REDUX REVIEW: Predator (1987, John McTiernan)

For this film-by-film look at the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ve been watching his movies in a random order and jotting down a few thoughts. The Schwarzenegger Says quotations are taken from Total Recall (2012), Arnie’s brilliantly bonkers autobiography.


Watched: 28 September 2019
Format: A second-hand DVD found by my friend who works in the St Christopher’s Hospice charity shop in Sydenham, south-east London.
Seen before? Yes, when it was first released on VHS and a few times since.

Note: I have already reviewed Predator on this website. I wrote about it in 2016 when I considered all the Alien and Predator movies as if they were part of the same series. You can check out my original Predator blog here, while this piece will focus on the film’s star.

Review: Before he was an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder. A childhood liking for sports led to a teenage fascination with physical training, and while completing his Austrian national service in 1965 he actually went AWOL in order to attend a bodybuilding competition. (He subsequently served a short spell in the cells.) Titles such as Mr Universe and Mr Olympia followed, the latter seven times between 1970 and 1980. Schwarzenegger’s global fame began to grow.

At the 1975 Mr Olympia championships in South Africa, in fact, Arnie’s experiences were documented by a film crew and the resulting feature, 1977’s Pumping Iron, went a huge way in popularising both the sport and its most notable competitor. (It also boosted the career of Schwarzenegger’s rival Lou Ferrigno, who was soon cast as the title character in the TV show The Incredible Hulk.) Having appeared in some small films and a major Robert Altman movie, Schwarzenegger now shifted focus to an acting career…

He’s far from the only Hollywood performer to have transferred into the profession from elsewhere, and indeed there’s been a constant stream of action stars who were known in other fields first: swimmer Johnny Weissmuller and diver Jason Statham, footballer Vinnie Jones and gridiron player Fred Williamson, fighters Steven Seagal, Bruce Lee, Gina Carano, Hulk Hogan, Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme, drummer Luke Goss… The 1987 jungle-mission movie Predator actually has a trio of them. Supporting Schwarzenegger in the cast are ex-NFL player Carl Weathers and pro-wrestler Jesse Ventura.

But there’s something different about Arnie, something that distinguishes him from all the others. It’s not his acting, which even by the time of Predator (his 12th movie) was still flat and unconvincing. (Carl Weathers, conversely, makes you believe in his character totally.) No, it’s that indefinable X factor: star power. In Predator, for example, Schwarzenegger’s performance is in no danger of being confused with Robert De Niro. The appeal and success of Major Dutch Schaefer as a character is not in the delivery of the dialogue or an ability to convey hidden meaning. It’s in the sheer charisma, the panache; the way Schwarzenegger lights up a cigar or arm-wrestles with a colleague or smirks in the face of adversity. It’s physical, visceral, primal, even a bit sexual. (Predator is loaded with homoerotic visuals.) By 1987, with hits such as Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator behind him, Schwarzenegger was a huge draw who commanded a salary of $3 million. People liked him and there was patently something special going on in these films. Something that still defies reasoned analysis. Simply put, they were *cool*. So was their star.

And while Predator has its flaws – see my earlier review for a more detailed discussion – it’s still a well-staged and exciting action movie. Having enjoyed seeing it again, in fact, I think that my 2016 review was a touch harsh in scoring it seven out of 10. Let’s boost that up by one here.

Schwarzenegger Says: ‘Predator was more of an ordeal than a pleasure to make. There were all the hardships you’d expect in a jungle: leeches, sucking mud, poisonous snakes, and stifling humidity and heat… [Director John] McTiernan turned out to have been a great choice, and you could see from Die Hard the next year that his success with Predator was no fluke.’

Eight ugly motherfuckers out of 10

Next: The 6th Day

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