Before my parents separated, my father would tell me a bedtime story every night–anything from childhood memories of outrunning bulls in Ireland to tall tales of battling sea monsters with his (fictional) brother Michael. And when he ran out of material of his own, he turned to his favorite films for inspiration–starting with Predator, director John McTiernan’s love letter to guns, gore, and glistening man muscles.
Dad cannibalized other movies, as well–Psycho and The Lost Boys and the like–but when given a choice, I always requested the one about the hunter from another world. And as his streamlined version of the narrative gradually grew more intricate and detailed (I don’t believe Arnold had any companions until the eleventh or twelfth retelling, for example), he eventually–inevitably, really–found it easier to abdicate storytelling duties to his grainy VHS copy of the film.
Of course, that’s an intense roller coaster ride for a six-year-old. While my father never omitted any scenes of violence entirely, he did tone them down quite a bit, so the images of flayed human carcasses dangling upside down from tree branches came as a rather severe shock. But I cherished what little I was able to glimpse through my fingers and the flickering static of fast-forward. Today, I love Predator for a multitude of reasons–the excellent ensemble cast, the immaculate pacing (backed up by Alan Silvestri’s superb score), Stan Winston’s eerily expressive creature design, and McTiernan’s masterful ability to convey the oppressive jungle heat and the camaraderie (and conflict) between his doomed characters–but back then, the strengths and shortcomings of the film’s substance and style were irrelevant; what really mattered was that my father and I could watch and enjoy something together.
In my mind, that communal experience represents the joy of cinema itself–and I will always be grateful to my dad for giving me my first taste of that magic.
[Originally written November 1, 2012.]