Thursday, May 23, 2013

Film Review: Predator (1987)

It's really sad, actually, that I hadn't seen this film until just the other day. I pretty much knew everything about Yautja (that's the Predator species) from obsessing over them and reading the wikis endlessly after being introduced to both the Predator and Alien franchises through the first Alien vs. Predator film, which I loved every second of despite never watching any of the prior films (I did, however, own an Alien toy as a child). I only ever got around to watching Predator the other night, and intend on watching Predator 2 and Predators later this week before moving my way into the Alien franchise, working to AvP and Prometheus.

To be honest, the first few minutes of the movie dropped my expectations ridiculously low. Unfortunately, I only have the film in a full screen format, and that didn't help one bit. The set up was bad, the acting was... well, not great. The first few scenes play out like a top of the line B-Movie, but that's still a B-Movie. A B+Movie, I guess. Anyways, seeing all these beefcakes march out with their penis-pistols didn't do very much for my anticipation, and I was so afraid that I was going to be completely disappointed in this film.

In some aspects, it is a disappointing movie. Generally, though, it is not. Right away, though, the sheer stupidity of our bunch of protagonists--who are supposedly the greatest military mercenary unit in the world--was astounding. They're tasked with rescuing hostages from a delicate situation, but upon finding the enemy camp, they proceed to blow the living shit out of everybody with bazookas and grenades. They literally find the people they are supposed to rescue and drop bombs in front of them. "Rescue" does not mean "kill". I had huge issues with this simply because of the lack of any logic whatsoever.

The rest of the film, though, is pretty good. We're treated to a romp through the jungle as the Predator studies, tracks, and slaughters the world's finest in an environment completely alien to itself. I don't know if I watched this right, but I had more fun exploring the Predator as a creature and wondering how it viewed us, and what it was thinking. It's made very clear that he has more of an interest than just in killing, as the Predator appears to be studying us as a species, and observing our culture and language. Ultimately we know that this knowledge will be used to figure out the most suitable strategy for disemboweling us, but that's okay, because watching this creature learn about its adversary is a very rewarding experience.

I also have to commend this film as being the only one I've ever seen do Monster-Vision right. Granted, this movie's Monster-Vision is actually thermal vision, but I'm okay with that. Later in the film the Jungle Hunter removes his helmet and we get to see how it actually views the world, and this wasn't nearly as impressive as the thermal vision. I found these segments to be simply unenjoyable to watch because it was difficult to see anything at all. In retrospect and after reading about the way a Predator sees in the high infrared spectrum I can understand and respect, from a creative perspective, what was going on, but as a viewer I didn't like it so much. It would have made more sense to me for a creature as advanced as the Predators and as focused on hunting without a naturally (at least, without a demonstrated) powerful sense of hearing or smell, it just felt like the Predators should have had a wider range of vision. It's obvious the species puts a heavy emphasis on sight, and I feel like that should have been their strongest natural asset, so Predator-Vision should have been more colorful and less murky, in my opinion.

Although, something I thought of just now which I'm sure the creators haven't ever thought of but I think is interesting: perhaps the Predators did not naturally evolve as hunters like humans did. I guess this kind of goes against their other physical assets, claws and mandibles and such (although perhaps this served other purposes, such as digging and draining the juice from thick-shelled fruits?), but maybe the Predators only became hunters once their technology advanced enough to enhance the senses which they were lacking. I think that would make an interesting back story, that of a race which was not naturally all that powerful to have developed power which drives it to constantly test its limits and assert that it has, in fact, become an extremely dangerous being merely through determination. Just something interesting that popped into my head. Maybe I'll expand on that in a later post.

What did bother me about the portrayal of the Jungle Hunter was the inconsistency of his honor. Billy chooses to battle the creature alone with only a knife in what is an honorable duel, but it is implied that the creature merely shot him down the way it shot down everybody else. This doesn't work with what we know about the Predators as a species, but it works even less because later in the film the creature shows honor when battling Schwarzenegger's character (Dutch) by disarming itself, removing its armor and helmet, and going all down to its natural strength and abilities. What I know of the Predators, and what was implied in several other moments of this film, is that the Jungle Hunter would have accepted Billy's invitation to duel, and would have combated him without armor, without helmet, and with only a melee weapon of comparable use to Billy's machete. It's possible that all of this happened off-screen, but that's not what's implied.

