical effects, ranging from the positively terrifying T-800 from The Terminator or the army of utterly revolting Xenomorphs in Aliens (I hold Ridley Scott's first film above Aliens simply because it's a more terrifying film), but nothing so far managed to hold a candle to the Predator. The creature design was absolutely hideous, with its odd mandibles, the clawed fingers and the bone-chilling growls and its imposing presence - courtesy of Kevin Peter Hall, a mountain of a man who made Arnold look tiny.
Being a film fueled by big personalities, both figuratively and literally (just look at Arnie's biceps), Predator had it all: Action, comedy, horror, an obvious survival angle, and surprisingly, military espionage. Perhaps its greatest strength was how it made the clashing of the egos so very obvious, yet managed to remain springy and carried a surprisingly breezy pace that never allowed the realisation of how much time had passed till the credits started to roll.
The last, and most important thing to note about the film itself is the music. Alan Silvestri, the man who scored Back to the Future and The Delta Force, crafted an impeccable, horn and string-heavy theme for the soundtrack, complementing the tense atmosphere of the film and the ever-rising tension.
What is surprising, however, is how unusual the production of the film was. You wouldn't think a film so well-made would have had any real issues with production at all, but that does not seem to be the case.
For starters, the filming location, Mexico, provided its own fair set of issues: Most of the crew (barring the director, smart man) got hit with a case of traveller's diarrhoea thanks to water purification issues at the hotel they were staying. Apart from that, Arnold had to stop filming midway because he was getting married.
The actors also used to wake up early in the morning to work out before going out to film their scenes for the day. Especially Carl Weathers, who worked out after his coworkers were done.
And if that wasn't enough, the actors had to deal with actual uneven jungle terrain. Unlike today, where most of the scenes could be convincingly recreated in sets and filled with CGI, Predator took the realistic approach and went into actual jungles to film its scenes. This, of course, came with its own dangers: Waters filled with mud and leeches, inconsistent temperatures and whatnot. The crew reportedly had heat lamps on all the time to keep themselves warm during shoots.
And while Predator is considered a classic today, it wasn't the case during its release. Metacritic reports a score of 45 from reviews from the critics who reviewed it back in 1987, though clearly, time has been kind to it. Rightly so, for while the plot is not much to speak for, the film earns its praise from the excellent stunt work, realistic action and shameless embracement of 'masculinity'.
It isn't everyday that you get a star cast featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Kevin Peter Hall (as the Predator), Sonny Landham (a descendant of the native Americans) and Shane Black (the director of The Predator), some damn fine writing by Jim and John Thomas, music by and directing by John McTiernan in a Hollywood film. Such a shame The Predator failed to live up to the standards it set.