Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Wow. Predator turns 27 in June. To celebrate Big Ross will be taking a look back at Schwarzenegger’s best action film (and all that followed) with a series of articles all month long. This week Big Ross takes a look at the titular monster, and how it almost didn’t come to be.
The Demon who Makes Trophies of Man
Predator is, essentially, a monster movie. To quote John & Jim Thomas, the guys who came up with the idea and wrote the screenplay,
“We had an idea about doing a story about a brotherhood of hunters who came from another planet to hunt all kinds of things, but we realized very quickly that wouldn’t work very well, so we picked one hunter, who was going to hunt the most dangerous species, which had to be man, and the most dangerous man was a combat soldier.”
I pulled this quote from a “making of” featurette included on, I believe, the DVD for the film. It’s an incredibly original idea. Remember, Predator came out in 1987. Up until that point, we had seen aliens intent on conquering Earth (The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), The War of the Worlds (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 & 1978)), benevolent aliens (Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982), Cocoon (1985), and monstrous aliens of the mindless killing variety (The Blob (1958), Alien (1979), The Thing (1982) (whether or not the alien in The Thing is mindless is a discussion for another time)). But we had never seen an alien quite like the Predator, an intelligent species with advanced technology that views humanity not as an enemy to be conquered, nor as an ally to be made peace with, but as prey. The Predator doesn’t kill us thoughtlessly, nor does it kill us to ensure its own survival, i.e. for food. It hunts and kills us for sport, for fun. It kills us because it can, it kills us with intent, and because it enjoys the thrill of that act. There’s something terrifying in that fact in and of itself. It’s one thing to encounter an alien species so far advanced of us that they’re god-like. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey, those god-like aliens might just take an interest in our pitiful existence and choose to elevate us. The Predator views humans as a big game hunter might view a lion or a bear. There may be respect there, but that respect extends only insofar as we can be dangerous.
So Predator is a monster movie, of a rather particular type. And like The Blob, The Thing, or Alien, it lives or dies on the design and realization of its monster. One of the things I found so interesting in watching that “making of” featurette (you can watch it on YouTube HERE) is that the final, awesome design in the film was not the original concept. The company hired to design and build the Predator costume was still working on it when filming started, and when they finally delivered their product, no one was happy about it, especially Jean Claude Van Damme, who was hired (in one of his first “roles”) to play the Predator. Any hopes he had of showcasing his martial arts in fight scenes with Schwarzenegger were dashed when he realized he could barely move, much less see in the suit. I mean, Jeezus just look at this thing:
The late, great Stan Winston and his team were brought in to completely redesign the Predator, which he did, to great success. Additionally, Kevin Peter Hall was brought in to replace Van Damme in the suit, and Hall deserves as much credit as Winston for bringing the Predator to life. The Predator deserves its place near the top of a list of the best movie monsters in film history. And again, Hall was a brilliant bit of casting, brought in by Winston based on his extensive suit work as the sasquatch with a heart of gold in Harry & the Hendersons, as the film largely fails or succeeds on how much you believe the likes of Schwarzenegger, Ventura, and the rest of these muscle-bound behemoths actually fear the Predator. I highly doubt that Van Damme, even with all of his martial arts at his disposal in the most agile and realistic looking suit, wouldn’t have been able to pull that off. Of course, Predator also works so well because it has a little of that Jaws magic, for much the same reason.
If you’re not aware, Spielberg intended to show much more of the killer shark in Jaws than what made it into the final cut of the movie. But Bruce (the name those on set gave the animatronic shark) kept malfunctioning, so they couldn’t use it nearly as much as Spielberg wanted. But that ultimately worked in his favor, because not showing the shark for most of the movie made it even more scary, as audiences were faced with the unknown/their own imaginations, which can be ever so much more terrifying.
Predator is not so different. I think one of the reasons the Predator is shown so little through much of the movie is because of the simple fact that they didn’t have a costume on location for much of filming. Hell, I’m amazed Predator was completed at all. Production went over budget, the footage they did have with the original suit looked atrocious, and the film went on hiatus until they were able to secure more funding (and get Stan Winston’s team to design a new Predator) to finish the film. Somehow it all came together and not only worked, but worked beautifully. When it is finally revealed Winston’s design and Hall’s performance are a one-two combo of awesomeness, but not showing the Predator adds to the mystery and tension, especially on a first viewing. What exactly is out there? What does it look like? What does it want? Why is it doing this? Can it be stopped? It bleeds, and if it bleeds, than it can be killed.
Come back next Monday when Big Ross examines the climactic final battle, and why it makes this one of Schwarzenegger’s best films!