Additionally, at the end of the film, after the Predator is defeated it does not admit to its foe that it has lost in an honorable fashion, but throws a tremendous fit and decides that it's going to blow everyone up. I know the Predators have the whole honor-suicide thing, but you'd think that in situations where they are obviously invading another planet for their hunt and hunting that planet's native species (as opposed to when hunting the Xenomorphs, which the Predators have put into the planet purely for sport and must contain as to prevent them from destroying the rest of the ecosystem), they'd instead utilize something more like seppuku or maybe simply a lethal injection.

Not only is the Predator a sore loser, though, but it cements the fact that it could potentially be a rogue and psychotic member of its race by cackling like a generic villainous mastermind as if to say: "Sorry, fucker, but I never lose!" Not only can the Jungle Hunter not accept the fact that it was bested in the hunt, not only did it not give Dutch a warning about what was going to happen during its honorable suicide, but it took great pleasure in knowing (well, believing) that it would turn a loss into a stalemate. I call bullshit on this guy, especially since the Predator culture is shown to be very tribal and honor-based. They either need to come back in a future film to explain that Jungle Hunter was an escaped psychiatric patient (or a banished one?) and that actually sane Yautja admit defeat and finish themselves quietly. With the exception of perhaps a large-scale conflict with another race or tribe, because all's fair in war.

Perhaps not a fair criticism, but while I'm on the topic of the Predator, the invisibility technique is simply awful. I mean, I know it's an old movie and all, but I'm not really inclined to take it easy on the film because of that. The invisibility is poor, the energy blasts are pretty poor, and the athletic stunts remind me of old Star Trek episodes. The costume is also not the best, but it's not anything too bad outside of one scene (arguably one of the best scenes) where it's clear that the fingers are part of a suit and that the actor had a difficult time using them.

That scene is a really interesting scene where we see that Jungle Hunter has been wounded. He's slinked off to some distant tree where he opens his wrist compartment and... there's a medical kit inside! He disinfects the wound and sews himself up, screaming in pain throughout the entire process. I don't know why I liked this scene so much, but I did, and I think maybe it's just because it lets us further study the Predator as both an individual and a species, and that's just something that gets my pseudo-intellectual rocks off? Who knows. I liked this scene.

The non-Predator characters are pretty much completely unlikeable. They're all generic beefcakes who shout things like "Faggot" and talk about getting "Pussy" all-too-frequently. Naturally the only two likable human males are the two who don't have much dialogue. You've got Dutch, the leader, who manages to be all-business with a sense of humor, which is a difficult balance to get. There's also Billy, the Native American tracker who, while fitting a stereotype, is really cool and probably my favorite character. Billy's tracking prowess is immense, probably bordering on superhuman.

There's also Anna, introduced because the creative team realized a movie full of cocks doesn't appeal to the adolescent male demographic. Anna plays a larger role in the film than most of the other characters, but she isn't particularly important and her inclusion is completely see through. It was nice to see her, but that's the only purpose she served, granted she did provide some reason to show off how Predators don't attack the unarmed. She leaves once her usefulness has run up so we can quickly get back to the strong men blowing things up.

As far as the plot goes, well, it's kind of basic. The strongest men in the world are lied to by the government (naturally), sent on what they believe is a rescue mission but is really a mission to steal documents, the significance of which are never revealed, only to end up on the wrong end of Jungle Hunter's triscope. There's actually a lot more to it than that, but that's really all that matters. There is a certain attention to Dutch after the other characters are slaughtered and he's tasked with taking out the Predator solo which adds an unusual layer of depth to such a banal plot, and of course the bits where we get to analyze the Predator creature, which helps to keep the viewer engaged and elevates this particular movie above the majority of similar sludge.

All in all, I came away really liking this movie. It isn't a great movie by any standards, but it is a good movie. Maybe I just like movies. Regardless, it's not a bad movie, and I'm going to give it a seven out of ten, though there were times for much of this review that I had wanted to give it an eight. Seven is good though, as it does have its fair share of flaws and, well, I hate inconsistent internal logic.

Hopefully you'll all get to see this review.

We all know how perfectionist the Predators are...

...And...

...

...Do you hear ticking?

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