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Directed by John McTiernan, Predator is a sci-fi action thriller starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as U.S. Special Forces soldier “Dutch” Schaefer, tasked with a covert operation to recover a kidnapped government official from insurgents holding him in the jungle. Dutch and his small squad of brawny fighters easily defeat the guerrillas, and discover that the operation itself might be something all together different when they find the bodies of three other Special Forces men sent in earlier, hanging upside down from the trees and gutted. It’s not long after when, keeping a female enemy soldier from the camp alive, they come under attack from an unseen force, taking out the team one-by-one with deadly precision. It soon becomes clear that a creature with extraordinary abilities, most likely not of our world, is hunting them for sport. Now it’s a fight to make it out of the jungle alive. The success of this film stems largely from the authenticity of the setting and the very convincing effects and creature design (by Stan Winston), placing this alien invasion genre film outside the box as the the fight is entirely local and has nothing to do with large-scale alien attacks, instead a tale of survival against a singular superior being. Not intended to be anything but action-driven, the film uses it’s muscular cast extremely well, and is surprisingly well-written, considering the genre, with some great dialog between the confused and increasingly traumatized men. For pure monster in the dark thrills, this one is hard to beat.
That Moment: As Dutch’s men steadily succumb to the gruesome tactics of the titular predator, Dutch makes the discovery that it is only hunting the men because they are armed, it leaving the unarmed female to live. She tells of how a creature has been hunting in this jungle for decades, coming only in the hottest years. From the treetops, the predator is also becoming aware of Dutch’s survivor skills, and is finding perhaps his first, best adversary on this planet. A chopper is coming to pick up the remaining team, but Dutch knows they won’t make, so he sends the girl alone, free of guns, and decides to face the beast rather keep running. After a chase over a waterfall leaves Dutch slathered in cool, wet mud, the predator also loses the ability to remain cloaked, though more importantly, can’t see Dutch due to its thermal sensors not being able to find the human’s body heat. Not long after, as Dutch continues to outsmart the beast, the predator finally traps Dutch and pulls him up off the ground, but doesn’t kill him. Instead, he tosses Dutch down and removes his mask, unveiling his alien face. He rids himself of his weapons and challenges Dutch, a foe he considers his equal, to hand-to-hand combat.
Why it Matters: While the moment might seem contrived only so the audience can finally see the predator and the inventive creature creation, there is a bit more significance to the gesture. Up to this point, we have barely seen the monster, usually in glimpses or behind the optical effects of its cloaking device. Like any good monster movie, this limited exposure has kept the alien in a brilliant shroud of mystery, and therefore mounting curiosity about what it is and what it looks like. The pay-off for the viewer is obvious, but plotwise, the unmasking of the creature serves to establish that despite the otherworldly nature of the predator, it holds similar regard for the sport of hunting as his prey. A time-honored trope in many action films is to shed weapons in favor of fists, taking pride in defeating an opponent with no mechanical or otherwise artificial enhancements. Yet notice how the mask is more than ornamental. The Bio-Mask is an essential tool, giving the predator its special vision, including the targeting array connected to the shoulder-mounted laser cannon. It is also a voice translator, but most importantly, it helps the creature breath. The significance of the removal of this mask might be lost on Dutch as he is about to fight for his life, but for the predator, it means much more, as displayed by its aggressive ‘come at me’ stance and eardrum-piercing roar. The predator sees an equal, and for its own honor, to best it by hand is the ultimate prize, even at the sacrifice of its own life. The long thermal scan of Dutch’s skull indicates how prized it thinks it is. It is willing to give up the very tools that not only help it hunt, but may in fact keep it alive, in order to show its dominance. At this level, as it’s already been wounded, bared for battle, the predator keeps its dignity and before the showdown, allows Dutch to see his opponent without the shields of war. This decision not only works narratively as a way to impress upon Dutch the ferocity of his foe, but thematically, as it generates a new fear for the audience, the real monster in the dark.
Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall