Predator archive review: Arnold Schwarzenegger finds his human side

As this action-horror favourite returns to the cinematic jungle, we look back at our original review, which was fascinated by the spectacle of Arnie’s mortal rebirth.

Adam Barker

from the January 1988 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaeffer in John McTiernan’s Predator (1987)

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Major Alan ‘Dutch’ Schaeffer in John McTiernan’s Predator (1987)

Its opening shots establish Predator as a generic mutant, combining elements of outerspace horror and Vietnam-war allegory. The Predator itself, a polymorphous alien created by means of complex special effects, is a borrowing from canonical SF sources, most obviously The Thing.

The introduction of a monster into a conventional jungle-warfare scenario serves to externalise the internalised, psychological conflicts of the recent spate of Vietnam movies – to which Predator is very similar in other ways. It presents a grunt’s-eye-view of the attempt to remain an honourable soldier while being deceived by both the enemy and one’s own superiors. The multiplicitous forms of the Predator are echoed in the slippery machinations of CIA-man Dillon (Carl Weathers), while patrol leader Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) yearns for simpler conflicts – “I don’t do this kind of work”, he proclaims, when he discovers his involvement in an undercover operation.

As the film progresses, it evinces a mounting pessimism about the efficacy of American military action. The unpromising omen of six skinned Green Berets hanging from the trees is followed by a convincing demonstration of the uselessness of the squad’s firepower against the alien. It is only by abandoning his sophisticated weaponry, and by styling himself as a primitive guerrilla-warrior, that Dutch manages to overcome the alien. Predator does not just fuse different generic elements, it also plays on Schwarzenegger’s star image, in particular by reversing his role in The Terminator by casting him as the human in conflict with the alien robot.

Carl Weathers as CIA agent Dillon with Schwarzenegger

Carl Weathers as CIA agent Dillon with Schwarzenegger

In this conflict, a literal monster has been substituted for a metaphorical Other. Unfortunately, special effects have also been substituted for suspense. The early appearance of the Predator makes the final gladiatorial conflict predictable, and the monster’s multiple transformations also exhaust interest in its final appearance, which comes as no real surprise.

Predator’s one claim to fame, finally, is in contributing to the process whereby a Schwarzenegger (or a Stallone) can come to embody the common man – a paradoxical process involving the Ubermensch taking mortal form, Mr. Universe becoming Everyman.

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