Home > Reviews > PREDATOR – Alan Silvestri

PREDATOR – Alan Silvestri

THROWBACK THIRTY

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

Predator is one of the seminal action films of the 1980s, a masterpiece of testosterone-fuelled machismo and inventive storytelling that cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger as one of Hollywood’s most bankable and beloved movie star heroes. Schwarzenegger plays Dutch Schaefer, the leader of a team of elite covert ops commandos which is sent deep into the South American jungle to rescue hostages held by guerrillas; however, it soon becomes apparent that the mission is a cover for an illegal intelligence-gathering exercise, orchestrated by the team’s CIA liaison and Dutch’s old colleague Dillon (Carl Weathers). Worse yet, as the team prepares for a helicopter extraction, they are suddenly attacked by an unknown and seemingly invisible entity – a predator – which has significant firepower and appears to be hunting them for sport. The film, which was directed by John McTiernan and co-stars Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, and Elpidia Carrillo, was a major commercial hit, and is now regarded as a landmark of the action genre.

What I personally find most satisfying about Predator, as a movie, is the way it subverts the genre. The first half of the film is almost a parody of action movie clichés – the über-macho banter between the members of the team, the scenery-chewing one-liners uttered by Schwarzenegger as he dispatches faceless bad guys, the sweat-stained six-packs sported by the entire cast. However, once the Predator arrives on the scene, these tropes are quickly undermined. Suddenly Schwarzenegger and his team are the faceless victims, easily dispatched by a creature who is arguably more intelligent and sophisticated than they are. Having never faced death and loss like this before, the team quickly becomes desperate and disorganized, unable to comprehend how their status at the top of the food chain has been usurped by something they can’t see, let alone understand. Even Schwarzenegger’s patented one-liners are mockingly returned to him by the Predator, cementing it’s position as the film’s alpha male. Eventually, the film becomes a mano-a-mano battle of wits and ingenuity that strips Schwarzenegger’s character of all his bravado; the ultimate humbling experience. It helps, too, that the action sequences are superbly staged, full of clever twists and ingenious set-ups. The reveal of the Predator’s true face, as played by 7’3” actor Kevin Peter Hall, is as powerful and breathlessly shocking now as it was in 1987.

The score for Predator was by the then 37-year-old composer Alan Silvestri, who at that point in his career was one of Hollywood’s rising musical stars, with recent hits like Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future, and The Delta Force, under his belt. Much like the film itself, Silvestri’s score for Predator is a seminal landmark of the genre, a throbbing, pulsating, exotic work that contains many of his compositional hallmarks and personal stylistics. Mostly, the score for Predator is about percussion; Silvestri uses a vast array of ethnic items which are struck, shaken, rattled, and tapped, creating an atmosphere of intense tension and anxiety. He then combines this with a relentless orchestral parade of staccato piano lines, brass clusters, and stabbing strings, all of which create the score’s signature sound.

The score opens by presenting three of its four main thematic ideas, two of which are melodic, and two of which are rhythmic. The “Main Title” begins with a series of ominous rumbles and spacey ambiences before presenting the first performance of the Predator theme, a rising four-note motif heard at 0:42 accompanied by fanfare flourishes for dark brasses and swirling strings. This gradually leads into the main title sequence, where Silvestri immediately introduces his two themes for Dutch: a six note rhythmic riff heard at 1:10, and a more militaristic brass theme first heard at 1:31 accompanied by rising string figures which swell with grandeur and heroism.

The second idea for the Predator is an ominous, echoing tribal drum rhythm first heard at the very beginning of the second cue, “Something Else,” and is intended to be a recurring motif to herald the lurking presence of the Predator prior to its first reveal. These four ideas – Predator theme, Predator rhythm, Dutch theme, Dutch rhythm – maintain a strong presence throughout much of the rest the score but, beyond them, moments of orchestral consonance are rare. In fact, the only other real theme of note is the solemn solo trumpet refrain heard in cues like “He’s My Friend” and “We’re All Gonna Die,” a serious Last Post-style memorial to the fallen.

Instead, the bulk of the score is carried by the percussion. By far the most impressive thing about Predator is the intricacy of this rhythmic writing. Silvestri created a sonic world which is wholly unique to this film; yes, there are chord progressions that echo some of the writing from Back to the Future, and some of the ideas inform some of his later works, notably things like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Abyss, and Death Becomes Her, but mostly the soundscape of Predator is specific to this film, and these circumstances. The way Silvestri jumps between the different percussion sounds – rattles, shakers, tom toms, snares, xylophones, kettle drums, timpani, chimes, anvils and other assorted metallic items – and then intersperses them with little brass phrases, little woodwind hoots, and little tone clusters on the piano, is just brilliant. It sounds random and jumbled, but it absolutely isn’t, and it generates a mood of highly focused confusion and chaos that feels like it’s surrounding you. Cues like “Cut ‘Em Down” and “Payback Time” are great examples of this, while the highly rhythmic but sadly brief “Jungle Trek” is a score highlight, beefing up the main percussive ideas with a more vibrant, exotic tone and vivid brass fanfares.

