Ain't Got Time To Bleed: Predator at 30
In the mid-1980s, there was worry that some existent franchises were becoming stale. So much so, that someone joked that the only person Rocky Balboa had yet to fight, was E.T. Apparently Shane Black overheard this quip, and got to writing the script for what would become Predator. An action classic that celebrates its 30th anniversary this week.
Coming off of the one-two punch of Commando and Raw Deal, Arnold Schwarzenegger next signed onto Predator, a John McTiernan film written by Shane Black, released in 1987. As if that lineup weren’t enough of a pantheon of 80’s action gods, the cast was rounded out by Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura (cast on personal recommendation of Schwarzenegger himself), and for two days of filming, Jean-Claude Van Damme as the Predator itself. Even screenwriter Shane Black is in the cast, rounding out the black ops squad that gets picked off one by one in the jungle of South America.
Van Damme walked off set after two days because he found out the Predator would be a special effect for the majority of the film’s runtime. When McTiernan recast the part from 5’9” Van Damme to 7’2” Kevin Peter Hall, it necessitated a complete redesign of the Predator to suit the added height and presence. To the film’s benefit, McTiernan turned to makeup effects legend Stan Winston for the redesign.
Winston’s redesign took what Schwarzenegger described as a “lizard with the head of a duck” and morphed it into what looks vaguely like a pissed off crab on the neck of a bodybuilder. McTiernan and his crew were masterful enough in building up the threat of the creature throughout the film that the off-putting design of its head is shocking and revolting.
Predator as a film is a masterwork in economic storytelling with high concepts: the film no sooner introduces Dutch (Schwarzenegger), Dillon (Weathers, in a slimy performance) Blain (Ventura who ain’t got time to bleed), Billy, Mac, Poncho and Hawkins (heeeey, Shane Black!) before they’re shuffled off to the jungle on their off-the-books mission. Within the first ten minutes we have a major action set piece establishing the crew’s individual skills at creative murder. The expectations of the opening scene are upended by Dillon’s lie being outed, and a tense, uneasy peace is brokered to get everyone moving.
And then what they think is the jungle, begins attacking the squad. Each of them fights back, in confusion and fear. But their skills never leave them amidst their paranoia - the squad realizes they can harm the creature, stating matter-of-factly, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Their macho power renewed, Dutch and the gang formulate plans to counter the hunter on their heels. Finally, through eschewing the technology the Predator relies on to make his hunt winnable, Dutch outmaneuvers his alien foe.
The film did very well in the summer of 1987, making $98 million and cementing both Schwarzenegger’s action bona fides and turning the Predator itself into an icon. The Predator’s status as the ultimate hunter pursuing the Most Dangerous Game almost inevitably led to “who would win” arguments among geeky fans. These arguments came to their obvious, Ninja vs. Pirate scenario, posing the question for Xenomorph vs Predator.
Clamor from fandom over seeing this modern classic “who would win” come to pass resulted in an entire franchise to itself: comics, novels, action figures, several video games (if you tell me you can control the xeno handily enough to do well in the game, you’re lying), and a series of increasingly misguided films. While we’ve gotten a revisit to the xeno in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, the Predator has only a single direct sequel starring Danny Glover, Predator 2, and a movie from Robert Rodriguez where mentioning he produced it is about the nicest thing I can say about it.
The Predator got the short end of the stick out of this deal. 30 years on, it’s about time we get a reconsideration from someone with a handle on what makes the character work. And with Shane Black's upcoming The Predator, it looks like we just might get it.