Chapter 9: If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It.

I'm going to break a few of my own rules this week, and for several good reasons. First of all, we're going to skip all of the films I suggested in last week's article (Cherry 2000, Tetsuo, Dead Ringers) because none of you seemed interested in them. In fact, I received more negative votes than positive votes. However, a few people did question my mentioning Predator recently, and it seemed there was enough interest for me to stick around in 1987 and cover that film, particularly since it stars the man I've nominated as the most prevalent cyberpunk film star of the 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the film's anti-hero, Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer.

Certainly, Predator is science-fiction, and almost certainly it can be called both Action/Adventure and Horror. But if we look at the film in relation to other cyberpunk-themed films, some things become startlingly apparent. All you need do is strip away a very few thematic elements (aliens, for one) and you've got yourself a nifty little CP flick. I'd venture to say that one could view Predator as distilled cyberpunk, with all of its trappings burned away to leave nothing but the blood and bone beneath. Let's take a look.

The film takes place not in an urban jungle, like Blade Runner, but rather in a very real Central American jungle, where a group of American commandos (led by Dutch) are being inserted by helicopter on a covert rescue mission by a man named Dillon. The script introduces us to the remaining members of the team in proper order:

BLAIN, weapons and ordinance specialist, a frightening bull of a man, a 240 pound killer, removes from his shirt pocket a think PLUG OF TOBACCO. He looks across at:

MAC, a huge bear of a man, black, holding an M-60 MACHINE GUN. Blain holds out the tobacco to Mac who refuses with a gentle shake of the head, a knowing smile, he knows what's coming.

Holding the plug between his teeth Blain yanks free from his shoulder scabbard a wicked, ten inch COMBAT KNIFE. Placing the razor sharp blade next to his lips he slices through the plug as if it were butter. He chews thoughtfully.

Seated by the open doorway is RAMIREZ, a slight, angular man, an East L.A. streetwise Chicano.

Adding a final piece of camouflage TAPE to his pack HARNESS, he looks up and smiles, faking a throw and then bulleting the tape to:

HAWKINS, the radioman and medic, Irish, street-tough, reading a rolled- up magazine, as if he were a rush hour commuter. He snags the tape with an instinctual snap of the wrist, continuing to read for a moment before looking up, grinning at Ramirez, his boyish, eager face belying the rugged professional beneath. He turns his gaze to the man next to him:

BILLY, the Kit Carson Scout, an American Indian, proud, stoic, a man of quiet strength and simplicity, carefully replacing the FIRING MECHANISM of his M-203, working its action several times. He looks up with a smile at Hawkins.

Quite obviously these guys (in Cyberpunk terms) are mostly solo types, though it's not hard to imagine one or two of them as nomads or techies. None of them gets as much screen time as Arnie does, though, so from the get go it's pretty clear that they're all going to die anyway. That's because as it turns out, their primary mission will not be to rescue anyone, but to escape from and (hopefully) kill a hi-tech opponent who can camouflage itself nearly perfectly amongst the foliage around them. An opponent who (as they soon discover) has skinned dozens of humans alive and hung them on trees as gruesome trophies.

Dutch (the team leader, naturally) begins to suspect something is afoot when the first bodies discovered turn out to be those of American Green Berets, who weren't supposed to be in the area. But to begin with, all he knows for sure is that his men are now in danger, and so they all break out the heavy artillery. Which is, of course, the worst thing they could do. The Predator only hunts hunters, prey who fight back, seeking the thrill of the hunt and nothing more. By hunting it down, the commandos are giving it exactly what it's looking for.

Dutch and his men first discover what they were sent after to begin with--a village of angry guerrillas holding hostages. As the Predator looks silently on, we see the world through its high-tech infrared vision, hear what it hears, and we see what violence looks like from a cyberpunk perspective.

As the Observer regains its vision an eerie, surreal experience of sight and sound unfolds:

BULLETS streak through the air, leaving blood-red trails of HEAT, like laser blasts. As they impact into the Guerrillas, we HEAR the enhanced SLAPPING of BULLETS, SEEING tiny blossoms of HEAT mushroom out of their bodies.

Of course, the good guys win. But have they really won? As Dutch discovers, this was never intended to be a rescue mission. The military knew that the guerrilla camp was heavily armed, and they knew they needed a crack team to take it out. Dutch and his men were duped into thinking it was a rescue mission. Dutch is not happy, and he lets Dillon know it. But Dillon lays it on the line:

DILLON We've been through a lot together Dutch. When we were together, no one could stop us, the hottest Goddamned team the army ever saw. But things changed, I woke up. We're fighting them in a dozen Goddamned countries. It's a fight we can't lose, Dutch. We're all expendable assets, can't you see that?

More expendable than they realize. More guerrilla soldiers are on the way, and their escape route is cut off. They're now being forced to wander, prisoner in tow, right into the Predator's home turf. Hawkins is the first to go, trying to rescue their escaping prisoner, as the jungle literally comes alive and swallows him up in gruesome fashion. Then Blain goes, brutally, painfully, his massive weapon no match for the Predator's superior technology. Mac hits it... but the green glowing blood it leaves behind is a clear indication that their opponent is no ordinary human soldier.

MAC (returning; angry) Those eyes... disappeared. But I know one thing, Major... (pause) ... I drew down and fired right at it. Capped-off two hundred rounds and then the Mini-gun; the full pack. Nothin'... nothin' on this earth could have lived... not at that range.

