As I have mentioned on some of my prior blog posts, I am an unapologetic action movie junkie. Having been born in 1980, I was able to spend a majority of my formative years reveling in the bone crunching, blood splattering, machine gun toting, round house kicking adventures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and Dolph Lundgren. There was a time in my life when I turned my back on these action icons—college to be precise—which seems to be when a majority of film buffs go through the “Filmsnobicus Hipsterata” stage in their development, only to ultimately reach the final, all-important stage of “Celluloid Sapien”—that magical time when a cineaste embraces all genres in an effort to uncover hidden gems, and helps to foster the belief system that films of varying quality and type can survive within their respective audiences with the goal of sharing cinema they are passionate about to crowds that remain unaware of their existence. I am proud to say that I made it through the film evolution chart shown in the hyperlink above with little fuss. I pride myself in being able to talk (and, hopefully, write) intelligently on all things film, genre—overall quality of the movie in question be damned. To help celebrate my love for the action genre, I wanted to start a semi-regular column for the blog; in my mind, Profiles in Manliness has slowly but surely been going through the formation process for a while now. For starters, I have a list of around 10 films that I would like to cover in this ongoing series of posts, but where better to begin than, in my humble opinion, the manliest film ever put on celluloid—a film that is soaked in testosterone, blood, and gunshot residue, John McTiernan’s Predator.
As McTiernan’s movie opens, an alien spacecraft enters Earth’s atmosphere and lands somewhere in Central America. The film then flashes forward and the audience meets Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer (Schwarzenegger), an all-around military badass and leader of an elite squad of soldiers who are tasked with hitching a ride on a low-flying whirlybird into Guatemala in an effort to complete an operation focusing on the rescue of a presidential cabinet minister who was unlucky enough to be abducted by guerrilla forces. Tagging along to help Dutch and his team is Dillon (Carl Weathers), another former head-cracking tough guy that now “pushes pencils” for the CIA when not in the field acting as a liaison for his organization. The team lands in some of the thickest bush they have ever seen and soon come across the downed helicopter and skinned bodies of an Army Special Forces unit—a group not reported to have ever been in the area. They quickly move on, find the rebel camp, and destroy it and its occupants in a hail of bullets, grenades, and machetes. They leave only one survivor—a woman named Anna—who they take prisoner. Soon, they find out that they aren’t alone in the jungle; in fact, they are being tracked and hunted by the alien that landed at the beginning of the film. A supreme killing machine, he picks them off one at a time, using advanced weaponry and thermal technology that makes camouflage efforts futile and next to impossible. Dutch’s team must try to make it to the extraction point in time; there, they will be able to make their final stand against this predator with an inclination for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
Produced by Joel Silver—also serving the same function on the prior Schwarzenegger classic and future Manliness entry, Commando—Predator was a film tailor made for a man that made his bones (and eventually his fortune) by almost single handedly driving action pictures to the stunning heights they would reach in the 1980s. In addition to the two aforementioned Schwarzenegger projects, Silver would also produce The Lethal Weapon and The Matrix films, partner successfully with Walter Hill in creating the cult classic The Warriors and the box-office smash 48 Hours, and also lay the ground work for the Die Hard series by working on the first two entries. Silver had the foresight to see the talent of McTiernan, as Predator would be the director’s first full-length movie, an impressive debut when you take into account how self-assured and lean the film is. The wet-behind-the-ears director and legendary producer knew what formula it would take to make the film the financial success that it became—nonstop action coupled with a healthy dose of tension, a stunning creature design, and cutting-edge special effects.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to the cast of Predator; without them, this movie certainly wouldn’t have been the inaugural post for this column. As Dutch, Schwarzenegger gives one of his signature performances, and seeing the former Mr. Universe and future “Governator” of California take on a dreadlocked alien is a treat for any action aficionado. In his prime, no one could come close to the swagger Arnold would brandish in his best efforts. It also didn’t hurt that the actor could deliver a one-liner like nobody else in the history of Hollywood—his skillful timing was further helped by a thick, Austrian accent—and Predator gives him the chance to display this skill repeatedly. To help illustrate his savvy in this arena, here are some of the choice offerings, lamentably in text form:
After Dutch has nailed a guy to the wall with his knife:
After the Predator pulls off his mask:
“You’re one … *ugly* motherfucker!”
After knocking a door down:
While lying on the ground after being hit by Predator shoulder cannon, he motions to Anna:
“Run! Get to the chopper!”
In addition to Carl Weathers (Rocky), the rest of the supporting cast are equally adept at spitting one liners and mowing down vast amounts of Guatemalan jungle with their heavy artillery. The multicultural cast includes an abundance of familiar ’80s action movie regulars including former pro-wrestler Jesse Venture (The Running Man), Bill Duke (Commando), Sonny Landham (Action Jackson), Sven-Ole Thorsen (a close friend of Schwarzenegger, appearing in almost all of his ’80s efforts), and the hot-shot screenwriter of that particular decade, Shane Black (The Last Boy Scout). In particular, Jesse Venture and Bill Duke standout, taking Mac and Blain’s homoerotic relationship to epic heights of unintentional hilarity. Delivering a considerable amount of enduring one-liners himself, Venture would also prove to have the gift of timing when it came to action movie dialogue, rivaling Schwarzenegger for supremacy in the medium with the following nuggets:
“I ain’t got time to bleed.”
“I hear ya. This shit’s somethin’. Makes Cambodia look like Kansas.”
“Bunch of slack-jawed faggots around here! This stuff will make you a god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus, just like me.”
The cast forged their own brand of comradery through competition as they would each try and get up earlier than the rest to work out in an effort to look the most ripped in front of the cameras. Competitions akin to feats of strength accompanied with a healthy dose of shit talk broke out on an almost daily basis. Of course, this was to be expected. When your film’s cast is filled with former body builders, porno stars, pro-wrestlers, and football players they are bound to become obsessed with finding out who truly is the cock of the walk. Despite the film’s overwhelmingly masculine cast, it never fully achieved the heights of manliness it could have; JCVD himself was originally cast as the Predator, but found the suit too hot and unwieldy for him to properly move, he vacated the role, allowing the 7’2” Kevin Peter Hall to vividly bring the creature to life.
Predator would go on to become another in a long string of hits for Silver, establish McTiernan as a elite action director, and further cement Arnold’s legacy as the biggest action star of the ’80s (one could foster a decent argument for Stallone, but the box-office results and length of Schwarzenegger’s career seem to trump Sly’s). It became a weekend-movie fixture on USA, TBS, and premium movie channels—a fact that remains true to this day—and spawned a less successful sequel starring Danny Glover and Gary Busy that took the action out of the jungle and into the vast urban landscape of LA. I would be willing to place a bet that somewhere, on every college campus, there is a dorm room or an apartment that has 3-7 guys packed in, with the lights turned down, the volume turned up, swilling cheap beer while quoting the movie line by memorable line. And as for any of you that disagree? I say in my best Arnold voice:“COME GET ME, I’M HERE!”