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celluloid relapse: predator (1987), the soap opera

‘If it bleeds, then we can kill it’

It is inevitably very awkward for an expensive, Hollywood film to resemble a soap opera. As much as inappropriately long close ups, predictable plot lines and hideous acting all have their place in this bizarre world of ours, suffice it to say that they should be found only on daytime television and on weeknights between six and seven thirty. It would be nice to think that directors and station executives would respect these simple temporal rules and common sense, yet they do not. The soap opera siege of the silver screen has been occurring for quite some time now. At least, it has done so since the 1987 premiere of the fabulous Predator, which was indeed so fabulous it even spawned a franchise of equally fabulous sequels.

Like any quality North American narrative, Predator begins with a conspiracy of sorts. From the stifling depths of an ambiguous Latin American jungle, Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been summoned to investigate the disappearance of important government officials. But, upon finding his quarry quite dead and in the company of equally dead CIA personnel, it soon becomes apparent that Arnie and his band of merry men had been lied to. The story about the missing officials: abject fabrications! Naturally, the soldiers proceed to raze a nearby guerilla campas retribution until they realise that something far more sinister and far less visible was responsible for the deaths of their friends. Then everybody dies, except for Arnie, who, upon losing all of his weapons, goes ‘native’, becomes one with the earth and defeats the hideous beast responsible in a timely showdown of falling logs and explosions. The story’s conclusion is oddly reminiscent of a video game: to complete the level the invariably male, enormous, and significantly stronger ‘boss’ must be defeated. Although here, congratulatory coins are never offered.

Officially, Predator will be found at your local video shop classified under ‘action’. Genres are however a tricky phenomenon for it is neither reasonable nor completely possible to divide and sort films as such, based largely on their content in relation to cinematic precedent. Seldom will one find a film that belongs exclusively to a single genre. Genre hybrids are in abundance, which our exhibit A, Predator, displays well. Indeed, Predator is simultaneously an action, queer and soap operatic feature, with the aforementioned undertones of digital gaming.

Predator is shot like a soap opera. Action films are normally not this concerned overly with the emotions of its characters and subsequently, a large portion of camera work is devoted to explosions, deaths and the like. This is not to say that these films are devoid of sentiment, for this is completely untrue. The difference is that in Predator the bizarre fluctuations of the human heart are much more prominent than they would normally be. Predator is as much about finer feelings, and revenge for one’s fallen brethren, as it is an action film. This must then surely justify the plethora of lingering emotional close ups upon the characters’ faces, for indeed the technical elements of the film echo its emotional predisposition. Who could forget the initial joy of Arnie and Dillon (Carl Weathers), displayed by their cries of joy, facial features and, most importantly, through a lengthy close up of their rippling biceps? An unforgettable, poignant moment, indeed.

Of course, let us not be too hasty to condemn Predator solely to the hideous confines of daytime television standards. There is much that occurs between its opening and closing credits that is decidedly antithetical to everything and anything that soap operas, the world over, ever stood for.  Big, strong men are disemboweled, skinned and hanged from trees; a very odd looking alien being drips its glo-stick inner fluids all over the jungle floor; and, as the pièce de la resistance, dearest MrSchwarzenegger manages to render himself invisible to thermal imaging by coating himself in mud and hiding in a root system of a conveniently placed tree. Furthermore, there are no heterosexual love interests, no hint of convoluted romantic pasts nor the curious type of inter-breeding that occurs in the alternate, soap-opera realities.

This is, then, an incredibly emotional and oddly shot action film. Predator defies all expectation and precedent to be the perfect blend of melodrama, musculature and changing hues of fake tan applications.

(Image credit)

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