Friday, May 10, 2013

Predator: one who preys on gullible filmgoers

This begins a five-part series of weekly reviews analyzing the greatest dual franchise of all time.

“The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”  So let it be with Arnold Schwarzennager, whom history will remember not for the Terminator movies, Kindergarten Cop, or Total Recall, but for Predator, a plodding mess of an action movie with very little action which has gained notoriety primarily for its chance association with a superior science-fiction franchise.

Predator follows a half-dozen military guys, led by Ahnold’s Dutch (no, not the interesting Dutch from ODST), who are tasked with rescuing several hostages in a South-American jungle.  After gunning down scores of rebels and torching an encampment in magnificently over the top Hollywood style, the team finds only a native girl, whom they take captive despite the reservations of Dutch that she’ll be a hindrance and a burden.  As the team proceeds through the jungle, what started as a simple rescue mission quickly evolves into a game of survival as the men are gradually eliminated by an unseen hunter that “uses the trees”, tracks his targets with heat vision, and disguises himself as the surrounding environment.  Whatever’s hunting them isn’t human.  With this in mind, Billy the Indian laconically summarizes their chances: “We’re all gonna die.”  All except the Governator, of course, who’s destined for a protracted final battle against the beast in the movie’s final quarter, but not before he belts out the movie’s most famous line: “Run. Go! Get to the CHOPPA.”

Would that good one-liners made a good movie, because Predator is filled to the brim with catchy, often corny dialogue.  “The C.I.A. got you pushing too many pencils?”  “I ain’t got time to bleed.”  “My men aren’t expendable, and I don’t do this kind of vurk.”  “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”   Etc. etc.  Regrettably, Predator’s story and presentation don’t match up to its one-liners, as the movie feels like a half-hour jungle-hunt that’s elongated to 107 minutes.  For an action movie, Predator is only about 10% action with the other 90% focusing on our intrepid commandos as they amble through the jungle aimlessly, take choppa rides, and investigate the messy remains of the Predator’s former engagements.  What little action we do get is boring because the humans are hopelessly outmatched by the Predator, which gleefully utilizes his wrist-blades and shoulder-mounted plasma sniping cannon to dispatch his prey before they even notice him.  The Predator, by virtue of his active camouflage and other high-tech, alien gadgets, basically gets to cheat, which makes him a rather dull and unlikable bad guy.

Being an action movie, Predator has its share of special effects, but they’re mostly a mixed bag.  The Predator’s camoflauge is a cool non-CG effect and looks fairly believable; the tradeoff is that it hides the villain for most of the movie.  When the Predator finally does remove his mask to intimidate Schwarzennager, the result is almost laughable.  Yes, he is “one ugly mother” (just like the rest of the movie) – primarily because of a cheesy makeup job and not due to great design.  With a little more development time in the art department, the Predator could easily have been a rather awesome alien, like the sangheili/elites of the Halo saga, another alien species with split mandibles which is undoubtedly more frightful than this flick’s monster.  Then again, perhaps the movie’s concept artists were intentionally aiming to create a humorously corny, sci-fi monstrosity, in which case they achieved precisely what they wanted.  Predator aside, the action itself leaves a lot to be desired, as most of it happens off-camera or in quick shots that don’t require any special effects.   For example, the Predator’s first victim gets knifed and dragged off screen in a sequence that lasts no more a second.  Schwarzennager dissects the murder scene, but finds only a tiny pile of red mush, presumably the guy’s guts, in a clearing.  Later on, the Predator snipes another guy in the head, filling the camera lens with red glare and nothing much else.  These are not the marks of a great action film.

Had Arnold Schwarzennager chosen to star in another movie, Predator would not have survived to this day, but thanks to the Governator’s unforgettably bad performance alongside some unforgettably bad special effects work, the Predator can live to fight another Alien in some D-grade spinoff disaster.  If anything, the past and present success of Predator proves the old adage true: If there’s blood, they can sell it.

Bottom line: By the end of this movie, you'll be screaming, "Come on.  Do it!  KILL ME!"

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