Film Review: Predator

So I finally got around to watching Predator.  Some aspects of this film have aged quite well (it was released almost 30 years ago!), while others have become too troped to be believed.  While I’m glad I took the time to see it and don’t feel my evening was wasted, it’s not a film I’m ever going to want to watch again.

On the off-chance that, like the me of yesterday, you have not watched Predator and you have the opportunity to do so, here are some aspects of the film that you might want to consider when making the decision to watch or not to watch:

Score/Soundtrack

What music cue would YOU have used to auditorily illustrate an image like this one?
What music cue would YOU have used to aurally illustrate an image like this one?

With one minor exception, I thought the creator of Predator’s score did a great job.  (The minor exception was the stern, tense music used for the chopper drop in and out, bookending the main character’s time in the unnamed Central American jungle.  That music came across to me as ham-handed and inappropriate.)  The eerie noise used to signal the Predator’s stalking presence was perfect.  The use of quiet moments to ratchet up the tension level was also well-done, not over-used to the point of saturation and loss of the effect.  A lot of movies from the 1980s are heavy on synthesizers, but the music of Predator avoids that temptation and delivers real suspense.  Good show!

Plausibility

With jaws like these, who needs to eat?
With jaws like these, who needs to eat?

Where Predator fell flat for me was plausibility.  With the level of technology available to the nasty dude, why would he go through all the trouble of crossing interstellar space to hunt prey that possesses the relative threat of a rabbit? (If you try to point out to me that Schwarzenegger wins, I will reply that he only wins through plot magic – the predator’s heat vision can see through clothes earlier in the film, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be able to see through a thin coating of mud.)  And it seemed to me that without his technology, the Predator wouldn’t really be that great at predating.  He seemed to have the level of insight present for a drunken frat-boy playing paint ball.  I know that a whole Predator mythos has developed, in which the Predators’ warrior culture and honor is a known and discussed thing; but I would prefer to hold on to my pet theory that the Predator killed in this story was a sloppy and lazy example of his species who didn’t have much talent for hunting but wanted to go on a man’s vacation so he thought he would compensate with some heavy-duty technology.  You know, like people who go deer-hunting with automatic weapons, instead of learning something more old-school and challenging, like bow-hunting?  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely wouldn’t want to get on the Predator’s bad side, like by going within 500 miles of him – but the way that he got taken out points to a serious lack of knowledge about hunting and trapping.  I couldn’t believe that he actually responded to Schwarzenegger’s call to arms.  It was like the script writer couldn’t decide whether the Predator had superior intelligence and culture (enough to build an interstellar space ship), or the wits and drives of a gorilla.

Portrayals of Gender

I felt kind of like the woman in this shot - "Wait, you guys are serious about this, aren't you?"
I felt kind of like the woman in this shot – “Wait, you guys are serious about this, aren’t you?”

No review of Predator would be complete, at least not from me, without some discussion of the macho grandstanding.  From the junior high antics of the chopper ride in (complete with spitting on a shoe as a puerile challenge to authority) to pointless puns that are only “funny” at knifepoint and jokes about female genitalia, I just couldn’t believe that this was how these men would behave when no one was looking.  It was so clearly performance, and maybe the reason its value was lost on me was because it’s the sort of performance a (cisgender, heterosexual, stereotypically masculine) man would put on for other (cisgender, heterosexual, stereotypically masculine) men. The obvious parallel is to some of the extremes (cisgender, heterosexual, stereotypically feminine) women who get really into makeup and fashion will push themselves.  I’ve heard it said time and again, sometimes as an explanation and sometimes as a complaint: “They’re doing it for other women.”  I sigh and shake my head at that sort of behavior, no matter who’s exhibiting it.  Nobody should live their entire life playing out a single role.  We are all whole people with multifaceted, flexible personalities.  Getting locked into the performance of “A Real Man Does THIS” is like calcifying a waterfall – its motion is part of its beauty.

So whom would I recommend Predator to?  Well I suppose there’s a whole up and coming generation of action/sci-fi fans who haven’t had any reason to get in touch with the roots of this particular blend of genre.  They probably haven’t seen the first Terminator movie, either.  Sigh.  The same kids who got the latest version of Dungeons and Dragons retooled to match their World of Warcraft expectations.  Predator is probably still relevant enough to reach them in some respects; the special effects don’t look too hokey, and the explosions are grand enough to still have the impact of spectacle.  But I suspect that in another couple of decades film conventions – and hopefully gender roles – will have evolved enough that Predator will be gently dismissed with a patronizing smile.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0.

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