REVIEW: Predator

 Times can be tough when the emotions are a plague on the soul.  When thoughts in your head beat you down and tell you that you aren't worth anything, some kind of magical elixir may be needed.  Sometimes, it means having a casserole topped with melted cheese.  Other times, it means watching a 'comfort food' movie, something that can provide escapism and tend to the hurt.

Knowing that I needed such a film, I asked Christopher Spicer what he would recommend.  His response was Predator, not to be confused with The Predator or Predators.  This is the 1987 film, directed by John McTiernan and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It follows a special forces team that has been sent into an unidentified Central American country to rescue VIPs who have been taken hostage by guerrilla forces.

Schwarzenegger plays Dutch, leading the team to hunt down the bad guys.  Some notable names in his group of soldiers are Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and Shane Black.  They find the dastardly guerrillas and go into full on 80s action movie mode.  Hand grenades explode in massive fireballs, sending soldier flying through the air.  People spastically fire their guns from the hip, mowing down droves of baddies.  A few one liners are thrown around by Arnold.  Enemy soldiers do stupid things like trying to sneak up on Arnold instead of just shooting him in the back with the gun in their hands.

This is cheesy 80s action at its finest.  There are a number of shots McTiernan does with the intent of looking cool, even though they may not make practical sense.  Is this at all realistic?  Heck no, but it is about a dangerous alien that hunts humans for sport.  This is about munching on the popcorn and watching action sequences.  If I had a genre of film that was my cinematic equivalent of a religion, 80s action is it, and Predator is one of its ministers.

There are a number of elements that make this movie work.  You have the charisma of Arnold and that of the excellent supporting cast.  You have a story of talented soldiers being hunted in the jungle by a mysterious killing machine.  And, perhaps most importantly, you have an amazing conceptualization of the predatory alien.

The original design of the alien wasn't what McTiernan had wanted.  Special effects legend Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) was reportedly interested in joining the team, but the pick ended up being Stan Winston.  The works of Winston include an incredible line-up of films, such as The Thing, The Terminator, and Aliens.  The design he birthed is most likely what created such a fascination with the predator, shooting it into sequels, comic books, and video games.

An element of The Predator that shows up in other McTiernan films like Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October is an incredible understanding of pacing.  The movie flows through its story, and never doddles on anything that isn't relevant to the story.  The film briskly moves between moments, and the run time disappears.  Lean filmmaking is a true art form, and McTiernan is one of the best at it.

Watching Predator, I knew that there would be an element of nostalgia that would affect how I viewed it.  Each time I watch a film, I try to do so with fresh eyes and judge it based on what I see and not how I remembered it as a child.  Sometimes, however, that is impossible to do.  Recently on The Movie Breakdown, Christopher and I reviewed Ghostbusters, and there was no way possible that I was mentally able to detach it from personal memory.  The same is with movies like Predator, or The Terminator.  They have had such an effect on my viewing history and personal tastes that I can't separate from the memories.

Returning to Predator was a healing experience for me.  I was in a zone where I had no concept of self worth and was viewing myself as inept and unable to do anything.  Spending just over an hour and a half with my old friend from 1987 was the escapism and joy I needed.  

Comfort food movies can be incredible therapy.  Amazingly, McTiernan has directed three of these movies that take me to a special place.  Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October are some of my cinematic counsellors, and thankfully they aren't as expensive as sitting on a couch for an hour with a trained therapist.  I also haven't heard of any mental health professionals that would allow you to eat popcorn during your session.

Rating - 3.5 out of 4 stars