Some of the more expansive action cues, like the second half of “The Truck,” “The Girl’s Escape,” “Blaine’s Death,” “Building a Trap,” “Dillon Is Disarmed,” and the thunderous second half of “Billy Stands Alone,” bring the orchestra into play more forcefully with strong and resolute brass lines and a more militaristic, triumphant tone. Some of the rampaging piano performances in these cues are magnificent, a rolling and turbulent undercurrent which drives the music forward with brutal classicism. The intense brass and string writing towards the end of “We’re All Gonna Die” is outstanding. Best of all, however, is the way Silvestri continually works in statements of his main themes, with both the two Predator motifs and both of Dutch’s themes occurring with pleasing frequency. The notable interplay between the two melodic themes in “The Waiting” is full of anticipation, as the two combatants prepare to do battle.

The score’s finale – from “Battle Plans” through to “Predator’s Big Finish” – is a masterpiece scoring exercise encompassing tension and release, brutal action, aggressive horror, and eventual redemption and victory. All four main motifs appear frequently, embedded within some of the most impressive action scoring of Silvestri’s entire career. The sense of apprehension at the beginning of “Battle Plans” is palpable, and grows in intensity over the course of the next nine minutes. “Hand To Hand Combat” utilizes enormous, intimidating piano clusters and large, dissonant orchestral forces to underscore the famous moment where the Predator reveals his true face, while the “Predator’s Big Finish” climaxes with an immense explosion of sound and fury – the last act of defiance of a fallen warrior. The final cue, “The Rescue and End Credits,” reprises the trumpet lament from earlier in the score as Dutch, exhausted and shell-shocked, finally makes it to da choppa and is airlifted out of the scorched earth battlefield where he and the Predator had their final face off; eventually, this gives way to a reprise of the main themes to end the album on a superb note.

Unusually, the score for Predator was never released in any form at the time the film came out, and for years it was one of Alan Silvestri’s most sought-after holy grails. Several bootlegs of varying quality emerged onto the secondary market during the 1990s, but it was not until 2003 that the score was finally given its first commercial pressing by Varese Sarabande as part of their limited edition CD Club. Two subsequent releases, both from Intrada Records, are virtually identical: the first, in 2010, has just a few differences in cue order and labeling from the Varese release, while the second one in 2012 presents the same tracks at the 2010 version with enhanced re-mastered sound.

Whichever of these releases you are able to acquire, I absolutely recommend you do so. Like the film itself, the music for Predator is an iconic example of 1980s action movie exuberance, and remains one of the finest works of Alan Silvestri’s career. It’s a score whose surface sheen of seemingly random percussive rhythms masks a great deal of thematic intelligence, instrumental intricacy, and exhilarating orchestral action, and anyone who finds themselves drawn to Silvestri’s style will not want to overlook this genre classic. When should you listen to this? Anytime.

Buy the Predator soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Twentieth Century Fox Fanfare (written by Alfred Newman, arranged by Elliot Goldenthal) (0:27)
  • Main Title (3:51)
  • Something Else (3:34)
  • Cut ‘Em Down (1:56)
  • Payback Time (2:09)
  • The Truck (4:22)
  • Jungle Trek (1:47)
  • The Girl’s Escape (6:00)
  • Blaine’s Death (2:47)
  • He’s My Friend (1:26)
  • We’re All Gonna Die (3:32)
  • Building A Trap (3:02)
  • The Waiting (3:27)
  • The Hunt Is On (4:51)
  • Dillon Is Disarmed (2:07)
  • Billy Stands Alone (2:34)
  • Battle Plans (9:24)
  • Wounded Predator (4:14)
  • Hand To Hand Combat (3:12)
  • Predator’s Big Finish (3:42)
  • The Rescue and End Credits (4:44)

Running Time: 73 minutes 08 seconds

Varese Sarabande CD Club VCL-0803-1022 (1987/2003)

Music composed and conducted by Alan Silvestri. Orchestrations by James Campbell. Recorded and mixed by Dennis Sands. Edited by Michael Tronick. Album produced by Alan Silvestri and Robert Townson.

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  1. June 29, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Awesome! I haven’t seen the film yet, but it is very high up on my watchlist and what I’ve already heard from the music sounds fantastic. Thank you so much for the review.

  2. June 30, 2017 at 2:57 am

    Excellent review Jonathan.

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