As one might expect, Mac is next to die, Ramirez wounded, Dillon following Mac to the grave soon after, the group's numbers steadily dwindling as their superior foe picks them off one at a time. Billy goes last, in a futile standoff with the beast, leaving just Dutch for the Predator to hunt down.

Which is where the story follows Cyberpunk film convention perfectly by plunging our anti-hero straight into hell. He's given hi-tech weapons, and they're all taken from him. He's given body armor, and it's stripped away. He's given a team of well-trained commandos, and they're all taken away from him. And just like Case loses his nerve in Neuromancer, and Johnny loses his mind, and Snake Plissken loses his freedom, Dutch gives up the technology that's supposed to make him stronger and becomes more human, falling back into primal instincts to defeat a technologically superior foe.

First, Dutch gets covered in dirt and mud, making him invisible to the Predator's infrared eyesight. Then, having lost all of his hi-tech weaponry, Dutch constructs a crude bow, arrows and spear, the most basic of man-made projectile weapons. Hi-tech vision defeated by mud, clay, the dust of the earth, wood and stone. In Walter Jon Williams' Hardwired, it's the dirtgirls and mudboys who are treated like slaves by the Orbital powers, but in the end they're the ones who wield the most power. In The Road Warrior, it's the grimy, dust-covered nomads and Mad Max who are held captive by the technological superior wheeled warriors who surround them, but it's those same nomads who win out in the end through basic human trickery. Victory is achieved not through transgression, but regression.

He (Dutch) stands, staring into the rapidly growing blaze. He turns, facing the canyon rim, raising his weapons in one hand. From the depths of his soul, a SOUND emerges; primitive and visceral, as if from an animal in pain.

He throws back his head and SHOUTS.


A hundred feet below, Schaefer stands in the boulder field, his mud coated body bathed in RED FIRELIGHT, looking like a fierce, primitive warrior; a timeless, prehistoric sight, his long and WAILING CRY, ECHOING endlessly through the canyon.

In the end, Dutch defeats his superior foe, not with cybernetic enhancements or big guns or helicopter gunships or monokatanas. He defeats him by rejecting technology, by rejecting what he'd been turned into by his corporation (the military), by his superiors. Only by becoming less human than human can he defeat that which is more human than human (to borrow a term from Blade Runner).

If you're still not convinced, then let's look again at some of the underlying themes and elements going on in this film:

1. Big Bad Corporation - Dutch and his men are all in the employ of the U.S. military, but aside from that small fact, they may as well be working for any corporate army being sent in on a strike mission against a rival corp. The corporation owns them. They are tools. They are equipped with other tools and shipped off inside other tools to be used and bled dry and destroyed, so long as the mission gets accomplished. They can't leave. They can't say no. They are owned. They are powerless.

2. Big Bad Enemy - The Predator is the biggest, baddest enemy of them all (so bad that they've even got him and his kind taking on the Aliens in all the AvP stuff you see going on nowadays). He's got infrared vision, acrobatic ability to shame Mary-Lou Retton, killer blades and weapons, tracking devices, voice mimicry capability and dozens of other tricks (which get revealed in the less successful but equally interesting Predator 2 which brings the story home to an urban jungle). In short, the Predator is your worst cyberpsycho killing machine come to life, the Frankenstein monster times ten.

3. Big Bad Guns - The team is outfitted with the highest tech available. Nasty weaponry, miniguns and M-60s and MP-5's and knives and radio gear and grenades galore, enough ammunition to take out a small city with some to spare for the 4th of July. The team is always outfitted with the best. And in the end, it all turns into the...

4. Big Bad Truth - And the truth of it is, your corporation can't save you; all it can do is take away your freedom. And your enemy can certainly destroy you, but only if you try to fight it at its own game. And your weaponry can't save you, because eventually you run out of ammunition, or someone buys a bigger gun. The only truth you're left with in this dehumanizing jungle of a cyberpunk world we live in is that all you've really got is yourself, and maybe a few friends, and some cunning. That's what makes you human. That's what makes you powerful.

Cyberpunk is, of course, constructed from two words. Cyber- is a prefix, derived from the Greek kybernetes, meaning "steersman". This in turn comes from the verb kybernao, "to steer" or "to control". Cyber, thus, at its very heart has nothing to do with technology, unless you're looking at how that technology controls and steers us down a path of its choosing. Ultimately, then, it's the "punk" half of the word which means the most, because the punk is he who strikes back at controlling influences, at the technology that threatens to destroy him and eliminate his humanity.

Cyber, "to control", and punk, "he who strikes out against control". Technology versus anti-technology, control versus rebellion, the big bad corporation versus the individual fighting for a right to choose his own path, the nasty robotic alien cybernetic monster versus the naked human covered in mud, howling at the moon.

If all you're doing is playing with matte black shades and kevlar vests and chromed prosthetics, then you're missing the point entirely. Cyberpunk is primal, raw, a scream in the dark, a brawl in the jungle. Whether that jungle is urban or not is up to the storyteller.

And on that note, it's time for this cyberpunk to rest his very human head for the night. Next week we've got one obvious choice and one which has been argued about for years: the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, Cyborg, or the superhero movie to end all superhero movies, Batman. Where does he get all those wonderful toys? You tell me, and tell me what you think by emailing me at the link below.

In closing, I'd just like to take a moment to correct some information (for posterity's sake). In my last article on Robocop, I incorrectly identified several of Robocop's weapons. His main sidearm is not a Colt Scamp but rather a Beretta--specifically, a Beretta M93R-AG. Also, he doesn't use a rocket launcher at the end of the film--it's a Barret M82A1 sniper rifle. Thanks for the information!